Beginner Woodworking and Carpentry Glossary

The absolute basics in both woodworking and carpentry terminology. Not only will the article cover the terms but I’ll intertwine some tools as well because it plays such a huge part in understanding the terminology. Let’s dive into learning about some of the basic terms.


In its raw’s form wood can be broken up into two categories: hardwoods and softwoods.
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees. That is trees that drop their leaves like oak cherry or maple. Another important thing to know about hardwoods is that they grow slower and the wood fibers are denser making the wood much stronger.
Soft softwoods on the other hand come from conifer trees. Trees like pine fur cedar and of course they have needles and not leaves. Softwood trees grow faster and produce wood that is less dense and in general weaker than hardwood.

Rough cut lumber (RGH) is well rough lumber and in most cases, you can still see the saw marks from the mill. Rough lumber is sold by the quarter-inch in its thickness and its width can vary just depending on what’s available in your area. Lumber like this can be used for rustic projects or it could be sized down by using a jointer and a planer for furniture.
Moving on the term face is used to describe the large flat part of the board while the edge is used to describe the smaller edge of the board.
End grain refers to the end of the board where the end of the grain is most visible. Grain or grain pattern is a visual look that the grain makes as it runs through the board it’s what makes wood so beautiful.
Once the lumber does get sized down it’s called dressed lumber. That is lumber that has been sized and shaped and smoothed to a nice flat surface. For example, S4S which stands for surfaced on four sides is lumber that is found at most big box stores. It’s dimensioned and finished on four sides ready to use. There’s also S2S lumber which is surfaced on two sides. Both faces are planed but as you can see the edges are still raw and rough.
Dimensional lumber is lumber that is sized to a standard final dimension like framing lumber. Dimensional lumber is sold using its rough size, not its actual size.
Most often the lumber that we’ve been discussing has been kiln-dried. Meaning that it’s been put inside of a kiln. A kiln is a big oven to reduce the moisture content of the lumber. Wet wood will eventually dry out and shrink on its own. But by using a kiln that does it in a more controlled environment that’s slower producing a much better product at the end.
However, in the carpentry world, there is a product called PT lumber or pressure-treated lumber which is wet. This lumber is treated with chemicals that resist rot and insects which makes it a great choice for outdoor projects.

No matter what wood you buy there are six common defects to look out for:

  • Cup. A cup is when the board or the lumber is curved up in this direction on the face of the wood.
  • Twist. A twist is when the board twists this way and one end in the opposite direction in the other.
  • Crook. A crook is when the board or lumber bends to the right or the left in the direction of the edge of the material.
  • Bow. A bow is similar to a crook but this time the board bends in the direction of the face.
  • Check. A check is when the board or lumber has a crack but the crack doesn’t go all the way through the thickness of the material.
  • Split. The split is when the crack goes all the way through the material.


Plywood is a man-made wood product that is made from multiple layers or plies of thin wood veneer. These veneers are then glued together at 90-degree angles to each other to produce a flat large stable sheet of material. Plywood is often graded by its surface and how many plies it has. So for example the fewer the plies the weaker the plywood or the less stable it is. The more plies it has the more stable it is the stronger it is.
Half-inch construction grade plywood has four plies. Sold in 4 by 8 sheets and has a pretty rough surface even after it’s been sanded.
The next type to look at is finished plywood. Finished plywood has one or two outside thin veneers oftentimes hardwood that produces a really good smooth surface.
The last type of plywood to look at is baltic birch. And here in the US baltic birch might be the highest level of quality of plywood that you can buy.
All plywood no matter what it is comes in multiple thicknesses.

Measuring and Marking

Square. In carpentry and woodworking, it refers to checking the squareness of the faces edges or the ends of boards. It also refers to checking if something you’re building has equal diagonal measurements which verifies that it is indeed square.
The term square is also used to label a group of tools that are specifically designed to mark and check for squareness let’s look at four of them:

  • Precision square. These squares are made out of metal with little to no moving parts that’s what makes them so precise.
  • Speed square. This tool is used mainly in carpentry but it also can be used in woodworking.
  • Combination square. This tool is great at so many things around the shop and it provides very accurate angles and it can be used to set and measure depth as well.
  • Framing square. The framing square is used for well you guessed it for framing houses and it’s also really good at checking cabinets for square before nailing.

Sliding bevel. Sliding bevels are great for laying out different angles or for transferring those angles from one piece to another. A straight edge refers to any straight material used to mark measure or cut straight lines.
When it comes to measuring larger items the metal tape measure is a good choice and it comes in different sizes and different shapes.
When it comes to making the marks a good old #2 pencil works great. So does a carpenter’s pencil and when you’re working with rough lumber white charcoal pencils work fantastic too.

