Common Carpentry Terms

Common Carpentry Terms

A lot of the carpentry terms and definitions vary from region to region and sometimes from town to town. I've tried to use the politically correct name as well as all the slang used in house framing, wall framing, floor framing, roof framing, and all aspects of carpentry terms . However it would be impossible to include all the terminology let alone get it all right, so they will be updated as needed.

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A temporary brace shaped like the letter A used to hold a wall in place until another wall can be built. Normally only used in the beginning stages of wall framing.


Balloon wall

In carpentry terms any wall that is taller than a normal 8' or 9' wall such as a two-story foyer or stair opening. Another place these are usually used in modern carpentry are for a gable wall with a cathedral ceiling contained in that room.

Barge rafter

The fascia board on a gable end also known as a fly rafter. I've also heard people use this term when they nail a board down for a lay down valley as in roof framing.

Bearing wall

Any wall framing that carries a roof, ceiling, or floor load from above.


The triangular shaped cutout that allows the rafter to sit on the top plate correctly the two cuts to form this are known as level and plumb cuts. Used in roof framing.

Bottom plate

Sometimes called a sole plate this is the lowest horizontal framing member in any wall.


Cat's paw

A specialty pry bar designed just for digging in and pulling embedded nails. A very useful tool, every rookie should carry one just in case the boss needs it. A slang carpentry term for a nail puller.

Ceiling joist

The horizontal framing members spanning the top plates to which the finished ceiling material and rafters are nailed.

Cheek cut

A beveled cut on either end of a hip or valley rafter allowing it to sit properly against or on other framing members.

Conventional roof framing

The way grandpa did it, and is still used today on more complex roofs. Every single component of the roof is figured and cut on the job site then hoisted up {usually by hand } and assembled by the carpenters.


Framing members that run vertically below and or above windows, doors, under headers, also known as jack studs, or trimmers.


The bow or curve of a board when it is viewed on edge, as a general rule these framing members should be installed crown up.

Custom home

Normally a one of a kind single family dwelling, usually towards the higher end of the price range.



The person or persons who plan finance a construction project be it big or small.


Structural members nailed together for added strength.



Fire block

Blocks normally installed in balloon framed walls to slow down the spread of fire.



The most common form of roof where the rafters on either side are the same length, pitch, and meet in the middle of the span.


Normally a 2 or 3 part member used to support a hip roof system when using trusses.



An acronym, height above plate. This carpentry term is used to describe the stand or height of any rafter at the backside of the birdsmouth, or outside edge of the building.


A beam running horizontally above window, door, or other opening to support the structural members above it.

Hip rafter

The main support for the jack rafters in a hip roof, normally running at a 45 degree angle from the common rafters.



Jack rafter

A rafter that spans from the top plate to the hip rafter or from valley rafter to ridge also hip to valley.


Structural members that run horizontally and supports the ceiling or floor.


Traditionally a carpentry term used to describe a carpenter who has completed their apprenticeship in the local union, but also anyone who has many years experience and is considered to have paid their dues in the trade.


King rafter

Carpentry term used to describe a common rafter when it is placed on the end of the ridge board to set the ridge to the proper length in a hip roof configuration. It is the same size as a common rafter in a conventional hip roof.

King stud

In carpentry terms usually the stud running from top to bottom plate on either side of a window or door.



In carpentry terms platform between two flights of stairs to allow for a change of direction.


The marking of where different framing members are located on wall plates, sill plates, ridge boards etc. this is sometimes called detailing.


On a horizontal plane. Or a basic carpentry tool.


This is just a large rough terrain forklift used to move and access material around much more efficiently on the job site. This machine can easily become your best friend. especially when roof framing.



plywood is a thermally fused, resin saturated paper finish over a particle board core. It is highly resistant to stain and abrasion. Normally used in the cabinet building industry.

Miter cut

An angled cut on the end of any board.


Non-bearing wall

Any wall which does not support any weight such as floor framing, roof framing, or ceiling joists.


On center O.C.

The measurement from the center of one structural member to another.



In roof framing the highest point of the common rafters.


Basically this is just a large rough terrain forklift used to move and access material around much more efficiently on the job site. This machine can easily become your best friend. especially when roof framing.


The top and bottom plate in a wall.


On a vertical plane, or up and down, as in when someone says "level that wall" the correct carpentry term is plumb that wall.

Plumb and line

The act of straightening and bracing the wall framing just prior to the placing of floor,ceiling, or roof framing.

Plumb bob

A pointed metal tool used in carpentry to find a point directly below another. Can be hung from a string to plumb a wall, though not used very much nowadays, it is still useful for plumbing tall balloon and gable walls.




The various framing members for the roof of a building.

Raked wall

A sloping or angled wall. The top of the wall is angled to match the pitch of the roof. Used mainly in areas with vaulted, cathedral, or barrel ceilings.


The peak or uppermost portion of a sloped roof.


The distance that a single step, staircase, or rafter rises vertically.

Rough carpentry

Defines the tasks normally performed by the framing carpenter, such as floor framing, wall framing, roof framing, window installation, and exterior door installation.

R.O. Rough opening

A Carpentry term defining the opening left in a framed wall for a window or door, the window manufacturer will usually provide these for you. General rules of thumb for windows are 1/2" bigger than the windows actual measurements to provide for slight adjustments. Interior doors are 2" bigger than the call out on the door, an example would be 2/8=2/10, exterior doors need to be 2 & 1/2" bigger.


The horizontal distance covered by one step, set of steps, or a single rafter, normally half the width of the area covered by the roof.


Scissor truss

A roof truss with an angled ceiling already built-in, used for rooms with a cathedral or vaulted ceiling, the pitch of the ceiling is normally half that of the roof.

Seat cut

Also known as a level cut, normally used to refer to the portion of the birdsmouth cut in a rafter that allows it to sit flat on the top plate of the wall framing.

Shear panel

A normally framed wall sheathed with OSB or plywood to give it shear strength.


Laying out the floor plan on the deck or slab which represents where the walls are to be placed after framing. Then using a chalk line to represent these walls.

Spec house

Built on speculation, a developer or builder will build a house betting someone will buy it and they can turn a profit.

Speed square

A very useful tool for almost all aspects of framing carpentry, it's many uses are way to numerous to go into here.

Stair gauges

Small octagon shaped buttons that clamp onto a framing square to speed the marking of repeated measurements such as stair stringers and rafter patterns.


The height the rafter is above the wall measured at the back of the birdsmouth, also called HAP (height above plate), heel height, and throat.

Stick framing

The act of a carpenter building one board at a time as opposed to modular or panelized homes.


is a pair of steps or ladders that is accessible to pedestrians but generally inaccessible to animals. Stiles allow access to a field or other area enclosed by a fence or wall. Unlike a gate, there is no chance of forgetting to close it, but they may be difficult to use for some disabled individuals.

Story pole

A 2x4 with increment marks on it, usually used to represent the risers in a staircase to help find the height of a landing.


The main support for a staircase, which the risers and treads are attached to.



In carpentry terms a pattern made to speed up the process of marking numerous identical pieces to be cut such as rafters, stringers, studs, treads, risers, etc.


A fabricated framing member used for roof framing and floor framing. T=truss J=joist I=I-Beam (because it is shaped like a steel I-Beam).


The framing member nailed to the king stud under the end of the header to support the weight from above.


A single component of a prefabricated roof framing system, normally built off site and delivered as part of the complete truss package.




Where two different roof slopes intersect.

Vaulted ceiling

An angled sloping ceiling.





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