Do You Know These Things That Carpenters Should Know?


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Carpentry is one of the world's oldest lines of work; it probably arose at about the same time as farming. That is, when we were hunter-gatherers, we slept in caves or out in the open. But around the time that we started to take control of our food supply, humans also got more ambitious about our shelters, making them rather than just finding them. An obvious building material for this was tree branches and fallen logs, which could be cut to size with sharp tools ... and so, a profession was born. 

Fast-forward about 100,000 years, and carpentry is still a vital line of work. In modern times, some carpenters have branched out into specialized fields, like cabinetmaking, preservation carpentry and "green" or eco-friendly carpentry. This means they can always find work, even in the age of pre-fabricated homes and new materials, like steel (which is common in multi-story urban buildings). Make no mistake, you'll still see a lot of wood-frame homes going up -- timber isn't going anywhere, and neither is carpentry. 

How much do you know about this respected profession? Do you know, for example, what it means when a home is "stick built"? (Doesn't sound very durable!) Or where in a new building you'd find "trusses"? Test your knowledge of the carpentry trade now, with our quiz!

Wood for use in building is commonly called what?

Don't be confused by "sticks": though houses built from scratch on site are called "stick-built," the pieces of wood are nonetheless called "lumber." Logged trees are cut down into usable lumber at plants called sawmills.


What is putting up the "skeleton" of a building called?

Framing is a key part of carpentry. This is where you begin to see the essential building take shape. In the 19th century and before, framing was done with beams and posts; this was called "timber framing" and isn't used very much today.


What is the opposite, or horizontal version, of studs?

Joists are the horizontal element of a building's frame; studs are the vertical ones. It's true that logs are used to make rustic buildings like cabins -- but that's a slightly different use than joists; in log cabins, logs make up the entire wall.


At the bottom of the frame, the studs attach to the ____.

This used to be called the "sill plate"; that term has largely been shortened to "sill" in American carpentry. Like the rest of the frame, it is made of wood.


A screwdriver with a cross-hatched tip is called a ______ screwdriver?

Screwdrivers come in "flat" or "Phillips" versions. A flat screwdriver has a simple, straight-across tip, and can sometimes be used in screws with a cross pattern in the head, if the grooves are wide enough.


What is "crosscutting"?

Cutting wood with the grain is usually called "ripping," while against the grain is "crosscutting." An experienced carpenter understands the merits of both methods.


What exactly is "grain" in wood?

Meat also has "grain." This is why in cookbooks involving meat, you might see the direction "cut against the grain." In both cases, it has to do with the way the cells lay when the meat or wood was living tissue.


Which of these saws makes turns and can create curved patterns?

It's clear how this tool gave its name to a type of puzzle. Jigsaw pieces have bubble-like protrusions and deep curves, deep enough to serve as connectors. This resembles the woodwork that can be done with a jigsaw.


Which of these saws is useful for making 90-degree angles?

A miter saw doesn't *just* create 90-degree angles, but also 45-degree ones, and sometimes custom angles as well. It uses a miter box as a guide, and is useful in making elements like crown molding.


Which of these is the least likely job hazard of carpentry?

Scalding is a common injury to plumbers, for obvious reasons. It's less likely to happen to a carpenter, because often they are either working on a building under construction, where the plumbing has yet to be installed, or they're working on a finished building but not dealing with the pipes or the water heater.


Which of these might limit a carpenter's ability to build a home with an open floor plan?

Load-bearing walls support the ceiling and roof; a certain number are essential (depending on the strength of the building materials). Whether the home's residents can get along with each other without private spaces to retreat to ... that's above a carpenter's paygrade!


Which of these would a carpenter use to find out if a horizontal plane is level?

A spirit level looks like a thick ruler, with a fluid-filled tube in the center (the fluid is the "spirit"), and an air bubble in that tube. When the bubble is directly centered in the tube, the surface is level.


What does a "plumb bob" do?

Though it looks like something you might dowse with, a plumb bob doesn't find groundwater at the job site. It's essentially the opposite of a spirit level, letting the carpenter discern if, say, a wall is at a 90-degree angle to the floor.


Which of these is an old-fashioned term for a carpenter who does fine finish work?

This term survives in the UK, but not very much in Canada or the United States. In these countries, the term "finish carpenter" is used. It's someone who does cabinets, fine decorative work or parquetry.


What is the name for the decorative trim found where the wall meets the ceiling?

Crown molding *is* like a cummerbund in that it's a decorative piece that covers up where two things join ... in this case, a wall and a ceiling. The other two terms are for the narrow board found where the wall and floor meet: "baseboard" is a North American term, while "skirting board" is English.


