Basic Woodworking Terms You Need to Know

Last Updated:  July 11, 2021

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We have our own language in woodworking and it can be confusing for beginners. If you want to avoid possibly harming a soft, woodland creature, you’ll need to learn the lingo. Here are 25 basic woodworking terms to get you up to speed.

#1 Workpiece

A workpiece is a piece of wood in your project, but it’s specifically the piece you’re currently focused on. It can be any size or shape or made up of smaller parts you’ve already assembled.

#2 Square

When we say something is “square”, we’re referring to a 90 degree square angle. The end of a workpiece is square when the edge is at a 90 degree angle to a face. The whole workpiece is square when all edges are square to each face.

#3 Carcase (Carcass)

The main body of a project is called the carcase. This is a common term in cabinet-making that refers to the body, or box, of a cabinet.

#4 Checking

The separation of wood along its length, from the outside in, is called checking. Wood dries quicker on the outside, so the outer wood contracts more quickly causing separation. As the log dries the separation deepens toward the center of the tree.

#5 Cupping

The bending of wood across its grain is called cupping. Wood floors often cup if they’re sitting in the sun. The top of the floor boards dry out while the bottom of the boards hold more moisture.

Lumber will also sometimes cup once it is milled. This is because the wood fibers are being held together tightly around the center of the tree. Once the log is milled that tension releases and pulls away from the center.

#6 Pilot Hole

Drilling a hole in preparation for driving a screw or nail is called drilling a pilot hole. Sometimes called…<groan>…predrilling…but you can’t drill a hole before you drill the hole, that’s insane. Call it “drilling a pilot hole”.

#7 Milling

Cutting wood down to an intended size and shape

#8 Crosscut

A form of milling that cuts wood across the grain. A miter saw is a great tool for crosscutting, but crosscutting can be done with many different power tools or with a hand saw.

#9 Rip Cut

A form of milling that cuts wood along its grain. The table saw is the best machine to make rip cuts, but it can also be done with a circular saw or a hand saw.

#10 Offcut

The waste piece after milling lumber is called an offcut. You’ve got the part you want to keep and then the rest is the offcut.

#11 Tear Out

The way a round saw blade enters and exits a cut can result in tear out – the lifting and chipping of wood grain on the edge of a workpiece.

#12 Proud

If a piece sticks out from the surface around it, it is said to be proud of the surface.

#13 Reveal

If the portion of a project is inset from the frame or parts around it, the part that protrudes is called the reveal. A reveal can be a nice way to add interest and depth to a project.

#14 Kerf

The slot removed by a saw blade during milling is called the kerf.

#15 Rip Fence

 A movable guide that is parallel to the blade and acts as a straight reference during a rip cut is called a rip fence. These are mostly found on table saws.

#16 Stop Block

A solid block that is secured in place and used to make repeatable cuts. It acts as a reference to butt the workpiece against during the cut. It results in consistently sized pieces.

#17 Grain

The figure or design in wood that is made up of the different layers in a piece of wood and the texture of the wood fibers for that specific species.

#18 End Grain

The grain at the top and bottom of a tree. Because of the way the log is milled it’s also the top and bottom of a piece of lumber. The end grain is like looking down at a bundle of straws.

#19 Long Grain

The wood fibers parallel to the center of the tree are referred to as long grain. If end grain is looking down at the tree trunk then long grain is looking at the side of a tree trunk.

#20 Mitered Corners

A way to join wood that involves cutting the ends of each piece to an angle not 90 degrees. Most of the time those two angles come together to form a 90 degree angle, but angles greater and less than 90 are also sometimes used – especially in mid century modern furniture.

#21 Joinery

The method for joining pieces of wood together.

#22 Butt Joints

The simplest joinery method since there is no overlapping or interlocking of the pieces. Butt joints are made by pushing the pieces against each other and gluing, fastening, or both.

#23 Glue-up

Once all the pieces in a project are milled they are then permanently attached with glue. We plan the steps for a glue-up to avoid running into an issue once the glue begins to dry.

#24 Rabbet (Rebate)

A rabbet is a soft woodland animal that digs holes in my backyard….kidding, a rabbet, or rebate in the UK, is a recess cut into the edge of a workpiece so that it can be joined with another piece. 

A rabbet is similar to a butt joint, but it adds more perpendicular support and a defined position for the adjoining piece.

#25 Dado

Where a rabbet has a wall on one side and the other side is open to the edge of the workpiece, a dado is positioned somewhere in the middle of the workpiece and has two walls.

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