DIY Glossary

dictionary entry for DIY

110/120 Line

The standard voltage for a typical household circuit used to be 110 volts, often called a "110 line." This will support most appliances and lighting used in kitchens and throughout the house. These days, it's a bit of a misnomer since the standard voltage has been 120/240 for many years in most of the world.

220 line (actually 240) is a higher voltage used for large appliances that need a higher amperage, such as an electric clothes dryer.

ABS Pipes

ABS stands for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, which probably doesn’t mean much to the Average Joe but is a generally low hazard material presenting few risks to humans. That and its toughness make for a competitive plumbing material to PVC pipe. Even though ABS is stronger than PVC, it’s also flexible and lightweight, making it ideal for fitting into small spaces. Moreover, ABS is easier to install than PVC, which needs a primer before glue to form a bond and takes more time to dry, allowing for connections to push apart. The downsides? ABS is more likely to deform under sun exposure, costs more, and may not be available at all home improvement retailers.

Absorption Cooling

Absorption cooling is a method of refrigeration that uses an external heat source such as propane or solar power to provide the energy required to lower temperatures. Absorption refrigeration is mainly used as an alternative to compressor-based refrigeration in applications or areas where electrical service is intermittent or unreliable, too costly, or otherwise unavailable.

Absorption refrigerators use no moving parts and don't have fans or compressors. They use an external heat source for energy and use the heat to cool the interior of the refrigerator. While there are many types of absorption refrigerators, the most common variety uses ammonia as the primary coolant and uses ammonia, hydrogen gas, and water to power the cooling cycle.

Absorption refrigerators have five primary components.

Generator - Used to generate ammonia gas.

Separator - Used to separate the water from ammonia gas produced by the generator.

Condenser - Here, the heated ammonia gas is cooled. The condensation that results creates liquid ammonia.

Evaporator - Used to evaporate liquefied ammonia and cool the refrigerator.

Absorber - Used to absorb and filter the ammonia gas from water.

Here is a step by step guide to the process:

The heat from an external source is used to provide energy to the generator.

The generator contains a solution of liquid ammonia and water. The heat produced by the generator increases the temperature of the liquid to the boiling point for the ammonia in the solution.

The hot solution of ammonia and water is then passed on to the separator, where the water is separated from the ammonia gas.

The ammonia gas then continues its journey and flows upward into the condenser. The condenser is made up of metal coils and fins (usually aluminum) that help to dissipate the heat in the gas. This condenses the ammonia gas back into a liquid.

The liquefied ammonia now enters the evaporator. In the evaporator unit, liquid ammonia combines with hydrogen gas and evaporates. This reaction causes a burst of very cold air to be forced into the interior compartment of the refrigerator through vents.

The ammonia and hydrogen gases then flow into the absorber, where water that has collected in the separator unit is mixed with the gases.

Introducing water into the ammonia and hydrogen gas mixture causes the hydrogen gas to be released. The hydrogen gas then flows back into the evaporator. The remaining ammonia and water flow again into the generator. Then, the cycle begins again.

One of the most popular practical applications of absorption refrigeration is that of refrigerators used inside camper trailers or recreational vehicles. Instead of electric refrigerators, these types of vehicles use refrigerators that are powered with energy created by burning liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). This allows owners of the types of vehicles to avoid using generators or drawing on the power of their vehicle's battery.

Absorption refrigeration is also commonly used to cool machinery or even used to air-condition large buildings using waste heat that is created by gas turbine engines or water heaters. This type of process is efficient and helps to conserve electricity costs and usage.


An abutment is a joint between two surfaces and is usually used in roofing terminology to describe a joint between a roof and a wall.

AC Condenser

An AC condenser cools a substance from a gaseous to a liquid state, releasing the heat contained by that substance so it can be directed away from the area getting cooled.

There are many kinds of condensers, ranging in size from portable to industrial. Many use water or local air as the coolant, dripping the condensed liquid onto a collecting pan called a hot well. Water-based systems use a "jacket" for containment, and the simplest and cheapest kind of condenser (the "Liebig") is essentially a straight tube through which the cooling substance flows. More complicated condensers use more complex shapes, from twisting turning pipes to materials that have special properties on the micro-scale.

Most standard window AC units use air cooling methods, releasing liquid harmlessly to the outside of a home. These are easy to clean and thus require little maintenance. Water cooling is more typical for larger systems, like swimming pools and urban plumbing. They're more efficient than air coolers but require both more upfront investment and upkeep maintenance. Evaporative coolers are used in large systems where water is not readily available.

A typical central air conditioning system uses a fan to blow air from outside the machine through a heat exchanger, condensing vaporous refrigerant into a liquid, and a compressor to move this substance through the appliance by increasing its pressure.

Adirondack Chairs

wooden Adirondack chair

Adirondack chairs are low-seated outdoor lounge seats. They typically feature wide armrests and a tall back, with an elevated front edge and scooped back to facilitate a relaxed sitting position. The name refers to the Adirondack Mountain range, but in other places, they have different names (like Muskoka chairs in Canada).

Many Adirondack chairs are made of wood, but plastic models are increasingly popular, and in theory, they can be constructed of a wide range of materials, from simple boards to wine barrels to used skis.


loft bedroom with bright window

ADU is short for accessory dwelling unit. It can refer to a free-standing building or a self-contained apartment connected to a house. Converted garages, attics, and basements can become ADUs, and cottages, cabins, and tiny homes can fill this role on a property with another, usually larger, residence.

The main quality of an accessory dwelling unit is its independence. It should have everything someone needs to live comfortably, including bathroom and kitchen facilities. Some ADUs become rental units, others make good homes for family members moving into a shared property.

These units go by many other names, including guest houses, cottages, and secondary suites. Because they offer support for a wide range of housing and family options, some governments require local zoning codes to protect them. In other places, you might require special permits to build an ADU, so always check with your municipal agency before you start construction.


Aeration is a gardening or landscaping term that describes the process of punching holes into a lawn for better penetration of water, nutrients, and air. The benefits of aeration include a healthier and more lush lawn since the soil is not as compacted as it would be without these holes. You can aerate your lawn with either a spike device, which simply pokes holes into the soil or a plug aerator, which removes plugs of soil and leaves holes behind.

A lawn aerator is a device that digs small holes in the dirt with blades or spikes, breaking up dense soil to allow air, water, and plant systems to spread throughout the ground. Old fashioned aerators are hand-push machines with metal tines or saws on a rotating core. They operate by elbow grease alone. Modern versions may be powered by gas or battery engines.

aeirator on lawn

In addition to breaking up soil, aerators tear apart thatch (dead organic material), improving the flow of air and water to the turf. By introducing these elements just beneath the surface of a lawn, aerators encourage worms and other small creatures to fertilize the soil where it's most useful to plants. They also separate the root systems of grass or other lawn covers, encouraging those roots to expand and grow thicker.