Handtools For Cutting and Shaping

Let’s start this section off by talking about handsaws. Handsaws is a general term and can be used to describe many different types of saws:

  • Traditional saw. These are the classic looking handsaws that most people can easily recognize. Nowadays these saws come in all different shapes and sizes and most of them though still cut on the push stroke. Meaning that they cut mostly in the forward direction.
  • Pool saw also known as Japanese saw. They are fantastic saws. Great for control flexibility and require less effort because they cut on the pull stroke.
  • Backsaw. The backsaw again is a general term it’s used to describe any saw that has a stiffened rib along the back of the saw. This rib greatly reduces any flexing that the blade may encounter while in use. Because of the less flex the straighter the cut.

Cutting wood

Let’s shift gears real quick and talk about two terms as it pertains to cutting wood:

  • Kurf. The kurf of the blade is how wide the blade is and ultimately how wide of a cut it leaves behind in the wood.
  • Offcut. The offcut is any piece of material that you don’t want or the waste after the cut is finished. The offcut isn’t necessarily always waste though it may simply mean the piece that you’re not intending to use after the cut is complete.

Shaping wood

Wood chisel. There are many different sizes and shapes available and they’re all great tools for shaping wood.
Hand plane. Hand planes are a general term it can be broken up into two types: block plane and jack plane.
Block plane. A block plane is used to shape edges of stock and to remove material where needed.
Jack plane. It’s much larger than the previous one and this one’s great for general purpose planning and for shaping and flattening.
One term that’s used often around things that need sharpen like chisels and planes are the word hone. Hone simply means to sharpen something.
Wood rasp. Wood rasps like all tools come in many different sizes and shapes but they’re all great for quickly roughing out and shaping edges and the faces of stock.

Power tools

Power tools are any tools that require an electrical power source or any other type of mechanism to make it operate. So with that here the list of the most common power tools and their associated terms.
A table saw is used to rip and cross-cut material easily accurately and safely. It is by far the most used power tool in woodworking.
Ripping is cutting a board along its length or with the grain which changes the board’s overall width.
Cross-cutting is cutting across the width or across the grain which changes the board’s overall length.
The table saw is a great tool to talk about two other terms and that is infeed and outfeed. The infeed side of the table saw is this area before the blade. While the outfeed side is this area beyond the blade. These terms apply to the next two power tools as well.
The first one being the planer which is used to reduce the overall thickness of the material. And then the other is the jointer which is used to square the edges.
The table saw the jointer and the planer are the three main big power tools that you need to be able to dress rough lumber.

And now you can begin to see why most people buy S4S lumber. Because not a lot of people do have the money or space for these big power tools.

Miter Saw. The miter saw is specifically designed to make crosscuts and to make miter and bevel cut.
A jigsaw is a tool that is great for making curved cuts and notches.
The circular saw is the carpenter’s number one power tool used to cut dimensional lumber plywood and other materials. And with the proper accessories, circular saws can produce a cut almost as good as a table saw.
Orbital sanders are a powerhouse when it comes to quickly sand material down.
The router power tools are made for putting different profiles on the edges of stock as well as a lengthy list of other cool stuff.
Cordless drills are battery-operated drills that are used for driving screws as well as turning drill bits to pre-drill holes.
Pre-drilling is when you drill a hole before installing a screw or nail to reduce the chances of breaking it off or stripping it out.
Pneumatic nailers are air-powered tools that quickly and easily install finish nails brads framing nails and much more. As a side note these nailers nowadays also come in battery-operated and gas versions.

Types of Cuts

The most basic cut is a 90-degree crosscut. This cut is used to size boards down to length and when two 90 degree cuts come together they form a butt joint.
Miter cuts are made across the face of the board at an angle and when two miters come together it’s called a miter joint. Similar to a miter joint a bevel is an angled cut that is made on the edge of the material. Not the face like a miter. The most common example of this is used on baseboards. These types of cuts when put together are still called miter joints. The last type of angle cut is a compound cut. Compound miters are done on a compound miter saw. These saws not only miter left or right but they also tilt or bevel left or right. This type of cut is most commonly used on crown molding and when this joint comes together it’s called a compound miter joint.
Dados are three-sided trenches cut across the grain of the wood. These cuts are used for joining other intersecting pieces like a shelf in a cabinet. There’s another dado as well and this one’s called a stopped dado. Stopped dados stop somewhere along the cut creating a stopping point for the intersecting piece to butt up against. Often oftentimes these are used to stop shelves from coming past the front of a cabinet.
The groove similar to a dado and oftentimes still called dados a groove is a three-sided trench cut with the grain.
A rabbit cut has two sides it is always cut along the edge of the material.

