A Complete Guide to Common Carpentry and Construction Terms You Should Know

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated December 8, 2021
Wooden shed with lights and pots
Marianna / Adobe Stock


  • Carpentry terms can make a DIY project easier or help when talking with a contractor

  • Carpenters often use a mix of hand tools and power tools, including saws, sanders, and jigs

  • Framing terms range from joists and rafters to studs and wall panels

  • There are five types of carpentry cuts: crosscut, curves, miter cut, resawing, and rip cut

  • Trim carpentry terms include the different types of moulding and decorative pieces for inside your home

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

If you’re preparing for a home remodeling project, knowing a few carpentry terms can help. It's nice to understand the industry lingo, whether you're tackling a DIY or working with a local contractor. From framing to trim carpentry, here are 58 common construction and carpentry terms you're bound to hear.

Carpentry Tools

There are two main categories of carpentry tools: power tools and hand tools. 

Power Tools

Power tools are any tool powered by a motor, compressed air, or engine. Here are common power tools used in carpentry and construction: 

  • Circular (or skill) saw: A power saw that uses a rotating toothed disk to make straight cuts in lumber.

  • Miter saw: Used to make crosscuts and angled cuts with a mounted blade on a swing arm.

  • Table saw: A saw with a circular saw blade; the blade is set up to protrude through the top of a table which acts as a cutting surface.

  • Orbital sander: A power sander that sands in a random-orbit action to create a smooth surface

  • Power drill and drill bits: A tool that removes material by creating holes in a range of  cylindrical sizes

Hand Tools

Hand tools are any tool powered by your hand rather than a motor. For carpenters, their toolbox often includes these:

  • Jig: An aid used to clamp a workpiece or serve as a guide when cutting

  • Plane: A planar is used for smoothing a wood surface or joining two boards together

  • Carpenter’s pencil: A thick-leaded pencil to mark wood

  • Chalk line: A line covered in colored chalk dust that can be unrolled to mark straight lines on wood, metal, or concrete

  • Tin snips: Shears that cut sheet metal and other tough webs

  • Wood chisel: A sharp tool that shaves rough surfaces, chops out corners, and scrapes off glue

Other hand tools carpenters usually carry include a hammer, utility knife, tape measure, nail puller, square, and level. 

Framing Terms

Carpenter building new shed in the backyard
dragoncello / Adobe Stock

Whether you’re building a house, shed, garage, or new addition, your framing supports the entire structure. Here are some standard framing and roof carpentry terms to know: 

  • Blocking: To use short pieces of lumber to brace longer members.

  • Bottom plate: The lowest horizontal framing structure in the wall, also known as a soleplate and typically the same width as the top plate and studs 

  • Ceiling joist: A wood or steel beam that’s positioned horizontally between the top sides of the wall frame. You can nail finished ceiling material and rafters to ceiling joists.

  • Doubled (or doubler): Two structural members nailed together to double the support strength.

  • Fascia board: A long wooden board behind gutters on a house that connects to the roof rafters 

  • Gable: The most common type of roof that features a simple design where the rafters are the same length and pitch on each side and meet in the middle of the span; essentially, any roof that fits a standard triangle roof prototype would be considered a gable.

  • Dovetail joint: A strong joinery technique with tails and sockets used in log buildings, furniture, cabinets, and traditional timber framing

  • Header: A support beam located horizontally above a door, window, or another opening in a building

  • Girder: A basic support system used in a variety of construction projects. Usually made of steel in an L-shaped style of a cross-section, it improves strength and support for the weight it bears.

  • Joist: Parallel beams that support the ceiling and floor of a building, often made of wood or concrete in homes. 

  • Load-bearing wall: Any wall in the structure that acts as foundational support for a load resting upon it; these walls are usually composed of sturdy materials, such as wood studs, brick, block, or concrete.

  • Non-load-bearing wall: Provides no significant support for any structures above it other than the support necessary to bear its own weight; also referred to as a curtain wall.

  • On center: The measurement from one structural member to another, often abbreviated as O.C.

  • Rafter: Any framing member of the roof; usually a beam that's part of the internal framework of a roof

  • Rise: The measured distance between a single step, staircase, or rafter. The rise is typically measured from a vertical angle.

  • Rough carpentry: Involves roofing, framing, formwork, and other difficult, large-scale structural projects that don't usually need to be polished or finely designed

  • Rough opening: All the leaves in a framing wall for an opening, such as a door or window; commonly abbreviated as R.O.

  • Sheathing: A board or panel material used to form a construction surface for building flooring, walls, and roofs. 

  • Stringer: The primary support system for a staircase; the riser and tread components of the staircase are attached to the stringer to ensure full support.

  • Strut: A support or brace of scantlings lighter than a post, opposite of a tie beam

  • Stud: Vertical wood or steel boards that support a wall 

  • Tie beam: A horizontal beam that connects two or more columns to prevent them from separating

  • Timber: Wood prepared for a building or carpentry, usually processed into beams and planks 

  • Top plate: A horizontal framing member at the upper portion of a stud wall, typically the same width as the bottom plate and studs 

  • Truss: A single piece of a pre-manufactured roofing system, which is usually built off-site and delivered to the site for installation

  • Wall panel: Section of wood-framed interior and exterior walls built in a factory for the specific design needed

Cutting Terms

Whether you’re building a picture frame or a set of cabinets, there are certain types of cuts that make the project easier. Here are the five basic carpentry cutting techniques: 

  • Crosscut: A saw cut that goes across the grain of the wood

  • Curve: A cut that is not straight, usually made with a bandsaw or a jigsaw

  • Miter cut: A simple, angled cut at the end of a board; used in slope roofing.

  • Resawing: Sawing a board on its edge to make the board thinner 

  • Rip (or rip cut): A saw cut that follows the grain of the wood; the opposite of a crosscut

Trim Carpentry Terms

The decorative pieces of wood inside a home improve its appearance and add style. Here are the main trim carpentry terms to know: 

  • Baseboard: Decorative trim that you mount at the base of your walls around the perimeter of a room to cover the gap between the wall and the floor

  • Casing: Decorative trim wood that goes around door and window openings on interior walls

  • Chair rail: Horizontal moulding fixed to the wall around the perimeter of a room, also known as a dado rail or surbase.

  • Crown moulding: Decorative trim at the top of cabinets and walls around the perimeter of a room

  • Panel moulding: A variety of moulding profiles used to embellish a flat surface, such as a door, wall, or mantel. 

  • Return: A small piece of trim that's cut and glued at the end of a piece of trim to hide the end grain, also known as the baseboard return

  • Shoe moulding: A thin strip of moulding placed at the bottom of a baseboard to close the gap between the baseboard and floor, often curved or rounded

  • Wainscoting: Wooden paneling placed on the lower half of the walls in a room

Miscellaneous Carpentry Terms

While there are hundreds of carpentry terms, here are a few popular terms that’ll pop up more often than others: 

  • End grain: Wood grain seen when cutting across growth rings; usually cut at a 90-degree angle to the grain.

  • Finished (or finish carpentry): Carpentry that focuses on fine woodworking, cabinetry, model building, parquetry, and joinery

  • Journeyperson: A carpenter who has completed an apprentice program or who has extensive experience

  • Pilot hole: A preliminary hole made by a drill to guide a larger drill or hole-making tool 

  • Plumb: A line that is precisely perpendicular or vertical to a level horizontal line

  • Punch list: A task list that organizes a construction project, also known as a snag list

  • Wood grain: The pattern or longitudinal arrangement of wood fibers

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.