100 Common Woodworking Terms You Should Know
New to woodworking and wondering about the meaning of a word you just heard?
Getting acquainted with woodworking language takes time, but having a quick list of terms to turn to is great when you hear a new word.
We’ve divided our lists into:
- Woodworking joints
- Woodworking materials and fasteners
- Wood properties
- Miscellaneous woodworking terms
Each section is in alphabetical order. If you’re looking for a specific word, hit Cmd + F (for Mac) or Ctrl + F (for PC) on your keyboard to open up the search functionality and type the word in.
Woodworking joints are essential for securely connecting pieces of wood. In this section, we’ll explore the most common types of woodworking joints and their applications.
- Birdsmouth joint: A V-shaped notch cut into the end of a rafter, allowing it to sit securely on a wall plate. This joint provides stability and support in roof construction.
- Box joint: Also known as a finger joint, the box joint involves interlocking square-shaped fingers, creating a strong connection. It is commonly used for joining the corners of boxes or drawers.
- Bridle joint: This joint consists of a tenon on one piece of wood fitting into a mortise on another. The bridle joint is used for creating right-angle connections, such as in framing.
- Butt joint: The simplest joint, the butt joint, involves joining the ends of two pieces of wood together. Although not very strong, it is often reinforced with glue, screws, or dowels.
- Dado joint: A dado joint involves cutting a groove into one piece of wood, into which another piece is inserted. This joint is often used for creating shelves or partitions.
- Dovetail joint: Known for its strength and aesthetic appeal, the dovetail joint features interlocking trapezoidal-shaped tails and pins. It is commonly used in high-quality furniture and cabinetry.
- Finger joint: Similar to the box joint, a finger joint features interlocking fingers but with a more complex and decorative pattern. It is used for joining the ends of two pieces of wood.
- Half-lap joint: In this joint, two pieces of wood have notches cut into their edges, allowing them to overlap. It provides a strong connection, often used for creating frames.
- Miter joint: The miter joint involves cutting two pieces of wood at complementary angles, typically 45 degrees, so that they fit together to form the desired angle, which is usually 90-degrees. It’s often used for creating picture frames and decorative trim.
- Mortise and tenon joint: One of the oldest and strongest joints, the mortise and tenon joint involves inserting a tenon (a projecting part of a piece of wood) into a mortise (a hole or slot). This joint is widely used in furniture and cabinetry.
- Rabbet joint: A rabbet joint involves cutting a stepped groove into one piece of wood, allowing another piece to fit into the groove. It is commonly used for joining the edges of two pieces of wood.
- Scarf joint: This joint connects two pieces of wood end-to-end, with both ends cut at an angle and overlapped. It’s often used for creating long beams or molding.
- Spline joint: In this joint, a thin piece of wood, called a spline, is inserted into grooves cut into the edges of two pieces of wood. The spline joint is used for aligning and strengthening joints, particularly in panel frames and drawers.
- Tongue and groove joint: The tongue and groove joint involves cutting a tongue on one piece of wood and a groove on another, allowing them to interlock. This joint is often used for connecting floorboards or wall paneling.
Woodworking Materials and Fasteners
Next, we’ll cover various materials and fasteners commonly used in woodworking projects.
- Hardwood: Wood from deciduous trees, hardwood is generally denser and more durable than softwood. Common hardwoods used in woodworking include oak, maple, walnut, and cherry.
- Softwood: Wood from coniferous trees, softwood is generally less dense and more lightweight than hardwood. Common softwoods used in woodworking include pine, fir, and cedar.
- Plywood: Made from thin layers of wood veneer glued together, plywood is a versatile and affordable material. It is used in a variety of woodworking projects, including furniture, cabinetry, and structural applications. It’s not usually considered as “high quality” as solid hardwood, but is still highly useful.
- Baltic birch plywood: A specific kind of high-quality plywood made from multiple layers of birch veneer, known for its strength, stability, and attractive appearance. It is commonly used in cabinetry, furniture, and woodworking projects that require a durable, dimensionally stable material.
- MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard): A type of engineered wood product made from wood fibers and adhesive known for its uniform density and smooth surface. It is often used in furniture and cabinetry construction, as well as for creating decorative elements.
- Biscuits: Thin, oval-shaped pieces of compressed wood used with glue to reinforce joints, particularly in biscuit joinery. They expand when they come into contact with glue, creating a strong bond.
