Carpentry Terms and Tools

Carpentry is the craft of working with wood. Carpenters work on projects as simple as picture frames, to projects as complex as houses and other buildings. Becoming a carpenter takes years of training and experience, but laypeople can benefit from learning some things about carpentry as well. This knowledge can come in handy in a number of situations, from hiring a carpenter to completing small carpentry tasks at home, and it will help you get a finished product you'll be happy with.


Understanding carpentry terms can help you around the home.

In carpentry, the term "level" refers to one of two definitions: a line that is parallel to the horizontal plane, or a tool used ensure that a line is level. There are several types of leveling tools, including line levels, which can be hung from a horizontal cord; laser levels, which project a beam across a flat surface; and chalk lines, which use a string coated with chalk to mark a straight line between two points.

Plumb Bob

A plumb bob is a pointed metal bulb that hangs from a string. The plumb bob is used to find a point exactly below another point. A plumb bob can be used to ensure that a wall or other vertical surface is totally straight.

Bearing Wall

A bearing wall is a wall that carries weight in addition to its own weight. This weight comes from structural elements above the bearing wall like a second story, a roof or the ceiling. Bearing walls are always functional rather than cosmetic, and cannot be removed without damaging the safety of the building.


Pitch is an expression of angle, slope, or incline. It is most commonly used in roof and stair building.


A beam is an architectural element that is used to support loads over windows and doors. Beams run parallel to the floor and are usually supported at the ends by a column or bearing wall.


A joist is a horizontal structural element, similar to a beam. Like bearing walls, joists hold weight from above. Joists run parallel to the ground.


The term "plumb" refers to an exact vertical line that is perpendicular to the floor. It is most commonly used when framing walls: walls are in the correct position when they are plumb.

"A" Brace

An "A" brace is a wooden brace that is used to keep walls in place as other walls are built. They are temporary, and are named for their distinctive "A" shape.


The peak is the highest point of a roof. It is also the point where the roof rafters meet.

Nonbearing Wall

A nonbearing wall is a wall that does not bear weight from elements above it. These walls are usually cosmetic, and can be removed without damaging a building's structural integrity.


A rafter is a structural element that makes up and supports the roof. There are four types of rafters: hip rafters, jack rafters, cripple rafters and valley rafters. They differ in their placement in the roof, and in their supporting function.

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