Most lawns only require a single aeration every year, so it may make sense to rent an aerator when you need it, rather than storing one for 364 days between applications. Lawns with more clay in their soil might benefit from two aeration sessions (one in spring and one in fall). In warmer climates, you can delay aeration until almost the beginning of summer. In cooler areas, aim closer to the start of spring.


Aggregate in terms of construction are mined materials such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone that are added to a composite material, such as concrete, for strength. Typically, aggregate has a variety of sizes to fill in space and add bulk.

Air Brick

Air bricks, which are sometimes also referred to as air vents, are constructed to allow air to pass through them, as their name suggests. Holes in the brick, which are these days often made from iron or plastic, allow air to pass through in an effort to prevent moisture buildup and other problems when airflow isn't present. They are often seen at the ground level of walls and structures with suspended floors.

Air Compressor

Air compressors are handy devices for avid DIYers to have in their workshop because they can supply energy to pneumatic power tools, which are usually faster, lighter, and have more power than traditional power tools. Air compressors are usually powered by gasoline or electricity, converting that power into energy stored in pressurized air. Air compressors come in either stationary or portable models, with different sized tanks depending on the DIYer's needs. The smaller the tank, the less time it can be used before the compressor turns back on.

Air Gap

In regards to plumbing, an air gap is vertical space between the area where water flows out from a fixture and the flood level of that fixture. A common example of this is the cylindrical fixture often seen mounted on sinks next to the faucet. This air gap works in conjunction with a dishwasher. If you were to look underneath the counter, the dishwasher drain pipe feeds into the top of the air gap while the bottom of the air gap pumps into the garbage disposal. The air gap prevents dirty sink water from backing up into the dishwasher and clean water lines. Over time, you may need to clean the air gap by removing the cap and using a bottle brush with a generic cleaner to remove food particles and bad smells.

Air Hammer

Air hammers use highly pressurized air delivered from a compressor to strike the desired object into the intended area. The compressed air is delivered from a portable tank and travels through reinforced tubing to reach the hammer. The air hammers are ideally suited for shaping and smoothing operations. Air hammers strike the object's surface many thousand times in a second and therefore are very quick in achieving the desired design objective. There are different types of air hammers that can be bought according to your needs.

When you buy an air hammer, find out the maximum workload pressure that is supported by that particular model. See whether the maximum pressure is suited to your DIY tasks. Look for a good selection of hammer tips that are provided along with the model you are planning to buy. Air hammers depend on the size of the air inlet for their working efficiency, so pay attention to this variable when buying an air hammer.

Allen Wrench

An Allen wrench (or hex key, or Allen key) is a small tool with a hexagonal-shaped end to work with bolts and screws. Because it can be made so cheaply, you'll usually find an Allen wrench with store-bought furniture that requires assembly at home. However, they are available for purchase in sets of varying sizes.


An alternator charges a car's battery and powers its electrical system. It generates energy for the electric components in a car, like lights, by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. Alternators are located near the front of a car's engine. If your car frequently needs a jump start or has dim lights, your alternator might be bad.


Regular soap helps separate bacteria and viruses from your skin by breaking the bonds they create to your body. It also helps you clean by creating a frothy foam. When we wash our hands longer to rinse this off, we also dislodge more of the microbial substances.

Antibacterial compounds target bacteria using chemical agents like triclosan and triclocarban. These effects don't work on viruses, which are a different kind of microbe, so they're not as good as plain old soap and water in stopping the spread of non-bacterial diseases.

Moreover, the chemicals used as antibacterial agents have come under question in recent years, and the US Food and Drug Administration has concerns about the potential health impact of some of these compounds.


Vintage and antique are two words you hear a lot when discussing DIY projects. But there is a distinct difference. To be considered antique, an item must be at least 100 years old. To be considered vintage, something only has to be 20 years old. Original pieces that were not duplicated can be worth a lot of money. Upcycling antique furniture has become incredibly popular. Upcycling can consist of refinishing an item or reupholstering it to breathe fresh life into it.


An anvil is a large metalworking tool. It has a large block made of steel or iron, a flat top, and a pointed edge, also known as the horn. Anvils are used to shape metal. Its main surface is called the face. If it has any marks on it, they will also appear on any work being done.

Anvil Pruner

Anvil pruners cut branches by pushing the blade through the plant material to rest on the anvil, which is a softer metal than the blade to keep it from damage. This results in the material essentially being crushed instead of having a clean cut. (This action is in contrast to a bypass pruner, which has a blade that sweeps past the lower jaw.) Anvil pruners are ideal for the simple chore of removing vegetation instead of achieving a clean look.


curved, classical molding with a faux marble finish

An astragal is a molding element with one curved area bracketed by two flat sections. It may feature more carving detail, and can be used in a traditional molding position between a wall and ceiling, or to decorate trim on cabinets, windows, or doors. This style can also pop up around pillars as an added point of interest.

If you're working with astragal, you'll probably want to have a hacksaw, finishing nails, and caulking glue on hand. To fit two pieces of astragal together, you may have to fit them at an angle. You probably won't be able to overlap astragal molding because of its shape.

    Thin pieces of astragal are used to trim all different types of materials. It can be seen making up the cross-sections of window or door panes, and in some places, it's used interchangeably with the term muntin.

    One trendy application of astragal molding is large box frame shapes. These can give walls an elegant appearance and imbue a space with classic warmth.


    a pointed metal tool called an awl

    An awl is a pointed metal tool for poking holes in various materials. In carpentry and woodworking, these tools are sometimes known as "scratch awls." They can create helpful starting points for screws or nails or draw "scribe lines" to guide chisels or saws.

    In fabric crafting, "stitching" or "sewing" awls can be used to widen existing holes in tough materials like leather or to thread connective string through them. Some stitching awls have curved tips to help control thread. They're often used to form lock stitches and are popular in shoemaking.

    As you might expect, based on their simplicity, awls are an old technology. Several tribes of Native Americans used them in crafting and trading, and a small copper awl is among the oldest metal tools ever found in the Middle East.


    In construction terms, backfilling is a simple term. It refers to filling an excavated hole with the material originally dug out of it. The word backfill can also refer to the material itself that fills the hole or trench. Backfilling is often done when working around building foundations, underground structures, or landscaping.

    Back Butter

    Back buttering is a term used when installing tile and is simply the application of Thinset to the back of a tile before applying it to the combed bed of mortar. It helps achieve the proper amount of mortar for the project and ensures a safe application.

    Ball Peen Hammer

    This hand tool is also known as a machinist's hammer, used in metalworking. One end of the head is shaped like a regular hammer, while the other end is shaped like a ball, which helps in forming metal into the desired shape.


    When trying to troubleshoot your toilet, the ballcock is an important component to pay attention to. This valve lives in the toilet tank and is connected to a metal arm, which then connects to a float. The ballcock is gravity-operated and controls the refilling of the toilet tank.

