Woodworking Terms & Definitions to Know
Woodworking is a skill humans developed long ago, and the things that can be accomplished through this craft have reshaped the way we live today. Woodworking has a wide range of applications, from building functional structures to creating artwork. Because of the variety of ways one can use woodworking, there are a plethora of terms specific to the field, and understanding them can help make woodworking easier to both understand and excel in. Below are terms every woodworker, from beginners to advanced craftsmen, should know in order to best enjoy this trade.
Abrasive (n) – A material used to smooth wood or finishes (for example, sandpaper, steel wool, or pumice).
Acetone (n) – A colorless liquid solvent commonly used for cleaning surfaces and the removal of paint and finishes.
Adze (n) – An axe-like tool used to shape and surface wood and lumber.
Aliphatic resin glue (n) – A strong and quick-drying adhesive more commonly known as wood glue or carpenter’s glue.
Ampere (n) – A unit of measurement for electrical current, often referred to in its abbreviated form (amps).
Apron (n) – The part of a table which connects the surface of the tabletop to the legs.
Arbor (n) – A spindle or shaft on which a tool can be attached, such as a router bit or table saw blade.
Architect’s rule (n) – Also known as an architect’s scale, a triangular ruler with different units of measurement on each side.
Auger (n) – A drill with a helical bit used to bore holes in wood.
Backsaw (n) – A hand saw with a rigid rib along the back of the blade, opposite the cutting edge, to prevent bending and allow for more stable sawing.
Band saw (n) – A power saw that uses a toothed metal blade in a looped/continuous band.
Bar clamp (n) – A clamp with a long bar that spans two clamping jaws, used to hold large items.
Basswood (n) – A soft, fine wood often used in carving.
Batten (n) – A thin, flat piece of wood or metal used to provide support or reinforce a joint.
Beam (n) – The handle of a cutting tool (as opposed to its blade); also a term for a long, large piece of wood used in construction, often for support.
Bench dog (n) – A work bench accessory that helps to clamp or hold items down as they’re being worked on.
Bench grinder (n) – A benchtop tool (often mounted to the workbench) that drives abrasive wheels, used to accomplish tasks such as cleaning, sharpening, or polishing.
Bench plane (n) – A plane with a wide footprint and cutter, used to straighten or smooth wood.
Bevel (v) – To cut a piece of wood to a sloped edge; (n) – an angled piece of wood cut to a measurement other than 90 degrees.
Bevel-edge chisel (n) – A variety of carving chisel with a beveled edge, used to shape or chop wood, often used to reach tight spaces such as joints and corners.
Biscuit (n) – A small, thin piece of wood inserted into holes or slots in two pieces of wood, thereby joining the two pieces together.
Biscuit joiner (n) – A tool used to cut holes (also known as edge grooves) for a biscuit to be inserted into.
Biscuit joint (n) – The area where two pieces of wood are joined by a biscuit.
Bit (n) – An attachment used to bore holes in conjunction with a drill; bits come in a variety of shapes and sizes and attach to the tip of the drill.
Blind (adj) – Also called “stopped”; refers to any recess that is not cut entirely through a piece of woodwork.
Blind dovetail joint (n) – A corner joint similar in strength to a dovetail joint but differing in that the joinery is disguised within the corner, leaving only a thin band of end grain exposed. A strong, non-flashy joint choice.
Blind mortise-and-tenon joint (n) -Often used in framework, this strong, invisible joint hides imperfections of the mortise cut within the shoulder of the tenon. A more advanced technique, this joint requires a skilled woodworker and can be used at the corners of frames.
Block plane (n) – A small plane in which end grain or joints are trimmed, with the bevel on the cutter always facing up. For end grain trimming, low-angle versions are preferred.
Bookmatched (adj), bookmatch (n) – Sequentially cut wood arranged in a manner that creates a mirror image effect along the wood grain.
Box joint (n) – A joint that features long, interlocked fingers, also known as a fingerlap joint.