- Dowels: Cylindrical wooden rods used to reinforce joints, align parts, or serve as structural elements in furniture and woodworking projects. They come in various diameters and lengths to suit different applications.
- Pocket screws: Screws with a flat head and a self-tapping thread, specifically designed for use in pocket-hole joinery. They create strong joints without the need for additional fasteners or glue.
- Wood filler: A putty-like substance used to fill imperfections, holes, or gaps in wood. It can be sanded, stained, and painted to match the surrounding wood.
- Wood glue: An adhesive specifically formulated for bonding wood. It creates a strong, durable bond and is essential for many woodworking joints.
Wood Properties & Measurement
In this section, we’ll cover various terms related to wood properties, helping you better understand the characteristics of the wood you’re working with.
- Annular Rings: The pattern of growth rings in a piece of wood, visible on the end grain.
- Board foot: A unit of measurement for wood volume. It’s equal to a piece of wood that is 1 inch thick, 12 inches wide, and 12 inches long.
- End check: A crack or split that forms at the end of a piece of wood as it dries, usually due to uneven shrinkage.
- End grain: The exposed surface of wood created when a board is cut perpendicular to the growth rings. End grain is more absorbent of finishes and moisture, and more prone to splitting compared to face grain.
- Face grain: The surface of a board that runs parallel to the grain direction. Face grain is typically more stable and less absorbent than end grain.
- Figure: The pattern created by the wood grain, growth rings, and other features in a piece of wood. The figure can have a significant impact on the appearance and value of a finished project.
- Grain direction: The orientation of wood fibers in a piece of wood. It affects the appearance, strength, and workability of the wood.
- Growth rings: The concentric circles visible on the end grain of a piece of wood that represent the annual growth of the tree. The spacing and pattern of growth rings can influence the appearance and properties of the wood.
- Hardness: A measure of a wood’s resistance to dents, scratches, and wear. Density is generally correlated with how hard a wood is, and hardwoods are generally denser and harder than softwoods, though there are exceptions.
- Knot: A circular or oval imperfection in the wood. Knots form where branches were once attached to the tree. They can affect the strength, appearance, and workability of the wood.
- Live edge: The natural, uncut edge of a piece of wood, often retained for a rustic or organic appearance.
- Moisture content: The amount of water present in a piece of wood. It impacts the wood’s stability, weight, and susceptibility to warping or shrinking. Properly dried wood has a moisture content that is suitable for its intended use and is generally measured by a quality moisture meter before usage.
- Pitch pocket: A natural defect in wood, a pitch pocket is a small, open cavity filled with resin or sap. Pitch pockets can affect the appearance and workability of the wood and may require special treatment, such as filling or sealing, to prevent issues in the finished project.
- Quartersawn: A method of cutting lumber that produces boards with vertical grain patterns. Quartersawn wood is more stable and less prone to warping than other types of cuts, and many woodworkers like the look better than other visible grain patterns. Quartersawn wood is often sold at a premium price.
- Riftsawn: A method of cutting lumber that produces boards with diagonal grain patterns, riftsawn wood offers a compromise between the stability of quartersawn wood and the affordability of flatsawn wood.
- Sapwood: The outer, lighter-colored portion of a tree’s trunk. It’s typically less dense and durable than the inner heartwood.
- Shrinkage: The size reduction that occurs as wood loses moisture. It can cause warping, cracking, or other defects if not properly accounted for in woodworking projects. Use a quality moisture meter to verify the wood before you buy it and also directly before you build with it.
- Stability: A measure of a wood’s resistance to changes in size and shape due to fluctuations in temperature and ambient humidity. It’s an important consideration when selecting wood for woodworking projects.
- Wane: The presence of bark or a rounded edge on a piece of lumber. It’s considered a defect and is typically removed during the milling process.
- Warping: The distortion of wood caused by uneven drying. It can result in bowed, twisted, or cupped boards that are difficult to work with.
- Wood movement: The natural expansion and contraction of wood due to changes in temperature and humidity. It can cause issues in woodworking projects if not properly accounted for during construction.
- Wood species: The specific type of tree from which a piece of wood is derived.
Miscellaneous Woodworking Terms
This final section covers a variety of miscellaneous woodworking terms that you may encounter in your woodworking journey. These terms encompass various aspects of the craft, from specific techniques to components of woodworking projects.
