Some ABCs of Woodworking
by Derreck Bryans

Woodworking is a pastime and/or profession that has a language all its own. From turning to carving to casework, there can be a lot of confusing phrases and words. Being as old as it is, woodworking has a lot of words from other languages and time periods that were altered over the years.

Here are definitions of common woodworking terms which may help beginners better understand them.

Adze   An axe-like tool with the addition of a scoop-shaped sharpened end used for the rough hollowing and shaping of concave projects. One form or another was used for the hollowing of canoes, rain gutters, chair seats, etc..

Arkansas Stones   These stones occur naturally (in Arkansas, no less) and have been used for centuries for manually sharpening edge tools. They come in 3 grades: 1) Soft - white/grey speckled in color. This grade is used for the preliminary shaping of the bevel. 2) Hard - white. Used for the beginning of the honing and polishing of the bevel. 3) Very Hard - black. This is the very finest of this family of stones. This stone puts the final polish on the back and bevel of the cutting tool.

Backsaw   A handsaw that usually measures from 8" to 22" in length, this tool is used for finer work than regular handsaws. These saws get their name from the brass or steel spine running the length of the back of the saw. Some examples of these saws are dovetail and tenon saws.

Bow   In wood terminology, a bow is a natural bending of the wood in which the two ends of the board curve upward on the face of the board.

Crook   Similar in shape to the bow, a crooked piece of wood is one in which the ends of the board bend towards each other along the side grain of the wood.

Crosscut   Crosscutting is the action of cutting materials across the face grain.

Cup   Another naturally occurring deformity in lumber in which the edges of the wood bend up towards the face of the stock.

Dado   A 3-sided trough cut across the grain of a board which will snugly house the end or edge of a mating piece of wood or plywood. Can be cut with hand or power tools.

Dovetail   This legendary joint is mostly used in the construction of drawers and carcasses in furniture construction. On one end of a piece of wood, a series of sloped sockets shaped like dovetails, is cut and chiseled out. These are equal to or less than the thickness of the mating piece. On the end of the other board, a row of mating pins are cut at 90 degrees to the previous piece.These pins fit snugly into the dovetails, creating a strong mechanical joint with or without glue. Believe it or not, this joint can be traced back to Egyptian times.

End-Grain   The grain at the nend of a board that runs 90 degrees to the long or face grain. Sharp tools are a must to avoid tear-out of the grain. A glued end-grain surface is not regarded as a stable joint.

Epoxy   A 2-part adhesive requiring equal parts of included resin and hardener mixed together to chemically form a strong and waterproof joint. Good gap filler but expensive.

Face-Grain   When looking at a board, the face grain is the grain on the widest width of a piece.

Finger Joint   Similar in construction to a dovetail joint. More of a machine cut joint. Instead of tapered pins and sockets, the "fingers" are square or rectangular in cross-section so that the same machine set-up can cut the mating pieces.

Galoot   A term used to describe a woodworker who uses and collects hand tools for woodworking. Power tools are not used by them for the most part.

Groove   A 3-sided trough cut along the grain of a board which will snugly house the edge of a mating board. Can be cut with hand or power tools.

Hardwoods   Wood which comes from deciduous trees (the ones which lose their leaves in the fall). Can be a misnomer because some hardwoods are actually fairly soft, e.g., balsa wood.

Honing   The act of putting a fine edge on a cutting tool. A very fine stone, paper or compound is used.

Inshave   A cutting tool with a rounded blade and 2 handles (basically a curved drawknife) used to scoop wood out of chair seats, bowls, etc.

Joint   Term used to describe when 2 or more pieces of wood are connected by friction, glue, or fasteners (e.g., dovetail joint, lamination, pocket hole joint, etc.).

Jointing   The act of flattening a face or an edge of a board. Measurements are then gauged from this face or edge to establish the finished thickness or width. Jointing the edges of boards is the most important step in laminating the edges of boards to form wider surfaces (e.g., tabletops).

Kerf   The space that is cut away from wood by a saw blade which is equal to the widest part of the blade. Regular kerf tablesaw blades are usually about 1/8" thick. Thin kerf tablesaw blades usually leave kerfs in the 1/10" range. Lie Nielsen dovetail saws leave a kerf of about 1/40."

Knuckle Joint   A variation of the finger joint in which the fingers are rounded, the spaces between the fingers is shaped concave, and a pin is run through all of the fingers to form a wooden hinge.

Laminate   Laminating is to join 2 or more pieces of wood face to face or edge to edge to make a wider or thicker board. This is a good excuse to stock up on glue and lots of clamps.

Lapping   Lapping is a term used when a tool surface is flattened by means of an abrasive. Flea market and lower quality plane soles and blades will benefit from this procedure. A fair number of chisel backs are candidates as well. A flat plane sole will help ensure that the surface being planed will not become convex or concave. Blades and chisels benefit from a lapping as well. This will lead to a sharperand stronger cutting edge.

Miter   When the ends of 2 or more mating pieces are attached at an angle other than 180 degrees (straight), this is considered a miter joint. Usually the angle is divided by 2 and the ends of the workpieces are cut to this angle. This ensures that the miters are of equal length. One of the most common miter angles is 90 degrees (picture frames are a good example: two 45 degree cuts).

