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Don't know your adze from your old burl? This furniture and woodworking glossary will help you understand the meaning of common terms used in woodworking, furniture making and antique restoration. You should be familiar with woodworking terms before you start your own DIY project or before you invest in restoration. If it's a little too confusing, don't worry. We'll help you out at J. R. Reding.
Furniture and Woodworking Glossary
Glossary of Furniture and Woodworking Terms and Phrases
Adze, hollowing. A cutting tool differing from an axe
in that the blade is set at a right angle to the handle. Used
to rough out the upper section of Windsor seats.
Air dried. Wood that has attained an equilibrium moisture
content (e.m.c.) with the environment. Fully air-dried wood may
reach a moisture content of 12%.
Alligator chuck. A two-piece bit brace chuck that pivots
at one end. Used mainly for auger bits having a tapered square
lug at the attachment end.
Arris. An edge formed by the junction of two planes.
Ascending grain. Wood fiber (grain pattern) that runs
up into a progressing cut. This makes a smooth cut, in contrast
to descending grain, which catches and tears instead of cutting
Auger bit. A common boring tool used with a bit brace.
The cutting end has a tapered lead screw, two cutters, and two
scoring nickers. The shank is surrounded by a spiral that carries
away shavings. The traditional shank end, for use with a bit
brace, is a tapered square lug.
Baluster and ring turning. Common name for a fancy
turning style commonly found on early American Windsor chairs.
Typically combines two vase-shaped "balusters" with
a ring and tapered cone at the bottom end.
Balloon-back. A bow-back Windsor with the lower portion
of the bow pinched in (taking a reverse curve) before entering
the seat deck.
Bamboo turning. Also called "double bobbin."
A simple American Windsor turning based on nodes of bamboo. Dated
beginning about 1790.
Bast. The inner, living layer (phloem) of tree bark.
Hickory bast makes excellent seating for post-and-rung chairs.
Bead. A positive (convex) semi-circular form in spindle
Bench dog. A square or round sectioned device that
fits into matching mortises in the top of a work bench. Usually
used in conjunction with a vise dog. Dogs can be set at various
heights above the surface to help secure work in place.
Bending strap. A steel strap that is placed along the
convex side of a piece of wood to be bent. Strap ends are held
in place by stops located at both ends of the wood. During bending,
the strap takes most of the generated tension, forcing the wood
to bend mostly in compression.
Bevel. 1. An angled facet that forms the cutting edge
of a tool. Bevels can be flat, hollow ground, or rolled (convex).
2. Any chamfer.
Billet. Small riving, the result of riving larger bolts.
Bolt. A sizable piece of a log formed by riving.
Bound water. Water within the cell wall of wood. Loss
of bound water results in dimensional shrinkage.
Bow-back Windsor. A Windsor side-chair with a back
support consisting of a single, looped bow having both ends mortised
into the plank seat. Five to 11 vertical spindles fill in the
back rest area. Sometimes called a "loop-back" Windsor.
An English bow-back is similar to an American sack-back.
Burr. A minute metal flap formed on the opposite side
of an edge during grinding or honing. A burr indicates that abrasion
has taken place at the arris.
Brace, Bit brace. A hand-held boring tool that consists
of a pommel, crank and chuck. Usually used with auger bits or
spoon bits, but sometimes adaptable to other boring devices.
Brake. English country craft term for any type of simple
holding device. One example is a pair of narrow forked branches,
useful for holding stock when riving chair parts.
Cage. Rung section of a post-and-rung chair frame.
Cambium. The layer of cells on a tree stem that form
the boundary between bark and wood. Leaves, pith and cambium
are the only growing part of the stem.
Caning. A woven chair seat that utilizes thin strips
from the outer layer of rattan vines. Caning is usually woven
in an octagonal pattern on a flat chair frame.
Cant hook. A strong wooden bar, fitted with a curved
iron arm and a hook at one end. Used to lever logs and heavy
timbers in the woods and at saw mills. A peavey is similar, but
has a spike instead of the end hook.