- Bandsaw: A woodworking machine with a continuous, looped blade used for cutting curves, resawing, and making other intricate cuts in wood.
- Belt sander: A belt sander is a sander that uses a continuous loop of sandpaper, powered by an electric motor, to remove large amounts of material quickly. It can be handheld or bench-mounted, requiring careful handling due to its aggressive material removal.
- Bench dog: A peg or clamp used with a workbench to hold workpieces in place during cutting, sanding, or other woodworking tasks.
- Bevel: An angled cut made along the edge or end of a piece of wood. It’s used for decorative purposes, to create joints, or to improve the fit of a piece in certain applications.
- Carcass: A carcass, in the context of woodworking, pertains to the fundamental structure or “box” of a piece, typically comprising six sides, as exemplified by the six-board chest. This includes a front, back, two ends, a bottom, and a top or lid. This simplistic form of furniture construction, when assembled, creates an enclosed storage space.
- Chamfer: A decorative technique that involves cutting a 45-degree angle along the edge of a piece of wood to create a smooth, finished appearance.
- Crosscut: A cut made across the grain of the wood to trim boards to length or to create shorter sections for various woodworking applications.
- Dovetail saw: A specialized hand saw with a thin blade and fine teeth. It’s designed for making precise cuts when creating dovetail joints.
- Drawboring: A technique used in mortise and tenon joinery, where a peg is driven through offset holes to create a tight joint.
- Featherboard: A safety device used on woodworking machines, such as table saws or routers, to hold workpieces securely against the fence or table, preventing kickback and ensuring accurate cuts.
- Fret saw: A hand saw with a thin, narrow blade used for making intricate cuts in wood, particularly in applications such as marquetry and scrollwork.
- Fuming: A finishing technique that involves exposing wood, usually oak, to ammonia fumes, which react with the natural tannins in the wood to create a rich, dark color. Fuming is an alternative to staining and provides a more authentic, aged appearance.
- Jig: A custom-made device used to guide tools or workpieces during woodworking operations. It ensures accurate and repeatable cuts, shapes, or holes.
- Jointer: A woodworking tool used to create flat surfaces and straight edges on pieces of wood. It employs a fast-spinning cutterhead with sharp blades to remove material, enabling two pieces of wood to join together perfectly. This tool is essential for tasks like squaring edges, flattening surfaces, or correcting warp and twist in wood.
- Kerf: The width of the cut made by a saw blade. The kerf determines how much material is removed during the cutting process.
- Kiln drying: The process of drying wood in a kiln, an oven with controlled temperature and humidity levels. It can dry wood to a low moisture content and also treat the wood to kill insects.
- Lamination: The process of bonding multiple layers of wood, veneer, or other materials together using glue or other adhesives. It’s used to create larger or stronger components for furniture and cabinetry construction.
- Miter gauge: A device used on table saws, band saws, and other woodworking machines to accurately guide workpieces at a specific angle during cutting.
- Orbital sander: An orbital sander is a handheld power tool used for fine sanding in woodworking. It employs a circular sanding pad that moves in small orbits, or circles, to create a smooth, even finish. Its gentle action makes it ideal for finishing work, such as smoothing out the final layers of wood or prepping for painting or staining.
- Outfeed Table: A support table or surface positioned behind a power tool, such as a table saw or planer, that helps support the workpiece as it exits the tool.
- Parquetry: A decorative technique that involves arranging small, geometric pieces of wood to create intricate patterns on a surface. It’s common in flooring and furniture construction.
- Pilot hole: A small hole drilled into a piece of wood before inserting a screw or other fastener. It helps prevent splitting and ensures proper alignment.
- Planer: A planer is a woodworking tool that trims boards to a consistent thickness and flatness across their length and width. It uses sharp blades on a revolving cutter head to remove material as wood is fed through it.
- Rasp: A woodworking tool with a flat, rough surface used for shaping wood, refining curves, or removing excess material.
- Relief cut: A small, shallow cut made to reduce stress on a workpiece during bending or shaping and prevent cracks and splits in the wood.
- Resaw: The process of cutting a board along its thickness, creating two or more thinner boards. It’s commonly done on a band saw.
- Rip cut: A cut made parallel to the grain of the wood to trim boards to width or to create narrower strips for various woodworking applications.