    After you flush, the toilet will empty, as will the toilet tank. As the water refills in the toilet bowl, the tank also refills. The ballcock and metal arm it is attached to allow the float to rise with the water. Once the float gets high enough, the mechanism will shut off the ballcock valve, and the toilet is ready to use again.


    A baluster is a decorative piece of wood or stone used in staircases or railings. Sometimes they are also referred to as a stair stick or spindle. To make them, they're usually formed from a square or rectangular plank and cut with a lathe to achieve symmetry. Balusters are typically seen in a series with equal spacing between each piece.

    Band Clamp

    Of all clamps that can be used in woodworking, possibly the most versatile of them all is the band clamp. In gluing or fastening of materials with odd shapes and sizes, this clamp is ideal because it is effective, simple to use, and inexpensive to buy. Unlike other types of clamps you might use for projects such as gluing chair leg stretchers, you can use band clamps. If you've yet to use your first band clamp, you'll be pleased with the results. Just follow the directions below.  Choose Your Type of Clamp  Depending on the object you'll be clamping, there are a number of optional clamps you'll be able to use. Some of these include those with ratchet straps, bungee cords, ropes, nylon straps, tape, and even bicycle inner tubes. If you are uncertain about which type to use, check with advisers at the store where you purchase your clamp.  Preparing the Band for Use  Check the clamp band to see if it is attached at both ends to the metal clamp tabs that keep it attached to the clamp. If it's attached at both ends, free the long end by opening the tab that holds it in the clamp.  Fastening the Band on Strap Clamps  Press the clamp against the object you'll be clamping, with the band bunched and held in one of your hands. With your other hand, fit the band around the object. You'll find a

    Of all clamps that can be used in woodworking, possibly the most versatile of them all is the band clamp. In gluing or fastening materials with odd shapes and sizes, this clamp is ideal because it is effective, simple to use, and inexpensive to buy. Unlike other types of clamps you might use for projects such as gluing chair leg stretchers, you can use band clamps. If you've yet to use your first band clamp, you'll be pleased with the results. Just follow the directions below.

    Types of Band Clamp

    Depending on the object you'll be clamping, there are a number of optional clamps you'll be able to use. Some of these include those with ratchet straps, bungee cords, ropes, nylon straps, tape, and even bicycle inner tubes. If you are uncertain about which type to use, check with advisers at the store where you purchase your clamp.

    Preparing the Band for Use

    Check the clamp band to see if it is attached at both ends to the metal clamp tabs that keep it attached to the clamp. If it's attached at both ends, free the long end by opening the tab that holds it in the clamp.

    Fastening the Band on Strap Clamps

    Press the clamp against the object you'll be clamping with the band bunched and held in one of your hands. With your other hand, fit the band around the object. You'll find a "Y" connector on some clamps. Insert the free end of the band into this connector and bring the band through the clamp by pulling on the end you've inserted into the connector. When you have pulled it tight around the object, close the metal lock. This will hold the band in place in the clamp.

    Clamping a Picture Frame

    Band clamps can be used to glue a picture frame. First, cut your frame pieces to size. Apply glue to the beveled end surfaces and fit the corners together to form the frame. Wrap the clamp strap completely around the outside edge of the frame. Then, tighten the clamp. This will keep the frames glued pieces pressed tightly together until the glue is dry.

    Clamping a Hose around a Fitting

    Clamp a rubber hose onto a fitting, such as those used on garbage disposals by slipping the clamp strap over the hose. Slip the hose over the open end of the pit fitting and insert the fitting into the hose. Slide the clamp down the hose until it is over the fitting, then tighten the clamp with a screwdriver.

    Clamping an Appliance to a Moving Dolly

    Keep an appliance, such as a refrigerator, washing machine, or clothes dryer attached to a moving dolly when you're moving the appliance. This way, you'll be able to maneuver the dolly and appliance without the appliance falling off the dolly. To attach the appliance to the dolly, slip the dolly's support plate under the appliance, wrap the free end of the strap around the appliance, insert the strap end into the clamp, and tighten it.


    A bandsaw (or band saw) consists of a long sharp blade of toothed metal that is positioned between at least two wheels. This type of saw is known for its versatility as the blade can be switched out for different sizes and can cut not only wood but metal and other materials as well. Bandsaws are also known for their accuracy and ability to cut various shapes like a jigsaw.

    A bandsaw is a band of steel with teeth that rotates on at least two wheels and goes through a table. To cut a board with a bandsaw, you simply place it on the table and push it through the moving blade. While this type of power tool can make straight cuts, it is also used for curved or irregular cuts as well.

    Basin Wrench

    If you do plumbing work around the house, the chances are that you'll need a basin wrench at some point. The wrench is designed to reach in tight spaces behind a sink to loosen and tighten nuts or other fasteners that hold faucets to sinks. Typically, other wrenches are not capable of fitting in the tight, recessed spaces where fasteners are located.

    basin wrench

    Bastard File

    A bastard file is a file with coarseness between “coarse” and “second cut.” Coarser cuts produce rougher finishes. Bastard files are usually used to quickly remove something, not for finishing something smoothly.

    Batt Insulation

    Blanket insulation is one of the best kinds of insulation for do-it-yourself home projects and comes in two forms: batt and roll.

    The least expensive and most common insulation types are both made from layers of fluffy fibers, usually fiberglass. Other common materials include rock and slag mineral wool, plastic, cotton, and even good old-fashioned wool.

    Both batt and roll insulation come in standardized widths to fit traditional stud, truss, joist, and rafter spacing, and both are available in faced and non-faced varieties (facing can make installation easier and sometimes adds extra flame resistance). Some people prefer rolls for seamless covering. Batts come in smaller chunks, which makes them better suited to awkward spaces that require cutting the insulation to fit the surface.

    Insulation effectiveness is measured by R-value, which correlates with the density and thickness of the product. In warmer climates, you can get away with a lower R-value, which will likely be cheaper, though a higher one will help retain the cool air coming out of your AC unit. In general, higher R-value insulation contributes to higher resale value.

    For safety, always use mouth covers when installing blanket insulation. It's made of tiny particles that can be dangerous to breathe in. And remember to seal any exterior gaps or holes before applying insulation. As great as it is, it's not a replacement for a wall.


    You may be familiar with the phrase "batten down the hatches" in reference to securing something on a ship during stormy weather. It's a direct reference to using a batten, which is a long flat piece of wood (or sometimes metal) to hold something secure. In construction, a batten is usually holding something up against a ceiling or wall.

    Batter Boards

    Batter boards are temporary frames that establish the outline and angle of a home foundation. Typically, they consist of a pair of horizontal boards nailed to posts set at the corners of an excavation. The batter boards indicate the proper location, level, and angle of the structure and serve as a fastening place for the stretched cord to show the outlines of foundation walls.

    Used for reference during the initial excavation and rough grading phases of construction, most batter boards consist of 2x4 stakes driven into the ground (usually by sledgehammer) with a crosspiece of 1x4 nailed or screwed across them in a shape that looks like a running hurdle. For especially tall foundation construction, batter boards should be braced with some kind of support to maintain the integrity of their angles.