Caliper, outside. A compass-like tool with legs that
are curved for taking or transferring measurements on the outside
of a turning.
Catface. A scar on the bark surface that reflects the
presence of a knot within the wood.
Caseharden. A condition where the exterior layers of
a piece of wood are considerably drier than the interior layers.
Caused by drying wood too rapidly, often resulting in honey-combing.
Cathedral. (onion rings) The growth ring pattern on
the end of a board.
Caul. A plate or pad (often scrap wood) used as a spacer
between clamp jaws and the item being clamped. Cauls distribute
pressure and prevent clamp jaws from forming an imprint on the
Chairmaker's shave. A spokeshave with a sole that is
gently curved from handle to handle. Used to finish the saddling
of Windsor seats. Sometimes called a "travisher."
Chip breaker. A secondary blade fitted above and behind
the cutting edge of some plane and spokeshave irons. Dampens
blade vibration and deflects shavings up and through the escape.
Also called a "cap iron."
Chisel. A sharp gouging tool for working wood; it is either struck with a mallet
or pushed by hand
Chord. A straight line intersecting two points of a
curve or circle.
Clearance angle. The angle between the lower face of
a blade and the wood being cut.
Comb. A curved, horizontal piece of wood that caps
the bow of a low-back Windsor, or connects the spindles of a
Comb-back Windsor. (high-back Windsor) A tall Windsor
arm chair having a horizontal arm-bow with spindles passing through
the back section that terminate in a horizontal comb.
Continuous-arm Windsor. (continuous bow Windsor) A
Windsor arm-chair that utilizes a single bow forming arm-rests
and a raised back section. originally based on the French bergere
Cove. A negative (concave) semi-circular form in spindle
Crest rail. A low addition to the back-rest area on
the bow of a low-back Windsor. Can be used as a splice on pieced
bows and increases comfort of the chair.
Cutting angle. (rake angle) The angle between the upper
face of a blade and the wood being cut. The cutting angle equals
the included blade angle plus the clearance angle.
Deck. (island) The flat area on the back half of a
Windsor seat which houses mortises for the spindles.
Descending grain. Wood fiber that runs downwards into
a progressing cut. Causes loss of cutting control and a rough
Dial gauge. A machinists caliper that utilizes a dial
readout in hundredths or thousandths of an inch. Common ones
can measure inside and outside dimensions, and the depth of holes.
Useful for exact measurements of cylindrical tenons and mortises.
Differential shrinkage. The different rates of wood
shrinkage parallel with the rays compared with shrinkage tangent
to the growth rings.
Diffuse porous. A hardwood species where pores are
approximately the same size and are distributed evenly across
each growth ring. Examples are maple, birch and beech.
Double bobbin turning. See "bamboo turning."
Double bow-back Windsor. The English equivalent of
an American sack-back Windsor.
Drawknife. A chairmaker's cutting tool that consists
of an essentially straight blade, usually 8 - 12 inches long,
with perpendicular handles at each end. The cut in the wood is made by the carpenter pulling or drawing the knife in both hands towards himself.
Equilibrium moisture content. (e.m.c.) Moisture content
(m.c.) of a piece of wood after full adjustment to environmental
humidity and temperature.
End grain. A wood surface consisting of exposed cross-grain.
Extractives. Compounds deposited in wood during the
transition from sapwood to heartwood. Extractives give heartwood
it's dark color, and sometimes impart decay and insect resistance.
Fan-back Windsor. A late 18th century side-chair with
a back that consists of a fan-like array of long spindles capped
with a comb. A structurally weak but aesthetically pleasing design.
Felling. The act of cutting or harvesting a standing
Fiber saturation point. The condition when wood cell
walls are fully saturated with bound water but the cell cavities
are empty of free water.
Flitch sawn. (through-and-through sawn) Sawed lumber
retaining the original waney bark edges of the log. Preferred
for resawing chair parts because pieces can be aligned with the
Flatsawn. (plainsawn, slash grained) Pieces with the
annual rings intersecting the surface at less than 45 degrees.