Types of Trim

In general, trim is a straight piece of wood like a 1×4 that has an S4S finish. Molding generally refers to a piece of wood that has a shaped profile on it like a piece of window or door casing. These two terms often get used interchangeably. So just know that you’re going to hear that from time to time. The wood trim can be used as a verb as well. Someone might say that they’re going to trim out a window.

Let’s move on to talk about a few different types of trim and molding. Baseboard or base molding is trim or molding that is at the bottom of a wall which covers the intersection between the floor and the wall.
Shoe molding or base shoe is a piece of molding that is normally paired with baseboard to add a profile or to cover up any gaps in the floor.
Next up is paneling. Paneling can be either solid wood or some type of plywood material used to cover up the entire wall. Or it can be used as decorative paneling meaning that it only covers up a part of the wall generally within the first three feet.
Another term used more often than decorative paneling as wainscoting. And wainscoting is great to learn from because it normally incorporates a few different types of trim and molding. The paneling used to create this Wayne’s coating is a beaded paneling. Meaning that it has these beads molded right into the sheet of the paneling.
Below we have baseboard in the shoe which we already looked at but something we didn’t look at is on top which is the cap. The cap in this case finishes off the top of the wainscoting. The cap then meets a horizontal rail or trim piece and some styles of Wayne’s coating may also have vertical styles. Under the cap can be a quarter round which is a quarter circle of thin molding or it may even be a cove molding.
Moving on the next type of molding to look at is crown molding. Crown molding is normally larger than most moldings and normally installed at the junction between the wall and the ceiling. Crown molding can be used in other places as well as the top of cabinets.
Another term that you may hear often used around molding or installing molding is the word return. A return continues the molding’s profile around the corner or finishes it off back into the wall.

Window Parts

Before we dive into the window parts themselves let’s look at a few terms that are used to describe the framing members around the window.
The rough sill is the framing member that the window sits on. Along both sides of the rough window, an opening is what’s called jack studs. These studs from the rough opening as well as support the final piece which is the header.
The header is normally made up of multiple layers of dimensional lumber. And it supports any load or weight that is coming from above the window opening.
So now that you know a little bit more about what’s going on around the window let’s talk about the window itself.
The main two parts of the window are the frame and the sashes. The frame is made up of the window head jamb and sill.
The window sill is the bottom piece here which can also extend to the outside.
The window jamb forms the sides of the window and the window head is the piece at the top. The window sashes are the operational parts of the window that include the glass. They are held in by the windows frame.
Moving on the stool is the finished trim material that covers and mimics the rough sill. Because some windows don’t extend out to the interior surface of the wall extension jambs are used to extend the jamb and the head of the window to be flush with the interior surface.
Before the trim or molding is installed a reveal is marked out on the inside edge of the extension jambs. A reveal creates an extra visual line and steps the trimmer molding in from the edge. Reveals are used everywhere in woodworking and carpentry so just know that this is going to be a term that you’re going to be seeing come up quite often.
After that, the trim or molding is installed on the sides of the window and then the head casing or the trim at the top is installed next. The last piece of trim is called the apron and the apron runs under the stool to complete the window trim.

Cabinet Parts

Cabinets are broken up into lower cabinets which are the cabinets that sit on the floor and upper cabinets that hang off the wall.
The carcass refers to the rough cabinet box itself. No matter if it’s an upper cabinet or a lower.
Part of the carcass includes what is called the toe kick or the toe kick cut out. This is a cut out that’s made to allow the user to be able to stand right up next to the cabinet without jamming their toes into it.
The last piece that can be grouped into the carcass is the back panel. This is often a piece of finished plywood that can vary from a quarter-inch to three-quarters of an inch or 6 millimeters to 19 millimeters.
Once the carcass is built the next piece is the face frame. The face frame covers the raw edges of the plywood and gives the needed material to attach the doors and drawers. The face frame is made up of styles and rails.
Rails run horizontally while the stiles run vertically. These same terms then can apply to the cabinet door construction as well.
Inside the stiles and rails of the door sits the door panel. And the panel then can either be flat or it can be raised.

If you have any ideas you’d like to share with me just drop me a comment below.

By Paul Gordon