Brad-point bit (n) – a version of a twist drill with a center spur used to guide the bit in an advancing pilot hole.
Bridle joint (n) – A joint that is most easily produced using a table saw or band saw, the bridle joint is a great option for someone looking for strength as well as protection from racking. The joint is at its strongest when it is placed in the center of a rail or stile due to the fact that the second side becomes trapped.
Buildup (n) – An additional piece of wood that is used to add thickness to an existing edge.
Bullnose (v) -To create a half-round, convex edge through the process of milling.
Burr (n) – A sharpened edge of a blade, shaped into a wire-like form.
Butt joint (n) – A basic but weak woodworking joint, usually set up as end-grain-to-face-grain, end-grain-to-long-grain or long-grain-to-long grain.
Cabinet saw (n) – An industrial grade table saw, usually containing a large motor, trunnion pins attached to the beside instead of the top, and an enclosed base.
Cabinetmaker (n) – An expert woodworker who builds fine furniture.
Cabriole leg (n) – A carved leg that has an S-shaped sweep and an ornamental foot.
Caul (n) – A wood piece used during clamping to distribute pressure.
Cheek (n) – Usually long-grain surfaces such as the walls of a mortise (the mating surface of dovetails), along with their pins or box-joint fingers; can also refer to the face of a tenon, center lap or end lap.
Clearance hole (n) – A hole intended for a screw to pass through wood without biting by allowing room for the shank and threads to fit easily.
Climb-cut (v) – The act of using your cutting tool to cut wood in the opposite direction than the tool was designed to operate; use with caution.
Compound miter (n) – A type of cut in which the blade’s path is not perpendicular to the wood edge or end and the tilt is not 90 degrees to the face.
Compound miter saw (n) – A power miter saw that pivots on an axis and the arm. Some compound miter saws, known as sliding compound miter saws, slide along rails.
Cope (v) – The process of fitting two pieces of wood together by sawing a negative profile of one into one with a positive profile; a term is often used in molding.
Cope-&-stick joint (n) – A joint often seen used for small and medium-sized doors. A strong joint, the cope-&-stick joint is basically a tongue-in-groove joint adorned with built-in moulding.
Countersink (v) – The act of cutting a cone-shaped recess into a clearance or pilot hole for the purpose of allowing a flat-head screw to sit along or below the surface; (n) the pilot hole itself.
Cove (n) – A recessed, hollow cut that is made in the edge of a board by a shaper or router; (n) the bit of the cutter used to make a cove.
Crosscut (n, v, adj) – Refers to any cut that is made with a perpendicular alignment to the grain of a piece of wood, the act of making such a cut, and the wood that has been cut in such a way.
Cutting list (n) – An all-inclusive list of the materials needed to complete a project, including the names of the necessary pieces and the dimensions of each piece, sometimes with a diagram of the boards needed.
Dado (n, v), Dados (pl), dadoing (v) – A trench which is cut across the grain of a board, consisting of three sides.
Deadman (n), sliding deadman (n), bench jack (n) – A bench accessory that slides along a track parallel to the front of the workbench, to assist with supporting long boards clamped in the workbench’s face vise. A series of holes are drilled in to accept pegs that can be moved to support various widths of boards. The deadman itself can slide to accommodate different lengths.
Dentil (n), dentil-type (adj) – Small rectangular blocks used in a series to form a molding, especially underneath a cornice.
Dowel (n), doweling (v) – A type of cylindrical wood of a certain length inserted into two corresponding holes in order to make a joint, glued together with clamp pressure.
Doweled joint (n) – A joint that is reinforced by the addition of a dowel, which adds strength to the overall joint.
Doweling jig (n) – A device that assists with the drilling of a dowel hole.
Drawboring (v), drawbore (n) – To pull mortise-and-tenon joint components together with a pin and offset holes. Still used in timber framing, drawboring places the location of the holes in the tenon and mortise at slightly different locations, and when a peg is driven through the holes, it pulls the tenon to the mortise. This creates a locked mechanical joint.
