Carpentry Terminology 101

Wood shavings on a piece of lumber.

Carpentry is a versatile trade that goes hand-in-hand with a ton of DIY projects. Wading through some of the terminology, however, can be a daunting task for any beginner. From ceiling joists to dovetails and plumb lines, here are some basic carpentry terminology every DIYer should learn.

“A” Brace

An “A” brace is a temporary structure that looks exactly like the letter A. These braces keep a wall upright until more framing pieces are installed. They are typically used in roofing.

Bearing Wall

A bearing wall, or load-bearing wall, is a framing structure that holds additional weight. These walls typically carry weight from the ceiling or roof and need extra support to hold the load. You can locate a load-bearing wall by examining the ceiling joists above it.

Butt Joint

This is a simple joint where two pieces of lumber are butted against each other. While butt joints are not the strongest in the carpentry world, they are great when used in conjunction with fasteners.

Ceiling Joist

Ceiling joists are pieces of lumber that run horizontally across the ceiling. These pieces are where the rafters of the roof and ceiling are typically connected.


A piece of wood with dovetail joints

Dovetails are joints commonly found in drawers and furniture pieces. These joints look like a dove’s tail and are either cut by a special jig or hand. They are also one of the strongest joints you will find.


A part of the roof that hangs over a wall.


The part of the board that will be visible once the project is finished. You typically want to label the face of the board at the beginning of a project to avoid mixing it up with the back of the board.


Wood grain.

Fibers in the wood, also referred to as grain, run in specific directions. The grain direction should always be considered when making cuts or sanding as working with the grain can reduce tear-out.


A beam that rests horizontally above a door or window. The header is used to support anything above the opening.


A guide that makes cutting pieces of lumber faster and more consistent. Jigs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be made to fit just about any project need.


Kickback happens when a power tool throws a piece of lumber backwards. This occurs whenever the wood gets trapped in the blade or is pushed through at an awkward angle. Most saws have kickback plates that help prevent this unwanted hazard.


Laminates are created by gluing thin layers of material together, such as plywood. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are rated depending on the material.


A miter box

A cut set at a specific angle in the board, such as a 45-degree cut used in picture frames.

Non-Load-Bearing Wall

A wall that does not support any additional weight from above. These types of walls can be remodeled or removed to open up space in a home.

On Center

On center, or OC, refers to the center measurement from one board to another.


A vertical piece that is perpendicular to the ground.

Quarter Round

Quarter round refers to a type of decorative molding that is a quarter of a circle in size.


Used in the construction of roofs and staircases, the rise references the vertical height a member must reach from beginning to end.


Stacks of wood and lumber.

A piece of framing lumber, typically either 2x4 or 2x6, used to construct walls.


Tear-out happens when a tool accidentally removes a chunk from the work piece. Tear-out can be reduced by scoring the surface of the wood with a knife and cutting with the grain of the wood.


The intersecting angle of two different slopes of the roof.

Zero Clearance

A zero clearance insert is used on table saws to remove the gap around the blade, increasing support for smaller pieces of wood.