    Despite their temporary nature, the exact position of batter boards is highly significant to pouring an accurate foundation. The vertical pieces need to be stable but don't have to be set at a particular angle. The horizontal elements, though, must be exactly level with each other. Otherwise, the concrete will set unevenly, throwing off the dimensions of all following construction steps.

    Batter boards should not be confused with batter walls, an architectural term meaning walls that slant slightly toward the center of a structure.


    True beadboard is the traditional material used to construct wainscoting along the bottom portion of walls in bathrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, or any room of the house. Beadboard gains its name from the fact that when the pieces are fastened together, they create a bead between them.

    Beadboard is comprised of long slats of wood, usually 2 1/2 inches wide, with a tongue on one side and a groove on the other. For this reason, they are also called tongue and groove slats. They are positioned together along their long edge. The tongue on one slat fits into the groove in the next. Where they come together, they form a bead, hence the name beadboard.

    Beadboard is the material originally used to make wainscoting. When fastened together, it creates a lovely effect of parallel vertical slats. There is such a thing nowadays as imitation beadboard. This basically consists of 4 by 8-foot sheets of vertically patterned paneling, usually no thicker than 5/16 inches. When glued to a wall, it resembles a series of tongue and groove slats, but it is not a proper beadboard.

    Beam Pocket

    A beam pocket is a recessed space designed to hold the end of a beam in a vertical structural surface such as a concrete or masonry wall or a column. It creates an opening framing the form of an intersecting beam.

    metal beam between two brick pillars

    In concrete, the pocket is created by cutting out a hole where the beam will sit and then making a place-holder block out of lumber and putting that block in the hole. Once the concrete has been poured around the block, take the block out, and you're left with a pocket in which the beam will sit. The wet concrete will flow behind and below the block to create a nice square pocket in the concrete.

    Types of Beam Pocket

    A beam pocket is available in either disposable or reusable formats. They can be nailed to a plywood form to create a block out in a concrete wall for beam pocket placement.

    Bearing and Nonbearing

    Your house has two kinds of walls—bearing and nonbearing. It's important to know the difference, particularly when considering a remodel. Bearing walls can be both exterior and interior walls that transfer the weight of the roof, floors, and walls above them down to the house's foundation. (If these studs are removed, they should be replaced by a header that transfers the weight from above across and down the sides of the structure.) Nonbearing walls usually only need to support themselves—if an interior wall is nonbearing, its purpose is solely to divide up the house's space. When looking at a house's bones, keep this in mind: bearing walls usually run perpendicular to floor and ceiling joists, while (exterior) numbering walls run parallel to roof trusses and floor joists.

    Bearing Splitter

    bearing splitter device

    Bearing splitters are common tools for adjusting heavy vehicle parts. You can use them to work with bearings, but they have a wide range of applications, including pulling alternator pulleys and working with steering mechanisms. They work by expanding to fit around a part that needs to be moved, then tightening to deliver a workable hold.

    Once you have a grip on the part, you can use a ratchet or a wrench to move it. If the item is really stuck, you may need to tap gently around the base of the area with a rubber mallet to dislodge it.

    You can pick up a basic bearing splitter on Amazon or get a comprehensive kit if you're getting into regular mechanic work.


    When landscaping, a berm is often used to add height and variety to an otherwise flat area. In addition to their visual appeal, they can also redirect traffic, help control water flow and drainage, and block unappealing views. Berms are usually constructed with some sort of fill material, such as sand or plant debris, with plants or other garden features added on top.


    A bevel is an angle where two pieces of wood or planes meet—except a right angle. They are usually present in cases where a hard right angle wouldn't be as safe or to increase wear resistance.

    Biaxial Slabs

    Biaxial slabs, also known as voided biaxial slabs, are concrete construction elements reinforced with metal frames and interspersed with pockets of air sealed in plastic containers. These voids reduce the density and weight of the ultimate material by up to 50% compared to solid concrete, making them more affordable, less damaging to the environment, more resistant to seismic activity, and better suited for certain aspects of construction like horizontal surfaces.

    Voided slabs have been in use since the 1950s, featuring diverse designs from simple hollow cores to waffle shapes. Biaxial slabs are so named because their internal structure features beams of concrete along two axes. Proprietary variations have included different materials and shapes for the air pockets, in some cases replacing the air itself with blocks of polystyrene.

    All biaxial slabs feature some internal reinforcement, though the shapes and components can vary broadly. Although it can take more time to construct biaxial slabs onsite, that approach can ultimately be cheaper than using prefabricated elements.


    A billhook is a handheld tool generally used for cutting wood, pruning, and chopping branches. It has a wood handle and a curved blade. The billhook is commonly used in areas of Europe where wine is grown.


    Biodigesters harness the appetites of tiny organisms to break down organic waste into renewable biogas and fertilizing compost.

    They can be built in countless different ways, from simple plastic containers to multi-chambered stainless steel machines, but the crucial ingredients are an anaerobic environment (one free of oxygen) and bacteria that can survive happily away from air and light.

    Biodigesters can handle any organic material, though some will break down faster than others. Most frequently, they're used to process bodily waste, both from humans and farm animals.

    One major advantage of a biodigester is that it's relatively free of maintenance requirements and doesn't need a sewer system to work—making it a good solution for properties that are off the grid.


    In a general sense, biophilia refers to an appreciation for the natural world of life. The word was coined by biologist Edward O. Wilson in 1984, who maintained that humans, and perhaps all creatures, have an innate fondness for and curiosity about other living things.

    In design, biophilia refers to aesthetic and structural elements informed by natural systems. From wallpaper with jungle scenes, chairs curved like the petals of a flower to carpets textured like moss, grass, or the mane of a fuzzy beast, home design is replete with opportunities to celebrate the natural world.

    You might see this word pop up with greater frequency in the years ahead, as the historically unprecedented population of humans continues to put pressure on the wild and the climate crisis intensifies. Perhaps not by coincidence, home design that celebrates nature, plants, and animals is more on-trend than ever.


    Also known as a bird's beak cut, a birdsmouth is a wooden joint that forms a triangular shape, often to connect the rafter of a roof to the upper plate of the wall beneath.

    It consists of an indentation cut into the top beam, allowing it to rest flatly against the support below for a firm attachment (usually with toenails or rafter tie-down plates). The cut is usually no more than a third of the depth of the rafter for structural safety, though building codes vary from place to place.

    The part of the cut that rests on the wall is referred to as the seat and runs horizontally, while the heel (or plumb) cut is vertical, running parallel to the wall.

    Manufactured metal rafters usually don't have birdsmouths, nor should they. Attempting to add one to pre-engineered roofing structures can be dangerous.


    compost bin

    Bokashi is a Japanese composting method that uses fermentation to turn any kitchen scraps into garden soil, including animal products that can't be composted in open-air systems.