Drawknife (n) – A shaving blade with a handle on both ends.
Edge lap (n) – A notch made in the edge of a board halfway across its width. Two edge laps are combined to form an edge lap joint.
Edge-glue (v) – The act of gluing edges of long-grain solid wood or plywood.
End grain (n), end-grain (adj, adv) – Ends of wood boards that feature exposed pores.
Engineer’s square (n) – Used for proving 90 degrees, an engineer’s square is a precision metal square with a fixed blade.
Face (n) – The widest side of a board, measured across the grain.
Face frame (n) – Wood glued together that covers the front edge of a carcase, usually forming rectangular openings.
Face Plate (n) f Wood-lathe attachment, used to support the turning block.
Fascia (n), fascia board (n) – A horizontal wood piece that covers the joint between the top of a wall and an overhanging eave; also any flat piece of wood used as molding.
Featherboard (n) – A safety device used to hold a workpiece against a fence or table during a cut, made up of flexible fingers. A featherboard is often made by cutting various slots into the end of a board.
Ferrule (n) – Found where the metal part of a tool intersects with the handle, a ferrule is a metal ring used to reinforce a smaller piece of metal or wood, preventing the handle end from splitting when knocked onto the blade of a chisel.
Finger joint (n) – A joint used to reinforce and align panel joints, often used in commercial applications and when joining end-grain to end-grain.
Flange (n) – A rib whose primary function is strengthening, guiding, or attaching to another piece.
Flat Grain (n) – A piece of wood that has been cut tangent to the growth rings of the tree, appearing highly figured.
Flitch (n) – Veneers flat-sawn into sheets and gathered in the order they were sliced from the log; can also refer to one-quarter of a log.
Forstner bit (n) – A bit used to create clean, flat-bottomed and often larger holes.
Fretwork (n) – Intricate cuts made by a scroll saw or fret saw, used to add details to woodwork.
Gouge (n) – A turning or carving tool with a curved edge, chisel-like in nature.
Grain (n) – Characteristics of a wood piece that refer to its texture, figuring or porosity.
Groove (n) – a three-sided trench cut into a wood board that is made along the grain.
Groove joint (n) – A joint made without the use of glue to allow thin, solid-wood panels to expand and contract with changes in humidity; often found as a way to lock thinner cabinet backs or drawer bottoms.
Gusset (n) – A triangular block used to strengthen a joint assembled at an angle.
Hacksaw (n) – A handsaw, often used for cutting metals, that has a handle at one end and holds at both ends.
Half pin (n) – Seen in dovetail joints, half pins are the two outside pins of a row, named because they are angled on a single side.
Half-blind dovetail joint (n) – A more difficult cut than the through dovetail, by hand or machine, typically used in drawer joints due to its offering of strength and beauty and the fact that the joinery can be hidden in the drawer front.
Hand plane (n) – a cutting device used for shaving wood with a blade held in place at a steep angle. Hand planes can come in many forms, including block, bench, bullnose, spokeshave, router, scraper, and rabbet hand planes.
Hand screw (n) – A clamp that can clamp odd-shaped items, using two parallel pieces of wood that are connected at both ends with threaded rods with handles.
Hardwood (n) – Any wood that originates from a number of flowering, fruit- or nut-bearing trees (for example: ash, oak, mahogany, walnut).
Haunch (n) – A cut made into the edge of a tenon that is considered a secondary shoulder cut.
Haunched mortise-and-tenon joint (n) – A joint often seen in frame-and-panel doors and similar to blind mortise-and-tenon joints. The groove of the panel is able to run through the end of the stile, simplifying the work, while the haunch on the tenon fills the groove.
Heartwood (n) – The spine of the tree.
Heat treating (n) t Treating a piece of steel with heat so that it will take a keen edge. The steel is heated (typically between 1,450 degrees and 1,500 degrees) until it is hardened and quenched. It is then tempered to a lower temperature (325 degrees) to create a tougher edge in order to cut wood.
