Woodworking terminology

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Below are some common terms that you might find helpful when trying to decipher things written in the woodworking section. This is by no means an exhaustive list and has purposely left out some terms so that the list is less daunting.


  • Blind - joinery with mating surfaces not protruding through the face or end grain of the pieces being joined.
  • Board foot - a unit of volumetric measurement. 1 board foot is equal to 144 cubic inches.
  • Burl - a knotty growth from a tree with a convoluted, complex grain.


  • Caul - A strip or block of wood used to distribute or direct clamping force.
  • Climb cut - On a table saw or router, cutting against the normal feed direction at the end of the cut to prevent tearout.
  • Crook - longitudinal bending to one side, caused by uneven seasoning or grain.
  • Crotch - the section of a tree where a branch divides from the trunk, or the trunk divides in two; typically an area of convoluted grain.
  • Crossgrain - working perpendicular to the grain.
  • Crosscut - a cut made perpendicular to the grain.
  • Cup - transverse bending, convex or concave, usually predictable, considering grain orientation.


  • Dado - a slot made across the grain.


  • Face - when a board has one side that is wider than the other, the wider side is referred to as the face (as opposed to the edge). May also refer to the face that is to be visible in the finished item.
  • Fence - a flat and straight length of some material, usually wood, steel or aluminium, which provides a reference for tools to work against, or which prevents the work from sliding.
  • Figure - naturally occurring decorative patterns in wood, caused by either growth increments or tissue orientation.


  • Grain - the longitudinal fibers in wood.
  • Green wood - unseasoned wood; freshly harvested timber, usually with a high moisture content.
  • Grit - the grade of particles in sandpaper or sharpening stones which determines the aggressiveness of the cut.
  • Groove - a slot or channel made with the grain, usually on the end-grain in preparation for a tongue and groove joint.


  • Hardwood - wood from an angiosperm tree. Generally speaking, the wood from a deciduous tree. Despite the name, not necessarily very hard or dense wood (e.g. balsa is a hardwood), although generally harder than softwoods.


  • Kerf - the width of cut made by a saw.
  • Knot - A circular pattern in timber, caused by a dead branch that was not fully integrated into the tree before it was cut down. A loose knot is one that cannot be relied upon to remain in place in the piece. A tight knot, on the other hand, is fixed by growth or position in the wood structure so that it firmly retains its place in the surrounding wood.


  • Molding - a strip of material with various profiles used to cover transitions between surfaces or for decoration.
  • Mortise - a cavity or hole (generally rectangular) in a piece of wood, meant to receive a tenon or a hinge.
  • Miter - a joint made by fastening together pieces with the ends cut at an angle.


  • Quarter-sawn - a plank with growth rings perpendicular to the wider face.


  • Rabbet - A 'groove' cut parallel to, and at the edge of, a board.
  • Relief cut - short straight cuts made at right angles to a curved layout so sharper than normal curves can be cut with a jig saw or band saw.
  • Resawing - a process of cutting timber along the grain to reduce larger sections into smaller sections.
  • Rift sawn - rip sawing of lumber (timber) perpendicular to the grain, often confused with quarter sawn.
  • Rip - a cut made parallel to the grain.


  • S2S - lumber, usually furniture grade hardwood, with two sides planed.
  • S4S - lumber, usually furniture grade hardwood, with four sides planed.
  • Seasoning - reducing the moisture content of wood before working to prevent cracking, splitting, and other damage due to drying.
  • Softwood - wood from a gymnosperm tree like conifers. Despite the name, not necessarily very soft or light wood (e.g. douglas-fir is a softwood).
  • Spalting - a change in the texture, strength and color of wood caused by colonies of fungus growing within the dead wood. Where colonies of fungus meet, fine black lines - often considered a desirable feature, can be seen.
  • Split - to longitudinally separate wood along grain layers.
  • Square - 1) a tool such as a steel square, try square, combination square; 2) a right angle; 3) an area of 100 sq. ft.


  • Tear out - broken or torn fibres resulting from damage as the blade of a tool exits the cut.
  • Tenon - is a projection on the end of a piece of wood for insertion into a mortise.
  • True - something which is accurately placed, shaped, or sized. To true up two pieces of wood is to make them align. The correct size or shape.
  • Twist - longitudinal twisting of wood due to uneven seasoning or grain.


  • Undercutting - cutting away from an edge to increase the sense of relief or thinness.


  • Veneer - very thin slices of wood used for inlay or to cover surfaces.


  • Warp - distorted lumber, such as a twist, cup or a bow.