    Unlike standard composting, bokashi takes place in a sealed system, where the addition of an organic substrate like bran, grass, or sawdust combines with bacteria to initiate a fermentation process.

    The results can smell less powerful than some other forms of compost, but they also create a runoff product that must be drained through a spigot, and the resulting soil can be highly acidic at first, so it needs to rest a bit before interacting with plants.

    Bottom Cord

    The bottom chord is the bottom horizontal or inclined member of a truss. The bottom chord is also called a scissors truss. The bottom chord establishes the lower edge of a truss. The bottom chord, therefore, carries combined stress of both tension and bending of the truss.

    A triangle is the simplest form of a truss, and the bottom chord is the base piece. The horizontal beam of the triangle of a bottom chord is used in this simple triangle truss construction. It is utilized in a framed roof comprised of rafters and a ceiling joist. The stability of this shape, supported by the bottom chord, is the reason for the common usage of the triangle truss.

    The depth of a truss, which is the height between the upper and lower chords, is that configuration that makes it an efficient structural form. For a given span length, a deeper truss will require less material in the bottom chords and greater material in the verticals and diagonals.

    Box Crib

    If you've ever played Jenga, you're already familiar with the basic idea of a box crib. Often temporary elements used in early phases of construction, cribs are fairly simple structures created by stacking beams in layers to support heavy loads.

    Cribs come in different shapes and sizes and can be made from materials as diverse as wood, stone, and plastic. In addition to construction, they can also be useful for moving heavy vehicles in various situations, from mining to search and rescue, or to support buildings that are being relocated without being deconstructed.

    Boxing Paint

    "Boxing" paint is a method used to ensure color consistency between multiple cans of paint. This technique is especially important when a color discrepancy between cans may be apparent over large surface areas. To ensure consistency, pour all cans being used into a large container, such as a 5-gallon bucket, and stir to combine. Once everything is mixed well, the paint can be poured back into the original containers and used.


    This small hand tool is used for starting pilot holes or indentations in wood as preparation for the insertion of a nail or screw. When pressure is applied on the surface of the material, the fibers are twisted away, and a small hole is created. A bradawl is often used when attaching one piece of material to another, as in the case of attaching a hinge to a door. The tool allows you to see where the holes should be to attach the hinge, allowing for a perfect fit.

    Brake Caliper Tool

    A brake caliper tool is necessary when you are changing the brake pads on a car and helps to prevent damage to the pistons while working with the brake pads. A brake caliper tool retracts the pistons back into the actual caliper so the brake pads can easily be removed and replaced. The tool itself fits over the piston at one end. At the other end, there will be a handle allowing for rotation. With each rotation, the piston will wind into the caliper itself.

    Brick Hammer

    A brick hammer, also known as a stonemason's hammer, is useful in the demolition or removal of brick because it essentially serves two purposes. The chisel end of the hammer scores brick or stone and is perfect for chipping off small parts. The more traditional hammer end is useful for breaking the brick or stone in half or for cutting off larger chunks.

    brick hammer

    Brush Hog

    Also sometimes referred to as a bush hog, this large piece of agricultural machinery is a rotary motor attached to the back of a tractor, used to mow large areas of dense grass. Unlike a standard lawnmower that cuts with a sharp blade, a brush hog utilizes dull wedge-like blades to quickly cut through dense vegetation (a sharp blade typically slows down when it crosses a rock or other hard object in its path). Also unique to the brush hog's design is the use of centrifugal force to cut through any vegetation that may bounce across its path.

    Bull Float

    A bull float is a device used to smooth the surface of newly poured and tamped concrete. It's a long, usually rectangular piece attached by a pivot to a long pole, allowing the user to smooth the concrete without having to step near or on it. While a bull float smooths the concrete, it also works the levels in the poured concrete, cutting down the high points and filling in the lower ones.

    Bullnose Corner

    Bullnose corners are essentially rounded corners on the edges of walls and other surfaces in construction. As seen in the photo, they are commonly found in adobe-type structures but have made their way into contemporary design as part of new construction homes. They give a finished look, and are easy for any DIYer working with drywall to achieve. Just use a rounded corner bead applied the same way as drywall tape, making sure the drywall sheets are cut short on the edges so they don't overlap.


    electrical connecting strip of copper

    A busbar (or bus bar) is a metalic connecting mount for electrical equipment. Usually made of copper, brass, or aluminum, busbars come in various shapes from flat strips to rounded rods, and must be rigid enough to support their own weight.

    Usually located inside an enclosure like a panel board, busbars are often otherwise uninsulated so they can cool in the air. They range in application from high voltage models in power plants, switchyards, and smelters to relatively low voltage versions in home power systems and banks of batteries.

    Busbars can connect to other bars and electrical inputs with blots, clamps, or welded areas. Some high current models have silver-plated surfaces to minimize contact resistance.

    Check out busbar supplies on Amazon.


    metalic crank camshaft

    In vehicle engineering, camming is the practice of upgrading an engine's camshaft to increase driving power.

    A cam is a disk or cylinder shape that rotates to transfer power and energy to other elements in an engine, and a camshaft is the rod along which these cams are mounted.

    Camming refers to the replacement of this shaft with an upgraded part that can convey more kinetic force. Camshafts can achieve these changes in different ways, including by leveraging different physical connection points, creating different timing with their motion, and facilitating increased flow of air through an engine.

    Upgrades like these tend to be more efficient at higher RPMs, so they're more common in performance vehicles than everyday rides.

    Browse camshaft upgrades on Amazon.


    A camshaft is part of a vehicle's engine. It is used to open and close engine valves. It lets in air, while letting out exhaust gas. Here's how it works: the camshaft works with the crankshaft. The camshaft rotates at different speeds depending on if it is part of a 4-stroke or 2-stroke engine cycle. In a 4-stroke engine, the cycles are intake, compression, power, and exhaust. The crankshaft rotates once during every step. The camshaft rotates twice. Replacing a camshaft is fairly easy. Before you replace it, though, you should determine why it needs to be replaced as there might be bigger factors at play.

    Canopy Bed

    Canopy beds feature frames for overhanging fabric and side curtains. They convey a romantic and luxurious feel, and they can help cut down on heating costs by keeping warmth around their occupants at night. Canopy frames are usually wooden or metallic, and their fabric elements range from airy cotton to smooth silk to thick velvet.

    They can be as formal or simple as you prefer. Crown canopies feature a fabric ceiling that swoops up to a central point, but you can create a basic version by building a simple frame, or even just by mounting a few curtain rods or a swag of your favorite fabric.

    One basic method that requires very little construction is draping long fabric panels through a wooden or metal ring attached to the ceiling above the center of the head of the bed. Draw the fabric panel through the ring, pulling it down to the floor on either side of the bed.

    Alternatively, you can install a ring on the ceiling at both sides of the head of the bed, or four rings—one for each corner—and draw long fabric panels through to complete the look.

