Before you can start a woodworking project, you need to be able to talk the talk. That means you need to understand the basic terms of woodworking. If you do not know a mortise from a tenon, then you will be lost on most projects. The following definitions should get you familiar with the types of joints and other terms used in the woodworking art and allow you to speak to others in a common language.
First, let’s start with some basic woodworking definitions. They are in alphabetical order for convenience in searching through them at a later date.
Bevel – A bevel is an angled cut through a piece of wood. Instead of having a square corner, a beveled cut softens the appearance for a more decorative look to elements in a piece of furniture. Bevels are measured and marked using a bevel gauge.
Butt joint – A butt joint is an easy but somewhat weak technique for joining two boards together usually at a right (90 degree) angle. These joints are made simply by gluing and pressing the two flat surfaces together. For increased strength, the joint is usually held together with screws and glue.
Chamfer – A chamfer is the removal of the sharp corner of a section of wood which produces a smooth, beveled edge. This is done to keep the edges from being dangerous.
Dovetail joint – A high quality technique for joining two boards using alternating slots (or tails) and protrusions (or pins). The ends of the joining pieces resemble the v-shaped outline of a bird’s tail. These pieces are snugly fitted together thus increasing the gluing area of the joint. A well made dovetail produces a joint that, even without glue, can be difficult to separate. This is regarded in woodworking as one of the strongest and most reliable forms of wood joinery.
Grain – Grain is the appearance of the annual growth rings of a tree. It is the result of the way the tree was cut.
Miter – The woodworking joint created when two boards are cut at an angle to one another. The most common miter joint is the 45-degree miter such as the cuts used to build square or rectangular picture frames. A miter gauge may be used to assist in making miter cuts at the table saw. A miter jig is extremely useful for most woodworking projects.
Mortise and tenon joint — A joint where the male end, or tenon, of one board fits into the matching opening, or mortise, of another board. This is a common, reliable and fairly strong form of wood joint.
Rabbet – This is a rectangular, stepped recess cut along the edge of a board. Typically a rabbet is cut along the back or inner edges of the four wooden pieces making up a square or rectangular object.
Spline – A thin piece of wood that fits in the mating grooves cut into two pieces of wood usually at right angles to each other. Typically the corners of quality picture frames are reinforced with decorative spline joints.