How Many of These Common Carpentry-Related Terms Do You Know?


By: Jacqueline Samaroo

7 Min Quiz

Image: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Brace yourself! Time for some constructive fun as you hammer out all the correct answers in this quiz!

Carpentry or woodworking is one of the oldest known skills. That is, perhaps, because wood has always been a readily available material. Humans have used wood to make shelters, furniture, transportation and a wide range of other items. Carpentry even predates the use of Stone Age tools but has benefited greatly from the technological advances which came along in the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. 

As carpentry developed, so too did the set of terms use by persons practicing the trade. Some of these terms are common to other skill areas, but many of them are specific to carpentry and there are a few which it would take an experienced carpenter to figure out. "Awl in awl," there are some of each of them in the quiz, so if you know jack (stud) about carpentry, you should do pretty well!

If you are an apprentice or journeyman, you are sure to know the vast majority of these terms - perhaps you go about using them every day! Show you are in the top bracket when it comes to carpentry - take the quiz!

Which of these terms is used for a wall which is perfectly vertical?

A line, a piece of timber or a wall which is completely vertical (not slanted in any way) is said to be plumb. Common tools used to check for plumb include the spirit level and the plumb bob. The verb “plumb” can be used to mean to make an object perfectly vertical or to find the vertical height or depth of something.


What is the name carpenters use for the tool which helps them to check, mark and set right angles?

A right angle (90 degrees) is also called a square corner and hence, square is the word for the tool which carpenters use to check right angles. It is a common hand tool which comes in the form of a simple “try square” or can be designed with other features, in which case it is known as a “combination square.”


Do you know what name is given to a piece of wood which is set between two walls to give them added support?

Crossbeams are used on a wide variety of structures including cathedral ceilings. They strengthen the structure, making it capable of bearing a greater load and withstand rocking forces such as earthquakes. Crossbeams may be styled to add a decorative element to the structure they are supporting.


Can you spot the word which refers to trim placed at the base of a window or underneath the spindles of a staircase?

Generally speaking, the term apron is used in construction to refer to a component which is adjoining or adjacent to a primary feature. That includes the trim which is placed at the base of a window (inside and out). It can be used to cover unsightly joints and adds a finished look to the structure.


What name do carpenters give to a device made of a weight attached to string and used to check whether a wall is vertical?

While any heavy weight or tool on a string can act as a plumb bob, the weight which is typically used is pointed, as this helps to ensure greater accuracy. The plumb bob is a traditional device which still comes in handy, especially when a carpenter needs to plumb a very tall wall.


What term is used to describe a shorter-than-normal stud or rafter?

Cripple studs and cripple rafters are used as framing elements. Cripple studs, for example, are placed vertically below or above an opening, such as a door or window. Because they make room for the opening in the wall, they are shorter-than-regular studs which go from floor to ceiling.


Do you know which of these terms refers to cutting wood at an angle?

Miter cuts are typically made at an angle of 45 degrees at the end of a piece of timber. Therefore, when two pieces of timber with miter cuts are placed end-to-end, they form a miter joint which measures 90 degrees.


Which term refers to the piece of framing wood placed above a door or window for support?

Headers are weight-bearing, horizontal pieces of timber which are placed at the top of an opening whenever that opening is wider than the distance between two studs. The header supports the weight above the opening, and further support can be given by placing cripples (short studs) from the header up to the top plate


Any permanent and immovable weight which the structure has to bear is referred to by which term?

Most often the largest dead load a structure has to bear is the weight of the structure itself. Its roof, walls, staircases and elevated floors are all dead weight. The terms permanent load and static load can be used in place of the more macabre “dead” load.


What do carpenters call the small, sharp, pointed tool which they use to make indentations and scribe lines?

There are several different types of awls, but the one most often used by carpenters is the brad awl. It is used to create pilot or starting holes for nails and screws. Another type of awl is the scratch awl, which can be used to etch a line in a piece of wood for the teeth of a saw to follow.


What do carpenters call it when they cut away a section at the bottom of a piece of timber?

Undercutting a door can help to make room for it to pass freely over newly installed flooring. The undercut can also refer to making an angle cut at the back or side of a piece of wood so that it fits snuggly against another piece of wood.


What is the term used when slender projections are cut into the ends of pieces of timber so that they can interlock?

Two pieces of timber can be securely joined by cutting finger-like projections in the end of each. The “fingers” interlock when the pieces of wood are placed together, creating a finger joint (also called box joint or comb joint). Finger joints can be used to join pieces of wood together lengthwise or to form a corner.


What term do carpenters use to describe a surface which is perfectly horizontal?

The word level means completely horizontal, just as plumb means completely vertical. Carpenters can use the same tool, a spirit level, to verify both level and plumb conditions as they build. Many spirit levels also have the ability to check whether a surface slopes at 45 degrees.


What is the carpentry term for a strip of timber used as a decorative element, often where a wall meets the floor or ceiling?

Molding (also called wall trim) is often made of softwood with a decorative profile to add a finished look once the molding is installed. An engineered hardwood material known as MDF (medium-density fibreboard) is sometimes used but there are some health and safety concerns with this.


Can you name the type of decorative molding which is described as larger than pearling?

Beading by itself can form an attractive yet simple trim. It is often combined with other designs, however, to create more intricate molding styles with such names as bead and leaf; bead and spindle; bead and dart; and bead and reel.