    Carbon Monoxide

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that several thousand people go to hospitals every year seeking treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, and it's the number one cause of death by poison in America. With these scary statistics, it's important to know what carbon monoxide is and how you can prevent its presence in your own home. Carbon monoxide is a gas, made up of carbon and oxygen, that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It can cause fatalities in people (and animals) when present in closed environments due to malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as gas stoves, water heaters, furnaces, etc.

    Because you can't detect from your own senses when this toxic gas is in your home, install carbon monoxide detectors, which work like smoke alarms and alert you when it detects unsafe levels in your home. Also, make sure your gas-powered appliances are working properly to ensure that malfunctions and leaks won't happen.

    Carpenter's Square

    A carpenter’s square, also known as a steel square or framing square, is a lightweight measurement tool with a long and short arm that form an “L” shape and meet at a 90 degree angle. As you can probably guess, this tool allows a carpenter to lay out proper measurements for anything with edges. However, you don’t have to be a carpenter to benefit from this handy tool—anyone who works on home improvement projects can use it to get accurate measurements.

    Casement Window

    A casement window is characterized by being hinged on one side of its frame, either vertically or horizontally. (Windows hinged at the top are referred to as awnings and windows hinged at the bottom are referred to as hoppers.) They are often opened with a crank or lever. If you live in a particularly hot climate, you may consider installing casement windows because they allow for an abundance of breeze and air to enter into your home, which can be controlled by how wide you open the window.


    Similar to grout, the term “caulking” is bound to come up again and again within home improvement tutorials. It’s a process that seals gaps between surfaces and is likely referred to in projects taking place in the kitchen or bathroom. Caulking works to protect water leaks and acts as a seal against the elements. Caulking is something that would have to be done in a project such as installing a new kitchen backsplash.

    Cement Backerboard

    Cement backerboard is a recent invention that has made shower construction a whole lot easier than it used to be. The pre-formed sheets of concrete replace beds of mortar and precarious greenboard, providing a near moisture-proof surface for shower tile. Unlike standard drywall or greenboard, cement backerboard will not grow mold, warp, or deteriorate, making it the perfect material for shower construction.


    Clamps are hand tools that have one basic purpose: to apply pressure in a specific spot. C-clamps are one of the oldest clamp designs and are so named for their shape. The threaded portion allows for adjustments, but this variety tends to be on the smaller side, spanning from 1 to 8 inches. Use a clamp when your hands don't offer enough holding power, such as when repairing a door, woodworking or sharpening a lawn mower blade, or when you need to keep an assembly together as adhesive cures.


    CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamp. Unlike an incandescent bulb, which produces light via a wire filament that glows as current runs through it, CFLs produce light when electric current travels through a tube of argon and mercury vapor. An ultraviolet light excites the fluorescent coating inside the tube, creating visible light. CFLs sell for anywhere from three to 10 times more than a regular incandescent bulb, but their lifespan is eight to 15 times longer and they use up to 75 percent less energy than an incandescent.

    Chalk Line

    Since the time of ancient Egypt, chalk lines have been used in construction for marking long, straight lines on flat surfaces. The chalk-coated string, housed inside a casing, is pulled to the needed length, held taut at both ends and snapped against the surface. The snapping motion transfers the chalk from the string to the surface that’s being marked, which could be anything from lumber to concrete. The chalk can then be wiped away after it serves its measuring purpose.

    Chair Rails

    Chair rails are moldings applied on the wall a few feet from the ground. Chair rails protect your wall against scuffs from chairs. The height at which chair rails are installed varies, but it is generally installed at about 1/3 the height of the wall. Chair rails can serve many decorative functions. Sometimes they are used to break up different paint colors used above and below the rail. The rail itself can be either very simple or ornate. Installing chair rails is a project most DIYers can do on their own.

    Chop Saw

    Chop saws often get compared to miter saws, but the main difference is that chop saws only cut in 90 degree angles, while a miter saw can rotate and cut at an angle. Chop saws are also larger than miter saws, and can cut through just about anything. While most DIYers can get by with just a miter saw, a chop saw will come in handy if you're building a house or otherwise cutting large pieces of lumber.

    Cinder Block

    The term "cinder block" actually refers to what's technically known as a concrete masonry unit, or CMU, that's used in building construction. Typically made of Portland cement and an aggregate, they have characteristic hollow centers that make them lighter in weight and improve insulation.

    Circ Pump

    A circ pump (short for “circulating,” "circulation," or “circulator”) is a machine that keeps liquids or gasses moving in a sealed system. Typically electrically powered with very low horsepower, a circ pump might be used in a home to keep hot water close to the faucet for quick access.

    When choosing and installing a circ pump, consider the heat-loss caused by moving water through pipes instead of just the boiler. It might make sense to accept a little wait time when you turn on the hot water, instead of straining your heating system 24/7 by constantly pumping water all the way through your plumbing.

    To move fluids effectively, circ pumps need a system that's completely free of air, so make sure to purge your pipes when you put in a new pump. Pumps that interact with drinking water have to be made of safe materials like bronze to avoid contaminating the supply.

    Circuit Breaker

    A circuit breaker is a device that resembles a switch and is typically located within the electrical panel or circuit breaker box of a home. This breaker shuts off the power to either a specified area or all of a home, limiting the amount of power floating through a circuit. This is an important item for any DIYer to know about as circuit breakers are mentioned in many projects involving anything electric around your home.

    Circular Saw

    A circular saw, also known as a skill saw, is either a table mounted or hand-held tool with a circular, toothed metal disc or blade. Circular saws are most often used to cut wood but can also be fitted to cut plastic, metal or stone. This variety of saw is known for the accuracy of straight cuts, but edges of wood often need to be sanded for smoothness. it's portability makes it convenient for working in a variety of locations.


    In terms of construction, cladding is the layering of materials over one another to provide insulation or weather resistance, or for aesthetic purposes. Think of it as an exterior layer, or "skin," on a building. Cladding can involve a wide range of materials including vinyl, wood, metals, or brick.

    Claw Hammer

    We all know hammers are used to, well, hammer things. But they’re also useful for other DIY tasks, which is why the difference in the claw can be important depending on what you want to accomplish. The claw is the other end of the hammer head, and it can be curved—as the name “claw” suggests.

    The image above is a claw hammer. Claw hammers are lightweight and are generally

    The image above is a claw hammer. Claw hammers are lightweight and are generally associated with woodworking and removing nails. For the beginning DIYer, a claw hammer may suit your needs just fine, but if you find yourself often needing to break things apart, a rip hammer will become your new best friend.


    A cleat is a strip of wood or metal that is attached to one part of an object, in order to hold it in place while attaching another part. A cleat can be used in putting up such large pieces as kitchen cabinets.

    Two types of cleats often used are the French cleat and the straight cleat. Steel cleats are often fastened to the back of cabinets to insure extra strength and support, when the cabinets are made of heavier woods.