Other than being at the top and bottom of a wall, respectively, what's the difference between crown molding and baseboard?

Baseboard gets accidentally scuffed with people's shoes or bumped with the vacuum cleaner. That's why it needs to be made of sterner stuff than crown molding. Crown molding might also be more expensive, because it is more decorative -- but not by that much.


A long piece of wood or frame element meant to bend with loads is called what?

Beams are strong pieces of wood, but flexible ones. A beam can bend, and not break, when weight is applied. Think also of "balance beams," on which gymnasts can leap around and land full-force without the beam giving way.


What part of a building has "pitch"?

A roof's steepness is referred to as its "pitch." It's possible that your floor has pitch, too -- but if it does, you might have made a bad buy in terms of real estate, or a bad choice of builder!


Which of these elements has "rise" and "run"?

"Rise" and "run" are, respectively, the vertical and horizontal space that a staircase takes up. Many considerations go into the building of a staircase, including efficient use of space and user safety. The architect will plan those parts, but a carpenter is responsible for carrying them out properly.


You might also hear a staircase's run referred to as its what?

This is measured as the distance from the first step's riser to the last's one. It's sometimes referred to as the "total going" to distinguish it from the "going" of a particular step, which is the length of its tread.


What is the name for a cutting tool with a blunt blade, usually forced into the material to be cut?

Chisels are simple hand tools that split or gouge the material (like wood) that they're forced into. As you might expect, chisels are among the earliest hand tools created by humans.


Why would a carpenter "sink" a nailhead?

To sink a nailhead is to hammer it in until it's slightly beneath the surface of the wood. This is done to make the entire wall or wood surface more appealing to look at. Admittedly, it *is* frustrating if you need to undo the work by hand.


What is the opposite of a "stick-built" home?

"Prefab" homes are ones in which the different parts, like the roof, are assembled off-site and delivered. While they have a reputation for being cheap, nowadays, some are quite architecturally appealing.


What are wood screws made of?

Yep, wood screws are made of metal, like most other kinds of screws. They get the name because they work well *on* wood surfaces.


Why do exterior doors need an extra hinge, compared to interior ones?

Doors leading outside are heavier than the ones between rooms inside a house. That's why they'll usually have three hinges, while inner doors have two. A particularly tall door -- say, an eight-foot-tall door to a taller-than-standard first floor -- might need four.


In which of these carpentry-adjacent trades is mortar used?

Mortar is what holds rows of brick together. While carpenters don't create brick elements like fireplaces and chimneys, they are likely to have to collaborate with the workers who do -- and many other kinds of tradespeople.


Which of these would most likely have a beveled edge?

Crown molding often has slanted or curved edges, called "beveling." It also might appear on the edges of cabinets and window sills.


Where would you find a "transom"?

A transom is a decorative window over a door. Often they're made with frosted or etched glass, to enhance their attractiveness and protect privacy, because unlike other windows, transoms rarely have blinds or curtains.


Where on a building are "gables" located?

A gable is the simplest shape of roof, an inverted V. A gable is also an extension of the roof in its own inverted V shape; these are used to create extra headroom in an attic that is used as living space.


If a carpenter refers to an "A-frame," he or she means which of these?

An A-frame ladder is one about six feet tall, with spreaders holding the two sides together at an angle to each other. It's generally used indoors. An A-frame house is one where a simple gable roof extends almost to the ground, giving the house its simple A shape.


Can wood be manmade?

There's such a thing as "engineered wood," which is manmade, and often contains wood products. Adhesives are often required to make everything hang together, but once fabricated, these products can perform as well as natural wood.


What does a carpenter called a "cooper" specialize in?

OK, not too many barrels are made by hand these days; most are prefabricated. But back in the day, if you loved beer or wine, you'd have to thank a cooper, whose work allowed it to be stored, shipped or aged.


Wood cut to make geometric patterns, especially for floors, is called what?

Parquet floors were very popular in the early 20th century. You might see them in homes done in the Art Deco style. Done properly (e.g., not as a wood just stamped with a parquet-style pattern on the surface), they require a special skill in making joints.


What is the risk in building a home with a flat roof?

Flat roofs (defined in carpentry as roofs with a 10 percent pitch or less) can collapse under the weight of snow, or of accumulated rain when the walls extend past the roofline (as is often the case for safety reasons). Only in climates with little precipitation is a flat roof safe.


Which kind of saw allows you to pull the blade through a narrow hole and saw from the inside?

This isn't the saw that carpenters reach for most often, but it's valuable because of its narrow, removable blade. This can actually go through a hole and be reattached on the other side, which comes in handy on finish work and fine woodwork.


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