Prove You Know Carpentry by Acing This Quiz!


By: Zoe Samuel

6 Min Quiz

Image: stevecoleimages / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

There are a lot of techniques in carpentry that benefit from having modern machinery and tools. A handsaw can be a slow and painful way to get anything done, and sanding without a machine's assistance is tedious, to say the least. It takes a long time to get it right, and if you screw up, you've often damaged the actual materials with which you're working and have to start over, or at least go back some steps and unpick things that are not supposed to be undone. At its worst, it can be like un-baking a cake.

The upside is that because the materials fundamentally haven't changed, even in an age of power machinery, the techniques themselves are still the same. From measuring to cutting to inlay to joinery, from patience to math to steadiness, the things that you need to be a good carpenter are the exact same things you would have needed the first day a cave-dweller looked from a recently fallen tree to the open mouth of their cave, said to themselves, "I'm going to put wood over that," and invented the door.

How's your carpentry knowledge? Score highly on this quiz, and we'll give you all the carpentry bragging rights you need!

Measure ____, cut once. What is the missing word?

You measure twice, unless you're really not sure what you are doing, in which case you should add a third time. Hopefully, though, you do only cut once. If you have to cut twice, it is likely that something has gone horribly wrong.


What is a joint called that involves a wood peg in a hole?

Mortise and tenon joints are often pretty basic, but they get the job done. A prettier but similar idea is the dovetail joint, which works on the same principle but is more decorative.


What is the correct term for a wood coating made of resin flakes dissolved in alcohol?

Shellacking a piece of wood makes it weatherproof and can make it very beautiful. Shellac is made of resin flakes dissolved in alcohol until they can be painted on like varnish or stain.


What do you call a carving that is worked separately and then attached, as opposed to carved in situ?

Applied carvings are done separately, then added. This is a good idea when getting the fine details right requires 360 degree access, which you can't have when hanging upside by the ceiling.


Which of these is another word for door casing?

An architrave is another word for door casing. This is a decorative molding that covers the point where the door frame lining meets the wall. It not only makes the door prettier; it also helps to prevent drafts and provides unity of design.


What is it called when timber is no longer straight?

If your timbers are bowed, you might be in real trouble. Still, a bowed timber can still be fine if it isn't bearing much load. After all, if you were 400 years old, you'd probably be bowed too.


What does a collar beam do?

Typically you will use joists to keep the rafters evenly spaced at the bottom. However if you have another beam fixed higher up for this purpose, that is called a collar beam. It prevents your rafters from spreading outwards or slipping inward, toward one another, thus tilting the entire roof one way or another.


What does a chuck do?

You don't want your drill bit to wobble in place, so you have a chuck, which steadies the drill against the wall so that it can spin, but not shift horizontally. This is because you really can't put your fingers in there!


What angle is a cross cut, compared to the grain?

A crosscut is a cut that is 90 degrees to the direction of the grain. It's important to do this with a really sharp saw so that you don't end up with lots of nasty frayed ends. Keeping the saw moving at speed also helps, but good technique is the most important factor.


Which of the below is another term for a chair rail?

A dado rail is so named because it comes from the Italian word for a plinth. It's also called a chair rail because the main idea is to stop your chair backs trashing your paintwork. It's also a great way to justify a two-tone wall.


What is a straight wooden stick that you use to hold together two pieces of timber?

The joint in question is called a mortice and tenon. Dowels are very common in banisters and drawers, among other uses. A dowel is essentially a beam that has a round cross-section, more like a pillar than a plank.


Which of these is NOT a hardwood?

Hardwoods are not necessarily harder than softwoods, though both are somewhat confusingly named. Hardwoods are broad-leaved (usually) and deciduous. Softwoods like pine typically have needles and are evergreen.


What is particle board made of?

Particle board is made of all the little bits of wood that are left over. It's enormously useful as a base that you can cover with something prettier, but it's not very attractive on its own. It is also often used for workbenches and other surfaces where any cheap piece of wood will do, and you don't mind that it doesn't look great.


Roughly how long does an average timber take to season, in air-dried conditions?

You can dry timber quicker by putting it in the right conditions. However, if you are air drying it, if you want it to be really high quality and well seasoned, you need to wait a long, long time. Think of it like drying really thick, braided hair without a hairdryer: you know it takes forever!


One common way of joining together floorboards is "tongue and _____ flooring". What is the missing word?

Tongue and groove is a great way of attaching timbers without tools or nails. It means one piece sticks out a little and slots perfectly into the next, like a jigsaw except once it's slotted in, you can't see the join!


How long is a yardstick in inches?

A yard is 3 feet, and a foot is 12 inches. That means a yardstick is 36". Of course, any carpenter worth his or her salt can eyeball a yard pretty well - but they'll still use a yardstick to be sure. One handy way to measure a yard is to take a big pace; it's probably close enough to roughly guess the size of a room, though you don't want to use it as a precise guide.


What do you call a bevel at a 45 degree angle?

Chamfered bevel means that your board ends in a nice, neat 45-degree angle. That's ideal for fitting it together with other boards and for skirting. Chamfer and bevel are sometimes used themselves as overlapping terms, though the more pedantic user would point out that chamfer requires an angled strip with some vertical edge remaining, whereas bevel doesn't need this (but may include it).


Which of these does NOT describe the way that two adjoining surfaces might meet?