    Close Grained Wood

    Close-grained wood implies that the wood is dense or compact in structure—and it is. Any hardwood with small pores that are difficult to see with the naked eye would be constituted as having a close grain. Because of this, it has a smooth finish. Some varieties include cherry and maple.


    Colorant is the dye or pigment used to tint paint. Here's a handy tip: Use colored paint as a colorant in white primer to reduce the number of coats you need. Simply mix a small amount of the colored paint into white primer. The resulting shade will be lighter than the paint, but still have primer qualities. Using primer tinted with this colorant will require less coats of paint than if the primer was plain white. While you can order primer that's already tinted, this is an easy and customizable DIY hack!


    Colorimeters (AKA color readers or color matchers) are devices that measure the objective value of a color, facilitating paint matching for touch-ups or expansions. The human eye can be fooled by any number of contextual factors into misreading a color. What kind of light is in the room, how dilated your pupils are, what colors are nearby, and even what kind of mood you're in might influence how you see a certain hue at a given moment.

    Since there are thousands or even millions of colors used in commercial products like paints and plastics, no human can reliably identify the exact brand of every shade. Color readers take the guesswork out of this process by measuring with mechanical precision the absorption of various wavelengths of light created by the color in question.

    Most colorimeters are dedicated devices with their own light source. To get a reading, apply a reader directly to a painted surface, or to whatever area for which you want to identify the color. Some of these gadgets communicate with an app on your phone, and a few even recommend the most popular commercial paint brands that are near or perfect matches.

    If you want to add a coat of paint to a surface, or paint a nearby area, but you don't know what kind of paint was used for the first round, use a colorimeter to get the maximum possible precision for your project.

    Combination Square

    This multipurpose tool can be used in woodworking, stonemasonry, and metalworking. The combination square has a ruled blade and interchangeable heads for different purposes, such as measuring angles, determining flatness, guaging depth, and transferring dimensions.

    Companion Plants

    Companion plants are plants that grow better when planted together. Putting these plants next to each other can chase away pests and help the plants grow, as well as help you utilize your garden space better since some plants can provide shade for others. There are also options where one plant grows up and the plant next to it grows down. Lettuce, for example, can be planted next to a variety of other plants including carrots. Carrots grow deep in the soil while lettuce grows closer to the surface. Lettuce also grows faster. Swiss chard is often used in companion planting because it is a good source of vitamins and withstands high temperatures. The plant also attracts beneficial insects.

    Composite Decking

    Composite decking is a popular alternative to traditional wood for decks because it eliminates much of the upkeep that wood requires due to wear and tear and exposure to the elements. This material is made with thermoplastics (usually recycled from bottles and bags) that typically resists fading, staining, and mold. Of course, because it's not wood it also doesn't rot and doesn't attract bugs and insects. While this material does have its downsides, such as that it's more flexible compared to lumber, its durability is a high selling point.

    Composite Honeycomb

    Composite honeycomb is any artificial structure inspired by the shapes honeybees use to build their hives. Our understanding of the structural benefit of isolated cell structures dates back over two thousand years, though its widespread application in engineering and construction only began around the early 20th century.

    cardboard composite honeycomb

    Honeycomb structures don't necessarily mirror the hexagonal shape of honeybee wax—they also include simple cellular shapes that are more square. The benefit of these materials is mainly that they're lighter, but retain the strength of more dense elements.

    This convenient win-win makes them useful for all sorts of applications, from packing material for shipping and logistics, to home construction pieces like doors and walls, to advanced engineering projects like airplanes and helicopters. They're made from a wide range of materials, from cardboard, to plastic, to aluminum, to advanced materials like Nomex, a paper thin variant of Kevlar.

    Coolant Burping

    Air bubbles can get trapped in vehicle coolant systems, making them less efficient. If your engine is running hot, you might want to try burping your coolant. The basic process involves mixing coolant with water, adding it to your system, and running the engine with the radiator cap off. When you notice the coolant level drop, you can turn off the car, refill the system, put the cap back on. If it takes more than a few minutes, keep an eye on the engine temperature to make sure it doesn't overheat.

    Pick Up Some Coolant on Amazon

    Coping Saw

    This style of hand saw is used for cutting curves in wood, made possible by a narrow blade stretched across a u-shaped frame. Used mostly in carpentry, it can give tight inside corner joints that are perfect for trim work and corner and baseboard moldings.

    Corner Bead

    corner metal edges for drywall

    Drywall can be vulnerable to chipping and crumbling at the edges. Corner bead caps the places where two sheets of drywall meet, connecting them and protecting them from damage.

    Corner beading comes in a wide range of materials, from vinyl, to metal, to plastic with paper-facing. They can be attached with fasteners like screws and staples, and are set with plastering adhesives like joint compound and embedding mud.

    Source vinyl corner bead on Amazon or check out some paper-faced varieties, which are a little more expensive but easier to use.


    A cornice is generally referred to as a large molding at the junction between an inside wall and a ceiling. In Italian, the word means "ledge," which speaks to the architectural element's placement and shape. A cornice can also include a molding at the top of an exterior wall designed to project and throw rain or other wet weather clear of the wall.


    Nostalgic but nouveau, cottagecore is an old-world design trend energized by its primarily youthful adherents. This charming, rural aesthetic and lifestyle focuses on simple, nostalgic materials and projects, harkening back to what some idealize as a gentler time, free from the contemporary stressors of fast-paced, intrusive technology.

    rustic bar room with wooden surfaces and stools

    Arising as a named phenomenon in 2018, cottagecore expanded its appeal throughout 2020 as growing groups reached out online during pandemic-induced quarantines to communicate about homemade projects like baking, quilting, and designing clothes.

    rustic bar room with wooden surfaces and stools

    Cottagecore can be considered part of an historic tradition of revivalist aesthetic movements, like the arcadian and pastoral schools of Ancient Greece, but today's enthusiasts have at times been pressed by commentary questioning the values of the periods they celebrate. Many cottagecore fans see the movement partly as way to reappropriate older aesthetics in the context of a more open, inclusive culture. Others just enjoy the romantic simplicity of rustic living, and the empowering spirit of self-reliance it celebrates.


    The term countersink can refer to a cone shaped hole carved for drilling, or to the tool that cuts these holes, which allow fasteners to lay flush with the edge of the surface in which they're embedded.

    Common for drywall and furniture, countersinking creates a smooth look and reduces danger from edges. It can be achieved with bits on a standard drill, or using larger equipment like presses, milling machines, or lathes.

    A frequent use of countersinking in industrial contexts is deburring—the process of removing raised metal edges that resulted from previous cuts, increasing safety and smoothness.

    Proceeding slowly while creating a countersink hole can help you avoid chattering, the vibration from which can damage vulnerable surfaces.