Mortise   A round, square, or rectangular cavity in the face or edge of a board which receives a snug-fitting mating piece cut into the end of another piece of wood. This is another hallmark joint which is essential for woodworking. Believe it or not, biscuit joints and dowel joints are considered mortise and tenon joints.

Neanderthal   The polar opposite of a "Normite." See Galoot.

Norm Abram   Any woodworker who has not heard of Norm in the last 20 years has been hiding under a rock. Although he evokes jealousy and even some criticism due to the huge amount of machinery and gadgetry in his PBS Television shop, in my opinion, he has single-handedly made the pastime of woodworking more popular than ever. Pro-power tool woodworkers are sometimes referred to as "Normites."

Oak   One of the more popular hardwoods for furniture projects. Red and white oak are the 2 most commonly found types.

Oil   When an oil finish is desired, a slow drying natural finish is often used. Some of the more popular oil finishes are boiled linseed, tung oil, and walnut oil. Danish oil is an oil/varnish mixture which offers more surface protection than the aforementioned oils. Oil is easy to apply, and brings out a beautiful surface lustre.

Planing   When talking about power tools, planing is the reduction of the thickness of a board by feeding the stock through a planer. A planer makes the opposite face of a jointed face parallel and semi-smooth. Machine marks left by the planer are either sanded out or hand planed smooth. Hand planing is the art of smoothing or thicknessing lumber with assorted hand planes. Sanding is usually not required after a well tuned smoothing plane is used.

PVA Glue   Polyvinyl acetate glue. These are the typical and common yellow and white woodworking glues. They are quick setting, very strong, and relatively inexpensive. The most popular wood glue of the modern times.

Quartersawn   Quartersawn lumber has the growth rings running 75-90 degrees perpendicular to the width of a board. This is the most stable cut of wood (expansion and contraction) and usually has the straightest face grain of any other cut of wood. Arts and Crafts furniture is usually made of quartersawn white oak.

Rabbet   A rabbet (or rebate) is a 2 sided cut across the the end or edge of a board. Another type of fastening (nails, glue, screws) has to be used in conjunction with this type of joint. For example, the back of a bookcase is usually set into a rabbet joint.

Rip   A rip is a cut which runs along the grain.

Roy Underhill   A staple of PBS TV programming for almost 30 years, as a woodworker Roy is the direct opposite of Norm. He teaches us how to work wood without a "leash" (powercord). His is probably the most entertaining and historically informative of all woodworking shows.

Softwoods   Softwoods come from conifers (cone bearing trees). These trees keep their "leaves" (actually needles) all year round. Some examples are pine, spruce, fir, red cedar and white cedar.

Square   An essential woodworking tool no matter whether you are a "Galoot" or a "Normite." A square will help with marking out crosscuts, setting up machine blades, and so much more. This is one tool which should not be bought out of a bargain bin.

Tenon   The round, square or rectangular trimmed end of a piece of wood which fits snugly into a mortise. May be cut by hand or machine. This is usually cut after the mortise so that it can be precisely sized to fit into the mortise.

Twist   A twist in a board is when opposite corners of opposite ends of a board turn up. This makes the piece rock when it is placed on a flat surface.

Undercut   A technique used in joinery where instead of a 90 degree cut across the grain, 1-2 degrees is chiseled off on the inside (unseen) surface of the joint. This makes fitting much easier. A dovetail joint (between the tails) and the shoulder cuts on a tenon are examples.

Veneer   Sheets of wood which nowadays from the mill industry are about 1/40" thick. These are bonded to a plywood or MDF substrate to make a stable and large surface of wood. Veneer is a material which makes the most out of a piece of wood and can make exotic and figured wood more affordable. Modern resawing blades like Highland Woodworking's Wood Slicer make it feasible to produce your own veneers using a bandsaw.

Vise   A metal or wooden clamping device attached to the workbench which makes holding objects to be worked on much easier.

Waterstones   These sharpening stones, popularized in the U.S. after Japanese waterstones first arrived here in the 1980s, have largely supplanted the Arkansas oil stones which were used for sharpening in the past because of the speed with which waterstones work. They are man-made from abrasives sieved for accurate grit size that are carefully bonded for consistently reliable performance. They range from coarse stones at 200 grit up to polishing stones as fine as 10,000 grit. Because waterstones wear faster, they require periodic flattening by the user.

Workbench   In my opinion, this is the most important tool in the shop. It doesn't matter if you use a solid core door, plywood, or a laminated maple top as long as the surface is flat and level. You also want to make sure that it is heavy enough that it won't walk across the shop floor during a working session. Make sure that the height is adjusted to your method of work (hand planing, routing, assembly, etc.).

X-Acto Knife   A great little knife for the shop which comes in handy for marking cuts, as well as whittling.

Yellow Glue   See PVA Glue

Zebrano   It's the only Z-word I could think of! This is a West African hardwood with a notable dark and light stripe pattern. Hard and heavy. Usually used as a veneer or inlay.

I hope these definitions will help beginners to start to understand the vocabulary of the woodworker. In no time you will be honing your plane blade to trim the miter cut on the end of a piece of zebrano.

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