Hole saw (n) – A saw with teeth placed around the bottom of a cylinder, typically used for the purposes of cutting larger holes.
Holidays (n) – Parts of the wood that have been unintentionally skipped over during the varnish or painting process, creating a void.
Hollow-ground (adj) – A blade that requires less effort to cut due to its less durable concave-cut shape.
Horsepower (n) – Measurement of work power equivalent to 746 watts, abbreviated “hp,” determined by multiplying voltage by amperage.
Infeed (n, v) – The point at which a piece of wood is fed into a machine, such as a saw, planer, or jointer; can also refer to the act itself.
Inlay (n, v) – To insert smaller pieces of wood into grooves that have been cut into a piece; may also refer to the material being inserted.
Jack plane (n) – A general purpose plane, usually considered medium-sized.
Jig (n) – A device used to aid in the process of doing repetitive tasks consistently.
Jigsaw (n) – A powered, vertical, reciprocating blade, used for cutting different materials depending on the type of blade used.
Joinery (n) – The act of connecting pieces of wood together. This can be accomplished in different ways, including using glue and mechanical fasteners or, more commonly understood, by interlocking corresponding wooden joints.
Jointer (n) – A stationary shop machine used to create identical square surfaces by removing thin layers of material until the entire board is square.
Jointer plane (n) – A plane that is used to square long edges.
Jointer/planer (n) – A stationary machine that can do the job of both a jointer and a planer.
Kerf (n) – Excess wood removed by a saw blade between the wood piece and the offcut.
Kickback (n), kick back (v) – The reverse action seen in woodworking machines when they throw a workpiece back towards the operator. This can happen when the wood gets caught between a rip fence and a blade, but can be prevented by using splitters.
Laminate (n) – Thin layers of resawn wood or plastics, such as formica, that has built-up by being glued together.
Laminate (v) – The act of adhering one workpiece to another, such as adhering a veneer to another surface or constructing solid pieces by gluing thin strips of wood together.
Lap joint (n) – A joint used to strengthen a frame corner. Found at either the corner (end lap), in the middle of one piece (T-lap), or in the middle of two pieces (X-lap), this joint offers more strength than a reinforced joint, but is weaker than a mortise-and-tenon joint.
Lathe (n) – A machine with the purpose of turning wood on an axis.
Lip (n) – An overhanging border of wood, usually glued on.
Lock-miter joint (n) – Essentially a standard miter joint that does not require a third piece of wood (usually a dowel, biscuit or spline). It provides a tight corner, but also provides more surface area for gluing, more strength and easier alignment.
Locking half-blind rabbet joint (n) – Often used in drawer construction and small boxes, this joint adds strength and easy alignment when squaring boxes.
Marking gauge (n) – An adjustable device that marks layout lines parallel to wood edges by using a steel pin or knife.
Medium density fiberboard (n) – Abbreviated MDF, an engineered panel product consisting of wood fibers that are glued under heat and pressure, typically weighing between 33 and 50 pounds per cubic foot. More common than high density fiberboard, which weighs between 50 and 80 pounds per cubic foot. MDF does not contain grain structure or voids, and most variants are susceptible to water damage.
Mill (n) – The process of cutting a piece of wood to the size and shape intended.
Miter (n) – The surface that forms a joint’s beveled edge.
Miter gauge (n) A device that aids crosscutting at different angles. A miter gauge slides in a tabletop slot, allowing it to sit parallel with the blade of a table saw or band saw with a pivoting protractor head and fence.
Miter joint (n) – Similar to a traditional box joint, except the edge grain is hidden. The strength of a miter joint can be determined by the length of the grain, as a long-grain-to-long-grain application offers exceptional strength, while a short-grain-to-short-grain application offers little strength. This joint can be difficult to cut perfectly and align during the glue-up process.