Forstner bit. A specialty wood cutting bit that rides
on semi-circular spurs. Makes a clean, flat bottom hole, and
can be used at extreme angles with a drill press.
Free water. Moisture within the cell cavities of wood,
not in the cell walls. Loss of free water does not result in
Froe. A riving (splitting) tool with a straight blade
(usually 8-12 inches long) and a perpendicular handle. Sometimes
called a "lath axe" or "splitting knife."
Froe club. Narrow, hardwood club used to strike the
back of a froe blade.
Frog. The angled section within a plane or spokeshave
body that supports the blade.
Glut. A large wooden splitting wedge, usually shop-made.
Green woodworking. An approach to woodworking that
takes advantage of the structural qualities of freshly felled
wood. These include: use of rived (split) parts with little grain
run out, easy cutting with hand tools, and superior bending characteristics.
Green worked wood is dried to appropriate moisture content before
assembly of structural members, such as chair parts.
Growth ring. (annual ring) A layer of wood cells added
to a tree trunk or stem during one growing season.
Heartwood. The inner core of a tree trunk or stem that
no longer conducts sap. Heartwood is not alive, but it does serve
as a skeletal support for the living tree. Sometimes heartwood
is decay and/or insect resistant.
High-back Windsor. The English equivalent of an American
Hollow auger. Tool used to form cylindrical tenons,
such as on the ends of rungs.
Hollow grind. A slight concavity across the width of
a bevel caused by the grinding on the rim of a turning grindstone.
Honeycombing. Checks in the interior of a piece of
wood, usually caused by casehardening during rapid drying.
Hone, honing. The second step in sharpening, between
shaping (grinding) and polishing. Grits with 800 - 1,200 mesh
Hygroscopic. The ability of a material to loose or
gain moisture content with fluctuations in environmental humidity.
Included angle. The angle formed by the two facets
of a cutting edge.
Inshave. A type of deeply dished drawknife, used to
sculpt the saddled section of Windsor chair seats.
Iron. An "iron" refers to the blade of tools
such as a plane or spokeshave.
Jigsaw. Generally a power-driven saw with a narrow vertical blade, used to cut sharp curves.
Kerf. The slot formed by a saw.
Kiln dried. (hot-air dried) Wood dryness below the
moisture content attainable by air drying. Usually 6-8% mc. Because
wood is hygroscopic, kiln dried wood will pick up moisture whenever
it is in a moisture bearing environment.
Level. An instrument for ascertaining whether a surface is horizontal, vertical, or at a 45° angle, consisting essentially of an encased, liquid-filled tube containing an air bubble that moves to a center window when the instrument is set on an even plane.
Linseed oil. A reactive finish made from the seeds
of flax plants.
Loop-back Windsor. Alternate name for an American bow-back
Low-back Windsor. A Windsor with a single horizontal
bow that supports arm rests and the back section.
Maul. Alternate name for a wooden club.
Medial stretcher. Connects the mid-point of left and
right leg stretchers on a Windsor with "H" stretcher
Micro-bevel. A narrow sub-bevel immediately behind
an edge. The included angle of a micro-bevel will be a few degrees
greater than the bevel angle.
Mineral spirits. (paint thinner) Standard solvent for
oil based paints and varnishes.
Miter Box. A hand tool for guiding handsaws in making crosscuts or miter joints
Moisture content. (m.c.) The percentage of moisture
in a piece of wood compared to the same piece when it is thoroughly
Mortise. A cavity that houses a tenon or back slat.
Can be round or rectangular in section.
Mortise chisel. A stout chisel with an unusually deep
cross section. The sides are square or tapered slightly towards
the back. Often struck with a hammer or mallet.
Nagura. Paste forming stone used in conjunction with
polishing grade Japanese water stones.
Paring chisel. A thin chisel, often with beveled edges.
Used with a pushing action to clean a wood surface, such as within
Parting tool. A deep, narrow V-ground chisel used in
turning to indicate specific diameters at various sections.
Pass-arm. An arm support on a post-and-rung chair that
connects an arm rest to a side or medial leg rung by passing
through the side rail of the seat. Imparts strength to the arm
Peavey. A log moving tool similar to a cant hook, but
with a spike at the end, instead of a hook.