If two surfaces are perfectly aligned, they're flush. If one is a little higher, that one is proud, and the other is shy. Getting them flush is usually the goal. Think of it like plate tectonics; if you don't get them perfectly aligned, you're going to have tension in your woodwork, and that's a short road to earthquakes, or at least to cracks in the finished product.


What is considered the ideal vertical height of a stair, in inches?

If a stair's rise is too small, it means the whole staircase takes up too much space in the house. If it's too big, then people struggle to go up and down it, especially the elderly. Most stairs have around a 7" rise and an 11 inch" run (from the front edge to the beginning of the next stair).


What word desribes the roughness of a sheet of sandpaper?

40-grit sandpaper is very rough, but 100-grit sandpaper is finer. You'll get a different finish depending on the grit. Sometimes you need to start rougher and then get finer as you finish off; if you do a very large job with fine sandpaper, it can feel like it's taking forever.


"One sits on the surface and can be removed; the other goes into the wood." What difference is being described here?

Stain goes into the wood and paint doesn't - you hope, anyway. That means in theory you can take paint off and start over, though this isn't always possible; sometimes paint contains a dye that acts like a stain, much like a darker nail polish that simply won't come off. The key here, as with a good manicure, is not skimping on basecoat.


Worktop, hinge and letter-plate are all types of what?

Jigs are actually used to clamp wood, similar to a vice but broader. However, a jigsaw is an intricate saw used for cutting very fine and precise shapes. This is why it gave its name to the puzzle, though most wooden jigsaw puzzles these days are cut with lasers.


If you want to dry your timber quicker, where do you put it?

A kiln controls airflow, humidity and temperature. It means you can get your timber ready without waiting years. To return to our hair drying analogy, it's like the big professional dryer you put your head in at the salon, except vastly more expensive and with a great many more settings.


If you find a knot in a piece of wood, what do you know about that spot?

Knots are typically a little denser and thus stronger. This is because a knot is where a branch or twig was going to grow out, and therefore it's a sort of joint-to-be. It acts a little like scar tissue in the wood; because it has different density, it's less flexible, and thus you have to be careful about whether you put nails into it, or rely on that section of the wood the same way as the rest.


What does the M in MDF stand for?

MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard is just about everywhere. It's much denser and higher quality than particle board, though neither is very pretty. Still, like particle board, it makes a great workbench or a base on which to build. You just have to paint or otherwise conceal it eventually.


If you're planning to put a radiator, unit or another heavy item on your floor, what might you put under that part of the floor?

Adorably, these extra pieces of wood that hold up the additional weight on the floor are called noggins. You've got one atop your shoulders, but hopefully, you don't put radiators on it. Noggins help to reinforce areas where you're going to put something heavy so that you don't end up warping your own floor throughout years.


If you want to cut a beautiful 45-degree angle, what would help you?

All of these answers will help, though a miter box is most efficient. It takes out the guesswork and means you don't have to think. It's about as close as you can get to putting a large piece of wood into a cookie cutter; it simply makes sure the shape is correct.


What is a thin layer of fancy wood stuck on top of a thicker piece of less fancy wood?

Veneer is a great way to save your pricey woods for where you will get the most bang for your buck. Since wood is often expensive according to how long it takes to grow, veneer is also great to preserve slower-growing trees like walnut. Another technique often used alongside veneering is inlay, where again you can use very small amounts of beautiful and expensive woods to create a stunning finish.


What is the traditional Japanese art of incredibly fancy joinery called?

Tsugite is an amazing art whereby incredibly elaborate joinery attaches two pieces. If you want to fall into a video-watching hole, check out some tsugite. It often involves multiple slots, bevels and holes; sometimes the pieces can even join together in multiple ways. In a quake-prone region like Japan, tusgite is probably responsible for saving some older buildings that would have collapsed had they enjoyed a more ordinary construction.


What do you call a machine that ensures your sheet of wood is just the right fatness?

A thicknesser is like a lathe that does the whole piece at once. It's the best way to ensure uniformity in your larger pieces of wood, as it is almost impossible to use sanding or a lathe to achieve the sort of accuracy required across a large plank or board.


What are the vertical members of a door's construction called?

A door has a lintel or crossbeam at the top; these horizontal pieces are collectively known as the rails. At the sides, going up, it has stiles! A stile is also a name for a little post-and-stair construction that you use to cross a fence in the countryside, named for the same vertical pieces.


When building a house, what is the term for the entire structure of wood underlying the whole thing?

The framing of the house is the most important thing to get right, after the foundations. If you mess it up your house will fall down or be draughty, or just cost a lot in upkeep, as anyone with a really old house can tell you.


Roughly how many carpenters are there in the USA?

Carpentry is a very popular trade and a growing industry. While automation is set to kill off a lot of construction-related jobs, the fiddlier and more artistic elements of types of carpentry mean it has a long while to go before a robot will be able to do it better than a human.


By what term is skew nailing also known?

Toe nailing or skew nailing is a way of putting in a nail when you can't put it in at the "correct" angle. This is often the case when things are already in place, and you have little room to operate. It's also a good term to have handy if you put in all your nails wrong and would prefer to pretend that you did it on purpose.


Which group in the U.S. invented the circular saw?

The Shakers were early pioneers known for their quality woodwork. Circular saws transformed the speed and precision with which carpentry could be done. As a circular saw always cuts upward, the bottom face of the wood usually ends up with a nice tear-free surface, while the top ends up looking more ragged. That's why it's important to put the best face down in the saw.


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