Miter Saw (n) – A power saw that cuts miters, similar to a circular saw. Can also be used to describe a handsaw used with a miter box.
Mortise (n, v) – A recess that has been cut into a piece of wood in order to receive a tenon or hardware, such as a hinge or a lock.
Molding (n) – A strip of wood used for ornamentation and finishing, usually with a carved profile.
Notch (n) – A dado that has been cut into the edge of a piece of wood. Part of the edge of a lap joint if it extends halfway into the wood.
Offcut (n, adj) – Debris or discarded lumber created during the cutting process.
Open-grained (adj) – Coarse-textured wood due to the presence of large pores in the grain.
Orbital sander (n) – A sander that uses the motor’s energy to create minute circles, which allows sandpaper to abrade a surface.
Panel (n) – A large wood surface that is oftentimes created by gluing several boards together edge-to-edge.
Pilot hole (n) – A hole drilled into a workpiece that is used to guide a fastener, ensuring the fastener is driven in the proper direction; it can also clear some offcut wood to prevent splitting.
Pilot-bearing guide (n) – A bearing attached to a router bit, which allows the bit to follow an existing edge’s shape; free-moving.
Plane (n), planing (v) – A hand tool that carves thin slices from a board to shape and straighten a surface or edge.
Planer (n) – A power tool that is used to plane wood.
Points per inch (adj) – A way to classify saw blades (abbreviated “ppi”). This measuremeant is based on how many teeth points cover a 1” span on the saw blade.
Push stick (n) – A safety device used for allowing wood to be pushed past a cutter to keep the worker’s hands away from the blade.
Rabbet (n, v) – A trench cut into the edge of a board that is made up of two-sides.
Rabbet joint (n) – A basic joint for box building, allowing for more strength than a butt joint by adding an extra gluing surface that protects against racking.
Racking force (n) – Refers to the twisting force on an assembly, such as a door, cabinet or chair. These are typically any forces that press on your project at a degree other than 90 degrees.
Radial-arm saw (n) – A power tool that is made up of a motor and blade, suspended above a work table, which allows the motor to slide along a pivoting arm.
Rail-and-stile bit (n) – A router bit or two matched bits that form mating edges of door rails and stiles.
Resaw (v) – The act of cutting a piece of wood at its length and width in order to create thinner boards.
Reveal (v) – The sides that surround a frame that is exposed by a panel or member set from the outer plane.
Rift-cut (adj) – Also called “rift-sawn,” refers to wood pieces that are cut at 45 degrees to the growth rings; this can include veneer.
Rip cut (n, v) – Wood that is cut parallel to the grain; can also refer to the act of cutting it.
Rip fence (n) – A movable guide placed parallel to the blade of a table saw that is referenced when making a rip cut into a board.
Rotary-cut, rotary-peeled (adj) – Wood that is cut without being surfaced.
Router table (n) – A table where a router is inverted and mounted to have the bit come up through the surface; the bit is stationary and the wood is moved against it.
Scales (n) – A handle of a knife made from wood.
Shank (n) – A shaft of a bit or cutter that is held in place in a tool by a chuck or collet.
Shear forces (n) – The effect of gravity and the weight of objects on the shelving part of a cabinet. This force comes from one direction and is often parallel to the case piece sides.
Shim (n, v) – A thick wood wedge used to make a surface level or to fill in a gap in a workpiece.
Shiplap joint (n) – A joint often found in solid-wood cabinet backs which features overlapping edges that can hide any seasonal wood movement due to humidity.
Short grain (n) – A long-grain piece of wood that has had its fibers cut across and left short, causing the material to become more fragile.
Shoulder (n) – A part used to stabilize a joint by bearing against the mating joint part, composed of a perpendicular face of a step cut, such as a rabbet.
Skew chisel (n) – A chisel with a cutting edge not perpendicular to the sides of the tool; can angle either left or right for use in carving or turning.