What is the term used when a carpenter joins two pieces of wood without any special shaping technique?

On its own, a butt joint held together by only glue is weak and liable to fail under minimal stress. To improve the strength of this simple joint, carpenters often use some type of fastener, such as nails, screws, biscuits and dowels.


What is the feline name given to the forked tool which carpenters use as a nail puller?

The cat’s paw is a kind of pry bar which sometimes goes by the name claw bar. It is used to dig in around embedded nails and pull them out, sometime with the assistance of a claw hammer.


The pieces of timber which run perpendicular to studs and are used as support for a ceiling or floor go by what name?

Joists can be found in floor and ceiling framing. They run parallel to each other and are set to sit atop a beam which is placed across the studs. In some cases, there are other beams running under (or carrying) the joists which help to provide added support.


What do carpenters call the tool used to create slots to fit small discs which connect pieces of wood together?

The biscuit joiner is a power tool with a small circular blade. It used to cut slots in pieces of timber which are to be joined. A small oval disc called a biscuit is loaded with glue and placed in the slots, joining the two pieces of timber together.


What name refers to material used to cover the underside of an eave so as to give it a finished appearance?

Soffits are used in conjunction with vertical fascia boards when constructing the eaves of a roof. Apart from finishing an eave, soffits can be used inside a building to fill in the empty space between the ceiling and the top of a cupboard or cabinet.


Which word do carpenters use to describe a situation where one surface juts out instead of being flush with another?

The term “flush” means two surfaces are completely level with each other. In cases where they are not, then the lower surface is said to be “shy” while the upper one is “proud.”


What term do carpenters use to describe a measurement taken from the middle of one element to the middle of another element?

On center measurements are typically taken between the centers of neighboring studs. As long as all the studs are identical, then the on center measurement is the same as the distance between the edges of the studs


Which term do carpenters use when referring to two diagonal supports which are placed so that they form an X?

Cross bracing acts as a form of reinforcement and can be found on various parts of a building, including between rafters and floor joists. The technique is also used to strengthen furniture such as tables and chairs. Other forms of bracing include K-bracing and V-bracing.


What term are carpenters likely to use when referring to the high point where two sloped sections of a roof meet?

There is a board (aptly called the ridge board) which runs horizontally along the ridge of the roof. The roof’s sloping rafters meet the ridge board on either side, and it helps to provide support for all other elements of the roof.


Which term means a connection which is formed when sloping projections are interlocked?

The dovetail joint is quite similar to the finger joint, but with sloping sides on the pins instead of having them straight. The dovetail joint is said to be much stronger than the finger joint and it can be made even stronger with the application of glue.


Material used to prevent the spread of flames, smoke and gases inside concealed spaces goes by what name?

Fire blocking material can slow down or stop fire which occurs within the walls of a building. It works by sealing off sections of the space inside the wall and by preventing drafts of air from fueling and moving the fire. Common fire blocking materials include drywall, mineral wool, cement board and spray foam.


What is the name of these common features which help to hold up the weight of a structure?

Some load-bearing walls also act as partitioning walls, but there are many partitioning walls which do not contribute to bearing the structure’s weight – they simply divide up the space inside. Care must be taken when remodeling a structure, since knocking out a load-bearing wall can compromise its integrity.


Do you know which term refers to the platform between two flights of stairs which allow the stairs to change direction?

The full term for the platform between two flights of stairs is the “intermediate landing.” Although it is typically used when stairs need to change direction, it is not always necessary. A spiral staircase allows the climber to ascend the stairs while constantly changing direction.


What term do carpenters use for the slight curve or bend in a piece of timber?

It is expected that timber used in framing a house will not lie completely flat. To make the timber appear flat when it is used as flooring, carpenters lay it with the crown (curve) up. The weight of the furniture and occupants of the house will then cause it to flatten out.


Timber which is set vertically at the edge of a roof to help form its eaves goes by what name?

The fascia board runs right along the edge of the roof and is connected to the ends of the rafters. The underside of the roof is then fitted with the soffit boards, and the finished look of the eaves is created.


What term is used when a partition is made of different length studs, giving it a sloped appearance?

A rake (or raked) wall may be sloped in one or both directions. Also, the slopes do not have to be the same length, neither do they have to cover the entire length of the wall. It all depends on the design of the structure.


Which term do carpenters use for the framework of timber which supports a roof?

Traditionally, trusses are constructed from scratch, but it is now commonplace for carpenters to use pre-fabricated trusses. The pre-fabricated trusses can save time, labor and material but care must be taken that they may not completely match the requirements of a specific structure.


Do you know the term which refers to the supporting timber located where two sloped sides of a roof meet?

Valley rafters are typically found on hip roofs where the building is made up of different sections and has what are called internal corners. The valley rafter offers support to shorter rafters known as cripples.


When carpenters speak of reducing the moisture content of timber, what term do they use?

Wood which is to be air-dried is stacked in a cool, dry location with some amount of protection from heavy rain. To allow for circulation of air around the pieces of lumber, they are stacked with spacers (sometimes called stickers) between them. It can take several years to air-dry timber to its optimal moisture content.


Which of these terms refers to dynamic or temporary weight which the structure has to bear?

A live load is any weight which is not fixed to or forms a part of the structure. This includes the weight of people moving through the structure. Movable furniture is also considered to be live load whether or not it actually moves after being placed in a particular spot.


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