- Runout: The amount of deviation from true roundness or straightness in a rotating tool or workpiece. It can cause vibration, noise, and uneven cutting and is typically minimized through proper tool maintenance and alignment.
- Sanding block: A hand-held tool that holds sandpaper, providing even pressure and helping prevent the sandpaper from digging into the wood.
- Sawhorse: A portable, A-frame support used for holding workpieces during cutting. Sawhorses are commonly used in pairs to support long boards or other materials.
- Scribe: The process of marking a line or shape on a piece of wood by dragging a sharp tool, such as a pencil or knife, along the surface. It ensures accurate cuts and fitting during woodworking operations.
- Scroll saw: A scroll saw is a small electric or pedal-operated saw used to cut intricate curves in wood, metal, or other materials. The fineness of its blade allows it to cut more delicately than a power jigsaw and more easily than a coping saw. It’s ideal for creating detailed designs, complex patterns, and joints like dovetails.
- Seasoning: The process of drying wood to reduce its moisture content.
- Set: The angle at which the teeth of a saw blade are bent outward, creating a wider kerf and reducing binding during cutting.
- Shop vac: A powerful vacuum cleaner designed for cleaning up sawdust, wood chips, and other debris, or sometimes even wet material and liquids.
- Sill: A horizontal member at the base of a window or door frame that supports the frame and prevents water from entering the structure.
- Skirt: A decorative trim or panel on tables, chairs, and cabinets that conceals the space between a piece of furniture and the floor.
- Slab: A solid, flat piece of wood, typically without any joints or other assembly. It’s used for creating tabletops, doors, and other large, flat surfaces.
- Spokeshave: A hand tool with a narrow blade and adjustable depth of cut for shaping and smoothing curved surfaces, such as chair legs or wooden handles.
- Stile: A vertical member in a frame-and-panel construction that provides support and stability to the overall structure.
- Story stick: A measuring device used in woodworking to transfer dimensions and layouts from one workpiece to another. It’s often made from scrap wood and marked with the relevant measurements to ensure consistent sizing and placement throughout a project.
- Straightedge: A flat, rigid tool used for checking the straightness of a surface or edge.
- Taper: A gradual reduction in the thickness or width of a piece of wood. It’s used for shaping legs, handles, and other components in furniture and woodworking projects.
- T-bevel: An adjustable measuring tool for transferring angles from one piece of wood to another in tasks such as fitting molding or creating mitered joints.
- Template: A pattern or guide for marking or cutting shapes on a workpiece.
- Veneer: A thin layer of wood, often made from expensive or exotic species, that is glued to a substrate to create a finished surface with a high-quality appearance.
- V-groove: A decorative groove cut into the surface of a piece of wood. It’s typically used for creating paneling or wainscoting with a more defined, textured appearance.
- Wainscoting: A decorative wall treatment consisting of panels and trim. It adds visual interest and protects walls from damage in dining rooms, living rooms, and other interior spaces.
- Waterfall edge: A design feature in which the grain of a piece of wood appears to flow continuously over the edge and down the side of a piece of furniture.
- Web frame: A horizontal or vertical support structure used in furniture and cabinetry construction. It helps to reinforce joints and maintain the overall stability of the piece.
- Woodworking vise: A clamping device attached to a workbench for holding workpieces securely during cutting, shaping, and assembly.
- Woodturning: The process of shaping wood on a lathe. It involves spinning the workpiece and using cutting tools to create round or cylindrical shapes
- Workbench: A sturdy table or surface designed for woodworking tasks. It typically features vises, bench dogs, and other devices to hold workpieces securely during cutting, shaping, and assembly.
- Zero clearance insert: A custom-made insert for a table saw or other woodworking machine that eliminates the gap around the blade, which provides better support for workpieces and reduces the risk of tear-out during cutting.
As you expand your woodworking vocabulary, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively with fellow woodworkers and improve your ability to plan, execute, and troubleshoot projects.
Already an experienced woodworker? Let us know in the comments below what phrases or terms you would add to this list!
Wagner Meters is a family-owned American business that aims to provide solutions in moisture measurement technology that will enhance the quality and value of each customer’s project. With an almost 60-year legacy of innovation, Wagner continues to be a resource for both individual craftsmen and high-performance commercial endeavors.
Last updated on January 8th, 2024