Sliding bevel (n) – A tool that can change the angle between the blade and beam.
Sliding dovetail joint (n) – A joint typically used for joining shelves to sides in case pieces and drawers, due to its strength and rigidity. In the case of drawers, space is left for installing drawer slides when joining the sides to the front.
Softwood (n) – Wood that originates from a coniferous tree.
Spade bit (n) – A flat bit designed for high-speed drilling of larger holes that can allow the width to be ground to a nonstandard diameter.
Spline (n) – A narrow strip of wood that is joined with other pieces of wood by being glued into corresponding grooves.
Spline joint (n) – A joint used to align wood pieces during a glue-up by adding a spline. This process eliminates the need for biscuits, but it requires milling another piece of wood to align the pieces along the entire edge.
Spokeshave (n) – A plane or drawknife that is characterized by two handles and concave or convex planes.
Stile (n) – The vertical part of any frame, such as a window, door, or face frame.
Stopped joint (n) – A joint commonly used for joining shelves to the sides of a case, ideal for cabinets that do not have face frames. A variation of the cross-grain grooved joint, this joint offers strength that nearly rivals that of interlocking joints like the sliding dovetail joint. The fact that the shelf is notched and the dado is stopped allows for the joinery to remain hidden when assembled.
Table saw (n) – A stationary arbor-driven circular saw that is housed below the table in which the woodpiece is cut.
Tambour (n) – A sliding door that is set in a track and uses narrow strips in a loose tongue and groove, attached to a piece of cloth.
Taper (n) – A cut that gradually angles along the edge of a board, rather than running parallel.
Tear-out (n), tear out (v) – A chip that occurs on the edge along a kerf.
Teeth per inch (adj) – A measurement used for saw blades, based on the number of teeth for every 1” of the saw blade (abbreviated “tpi”).
Tenon (n, v) – A rabbeted edge that is used by being inserted into a matching recess, often called a mortise.
Tension (n) – The force that pulls a joint or wood piece in opposite directions.
Through joint (n) – A joint similar to but more visible and easier to make than a stopped dado joint. The dado in a through joint continues through both sides of the side piece and is often used to attach shelves to the carcase at the sides, particularly if the cabinet is fitted with a face frame designed to hide the joinery.
Through mortise-and-tenon joint (n) – A joint that is cut after assembly, eliminating the need to determine the depth of the mortise.
Toenail (v) – The process of hammering a nail at an angle through a board, to marry it to another surface in a space too small for standard hammering. This technique can also be used to attach a piece perpendicularly to another.
Tongue-and-groove joint (n) – A joint used to add strength to long-grain edge joints and allow movement during changes in humidity, while keeping all surfaces even. Similar to mortise-and-tenon joints that have been cut along the length of two boards. Most effective when used without glue.
Totally enclosed fan-cooled (adj) – Refers to a type of motor (abbreviated “TEFC”).
Truing (v) – The process of bringing an object to its exact desired shape, or to restore it to its original shape.
Twist drill (n) – A specific drill bit, distinct in its cylindrical shank and cone-shaped end that forms a cutting edge; it also has a helical flute to remove debris.
Veneer (n, v) – Any thin sheet of wood that can be used to cover lesser cuts of wood, to construct plywood and in applications such as lamination and marquetry.
Wedge (n) – A small, cut piece of wood that is secured into a cut slit in the end of a projecting piece of wood known as a through-tenon.
Winding sticks (n) – Used to identify the flatness of lumber, these are two straight wooden sticks lain on opposite ends of a board and sighted across.
Woodworking (n, v) – refers to an activity or hobby that involves building and working with wood to craft an object; this does not include home or building construction.
With a good understanding of the terms included in this glossary, you will be better prepared to take on new and more challenging woodworking projects. Even the most skilled woodworkers may occasionally encounter a term or a tactic they aren’t familiar with, so don’t hesitate to refer to this glossary during your next project to make sure you’re in-the-know and ready to tackle any woodworking task.