Pith. The first year's growth of a tree stem, found
approximately in the center of a tree trunk or branch.
Point fence. A bandsaw fence that consists of a rounded
block of wood, located on the saw table with the tangent spaced
at the desired distance from the saw blade.
Pommel. The high point at the front center of a saddled
Post-and-rung chair. A basic chair style that consists
of vertical posts and horizontal rungs. The continuous rear posts
also form the supports for the back rest, which can consist of
slats or spindles. The seat is usually woven, and is often trapezoidal
Puppet. (stock) Vertical member of a lathe that houses
either of the two lathe centers. The head stock is the stationary
puppet that housing the pulleys and driving center of a powered
lathe. The tail stock can be moved along the ways to secure wood
of different lengths.
Quartersawn. (vertical grain, edge grain) Pieces in
which the growth rings from an angle of 45 degrees or more to
the wood surface. Ideally, close to 90 degrees.
Radial. A hypothetical plane that radiates from the
pith outwards towards the bark.
Racking. Force applied fore and aft to a chair.
Rake. Term used to describe the angle fore and aft
(as seen from a side view) of chair legs, and sometimes other
members. Other specified in degrees more or less than a right
Ray. A cluster of wood cells that are arranged radially.
Rays give quarter sawn or split wood it's distinctive fish-scale
Reamer, Taper reamer. A cone-shaped cutting tool used
to convert cylindrical mortises into a cone-like configuration.
Reaction wood. Distorted wood formed in leaning trunks
and branches of trees. Reaction wood dries unpredictably, often
twisting and cracking.
Resaw. Ripping lumber into narrower pieces.
Resin. (pitch) A translucent, sticky material secreted
in canals or pockets in the wood of various conifers, particularly
eastern white pine.
Resultant angle. The lean angle of a cylinder (usually
a chair part or drill shaft) in line with a sighting angle. Often
measured in degrees more or less than a right angle.
Rift sawn. Pieces where the annual rings intersect
the surface at about 45 degrees.
Ring porous hardwood. A hardwood species that develops
relatively large pores during early annual growth and much smaller
pores later in the season. Examples include oak, ash, hickory,
and elm. With the exception of elm, these are tough, coarse fiber
woods, excellent for riving and shaving.
Rive. The technique of splitting wood with maximum
control of thickness. Used mostly with ring-porous hardwoods.
Rod-back Windsor. A variation of a fan-back, having
one or two rod-like bows connecting the upper ends of the spindles.
Roughing gouge. A large, square-nosed gouge used by
turners to convert square stock and rivings into a cylindrical
section. Can also be used for shaping bamboo turnings.
Runout. (Grain slope) Grain deviation across a board.
Measured as a ratio of cross distance to length, such as 1 inch
in 12 inches.
Rush. A natural, grass-like fiber used to weave post-and-rung
chair seating. Two varieties are cat tail (Typha latifolia) and
bulrush (Scirpus lacustris). "Fiber rush" is an imitation
product, made of twisted brown paper.
Sack-back Windsor. An American Windsor armchair utilizing
a horizontal arm bow (bent, or laminated) with a supplementary
back bow mortised into the arm bow. The seat is usually a wide,
Saddling. Descriptive term for carving the upper side
of a Windsor seat.
Sapwood. The outer growth rings which are physiologically
active part of a living tree. Sapwood is usually lighter than
heartwood, and lacks decay resistance.
Scratch beader. Simple tool used to scratch a decorative
bead on D-section Windsor bows.
Settee. A wide chair, for two or more persons.
Shaker tape. Cloth tape used by the Shakers for seating
chairs sold to the public. Early examples used woolen tape woven
by the Shakers. Later chairs had cotton tape which was purchased.
Shaving Horse. A wood holding device based on a low
bench which the woodworker sits on. A foot operated swinging
arm acts as a clamp. Two basic versions are the German "dumb-head"
-- utilizing a single member mortised through the bench; and
the English "bodger's" bench -- having a bridle like
arrangement of spars that pivot on either side of the bench.
In both, the jaw clamps down onto a raised ramp or platform.
Skew chisel. A turner's chisel with an angled cutting
edge and a symmetrical bevel. Used to take fine cuts, especially
beads and tapers. Notorious for "catching" -- going
out of control leaving a rough screw-like pattern on the turned
Skewing cut. Using a drawknife, spokeshave, chisel
or plane at an angle, as opposed to perpendicular to the cutting
edge. This lowers the effective cutting angle, resulting in a
Sighting angle. (Off-set angle) The angle between a
sighting line and two specified points, usually the centers of
both front legs or both rear legs. Needed in order to locate
a sighting line when you are working with rake and splay angles.
Sighting line. A line across a flat surface (such as
a Windsor chair seat) that indicates the leaning direction of
an angled cylinder (the resultant angle), usually a chair part
or drill shaft.
Sighting point. Any specified point on a sighting line.
Slicing cut. Shifting an tool's edge from one side
to another during a cut. This has the same effect as "skewing."
Sloyd. Swedish term for "handcraft."
Slope. Angle of a seat from front to back.
Slouch. Angle of a seat back, from vertical.
Spindle. A slender, cylindrical chair part that supports
the back and arm-rest bows of Windsor chairs. Some authorities
say that all spindles are turned (never shaved) but others disagree.
Also, a vertical member mortised between horizontal rails in
the back-rest of some post-and-rung chairs.
Spindle gouge. A turning gouge sharpened with a "fingernail"
cutting edge. Used for cutting beads, coves and balusters.
Splat. A flat, thin board, usually mortised vertically
into the center area of the backs of English Windsors. Splats
are often sawed with elaborate shapes and interior cutouts --
Splay. Term used to describe the angle of chair parts
(usually legs or spindles) to either side of a chair, as seen
from a front or rear view. Often specified in degrees more or
less than perpendicular.
Spofford brace. A simple bit brace that utilizes a
split steel chuck tightened with a wing bolt.
Spokeshave. A cutting tool consisting of two in-line
handles with a small, plane-like cutter mounted in the center.
Many variations have been produced, with both wood and cast iron
Spoonbit. A gouge-shaped wood bit with a rounded nose
at the front. Sometimes called a "chairmaker's bit."
Stick. An unspecific term for chair parts that are
roughly cylindrical. Post-and-rung chairs are sometimes called
"stick chairs." Also refers to bow and comb supports
on Windsors when they are shaved, instead of turned.
Stick Windsor. A simple Windsor chair, often with shaved
legs and no stretcher system.
Tapering plane. A tenon former with the blade set at
an angle for making conical tenons. A matching reamer must be
used to make the tapered mortise.
Tenon. A rectangular or cylindrical projection made
to fit into a matching mortise. Used in mortise and tenon construction
for many chair joints. Cylindrical tenons can often be made on
Tenon former. A hollow auger used to make cylindrical
tenons. Many different versions will work.
Throat. The slot on the sole of a plane or spokeshave
where the blade protrudes and through which shavings are ejected.
Travisher. (chairmaker's shave, bottomer's shave) A
spokeshave with a slight curve from end to end; used for finishing
saddling on Windsor seats.
Through-and-through. See flitch sawn.
Tung oil. Oil finish expressed from tung nuts, originally
Universal chuck. A type of bit brace chuck having two
jaws that pivot from their mid-point. These can be used to hold
bits with parallel sided shanks in addition to the traditional
tapered square lug shank.
Waney. Sawed lumber with it's natural (bark) edge intact.
Produced by flitch (through-and-through) sawing.
Warp. In weaving a chair seat, the initial strands
wrapped around the front and rear rungs.
Ways. The bed rails for a lathe.
Weft. In weaving a chair seat, the strands that are
woven across the weft (from side rung to side rung) forming a
Windsor chair. A chair form based on a solid wood seat,
with independent leg and back support systems.
J. R. Reding Company
3005 South Chandler
Tacoma, WA 98409