    CPVC Pipe

    We've already discussed ABS pipe and PVC pipe, but what about CPVC pipe? CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) is similar to PVC in that they are both made of the same elements, but the presence of chlorine in CPVC allows it to withstand higher temperatures than its cousin. In fact, it can handle temperatures up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for hot water applications. Because of its high tolerance levels, CPVC is also widely used in commercial and industrial applications, and in places where metal pipe is subject to corrosion.


    crampons on a snowy boot

    Designed to provide optimum traction on snow and especially ice, crampons are essential for ice climbing enthusiasts. Rather than be forced to cut steps into the side of a vertical ice wall, crampons give climbers the ability to cut into the ice and gain traction with their feet. Commonly made from hard steel or lighter-weight aluminum, crampons attach to the bottom of a climber's boots. They basically consist of several rows of spikes that cut into slippery terrain. Vertical ice climbing crampons feature additional front-pointing spikes to aid a climber in scaling a wall.

    10-Point vs. 12-Point Crampons

    10-point crampons feature 10 downward-pointing spikes. This is the original design of the climbing/mountaineering accessory. They are most useful for hiking up to moderately steep climbs. 12-point crampons, on the other hand, feature two additional spikes pointing outwards to grab into vertical ice, eliminating the need to cut foot holes while climbing.

    Types and Attachment Methods

    Crampons may be hinged or rigid depending on their function. Hinged crampons move with the natural motion of the foot while walking, while rigid crampons remain in a fixed position. For any type of ice or snow hiking or mixed terrain, hinged crampons are preferable. Rigid crampons are better suited for steep ice climbing, though, reducing leg fatigue while scaling a wall.

    Anti-Balling Crampons

    This style of crampon features a bottom plate coated with a type of plastic. It prevents ice from freezing to it and balling up on the sole of the boot, limiting the depth in which the spikes can be driven. Also called anti-bott crampons, the best alternative to this type of crampon is periodically knocking the sole of the boot with an ice pick to remove snow or ice.

    Other Information

    Crampons attach to boots either with a step-in locking system or with straps. Hybrid crampons combine these methods. Makers include Petzl, Grivel, Kahtoola and Black Diamond. Prices typically range anywhere from $150 to $200.

    Check Out Crampons on Amazon

    Crescent Wrench

    A crescent wrench is an adjustable wrench that can take the place of many others in your collection. The sliding jaw changes the width of the wrench, enabling you to use it on different sizes of nuts and bolts. The term "crescent" is colloquial, referring to the brand that made this tool widespread.

    Cripple Stud

    A cripple stud is a non-structural framing board above or below a window or a door. Cripple studs serve as mounting material for surfaces on either side. In roof construction, they're known as cripple rafters, usually intersecting with an interruption like a skylight or vent structure such as a chimney.

    Typically set 16 to 24 inches apart, measured from their centers, they maintain the spacing of the other studs in a surface, and are usually made from the same material.

    Cross Cut

    A cross-cut is made when you go perpendicular to, or against, the grain, usually with a miter saw or separate chop.


    A crowbar, or prybar, is a hand tool used to remove nails, molding, framing, and for general demolition work. Made of steel or titanium with a curved end and flattened points, its perfect for inflicting force on items to tear them apart. The term “crowbar” is thought to have originated from the tool’s resemblance to a crow’s beak or feet.

    Crystalline Waterproofing

    Crystalline waterproofing materials use blends of chemicals, crystals, and traditional cement ingredients to form moisture-resistant sealants. The chemical reactions involved in their formation create complex crystallized compounds which fill the gaps in otherwise porous concrete.

    Quartz sand is a common ingredient in these products, which use proprietary mixes to create their protective effects. The resulting surfaces can help prevent moisture damage from eroding foundations, rusting metal rebar, and seeping into interior spaces. They can also protect construction elements from spalling and flaking from exposure to oil, salt, or shifts in temperature.

    Check Out Crystalline Waterproofing Material on Amazon

    Cutting In

    Cutting in refers to the process of painting edges on walls, ceilings, corners, baseboards, and trim that aren't reachable with a paint roller. A small paint brush is used for cutting in, made easy with a grip close to the bristles.


    darby board with long straight edge and handle

    A darby is a long, straight tool used for smoothing wet plaster on flat surfaces like walls. It typically features two handles to offer control, facilitating an even application of force across an area to prepare it for finishing treatments.

    In a pinch, you can use any long, straight object as a darby, though you may want to fashion some basic handles to get a good grip. Since most construction plaster comes in the form of drywall these days, the darby is primarily used for special restoration projects.

    Pick up a darby on Amazon.


    Indoors or out, daybeds are perfect places to work, lounge, or nap during the day. Essentially a cross between couches and a beds, they're often made from wood, metal, or both, and usually have sides and a back.

    Some daybeds have linkspring mattress supports made of intersecting springs, usually with a synthetic mesh fabric. Some come with trundle or storage compartments that open below. Others can be as simple as cushions on a stack of pallets.

    Daybeds are often twin size, making them similar to a chaise lounge. They make excellent relaxation spots in both interior and exterior locations.

    Dead Loads and Live Loads

    The dead load of a building is the amount of static weight it has to support permanently, including all structural elements and non-moving components. The live (or "imposed") load of a structure or an element thereof is a calculation of temporary forces it may have to endure pressure, like the weight of people, vehicles, or equipment.

    Together, the dead load and live load of a building at any given time are referred to as the "gravity load." Lateral loads considered distinct from dead and live loads for design purposes. They can operate on structures in other directions than that of gravity, and include forces like wind and shifting tectonic plates.

    Environmental loads are technically live loads, but many have their own names and measurement formats, such as snow loads, wind loads, earthquake loads, ponding loads, and thermal loads. Maximum structural loads for various construction elements are governed by building design codes.


    In terms of gardening, deadheading is the process of removing dead or faded flowers to both improve the appearance of the plant and encourage overall growth. With the dead flowers removed, the plant is better able to divert its strength and energy toward growing the healthy portion and producing new blooms. To deadhead a plant, simply pinch or cut the bloom off the branch above the healthy leaves.

    Deep Cooler

    Deep freezers are chest shaped refrigeration appliances that can store large amounts of food at very low temperatures for long term preservation. They're more popular than ever, these days, as people around the world increasingly prepare for long periods with no access to shopping markets in response to events like COVID-19 and the ongoing climate crisis.

    Industrial deep freezing may refer to the process of rapidly cooling food to below negative 30 degrees Celsius. The speed of this process can help maintain some of the textural and health qualities of food for commercial applications.


    Dehumidifiers remove liquid from the air around them. Most either use electricity to cool the air, condensing water out of it, or some kind of dessicant (highly absorptive substances like silica gel) to absorb moisture passively. Some models, like ionic membrane dehumidifiers, remove water from the air while keeping it in in vapor form.

    There are all sorts of reasons to dehumidify a space—from respiratory health to mold and mildew prevention to odor reduction. Dehumidifiers are common in commercial buildings with major water elements, like swimming pools and ice rinks, or sensitive materials, like storage warehouses and manufacturing plants.

    Applying drinking filters to captured gray water can turn dehumidifiers into almost magical sources of water for safe use in cooking and cleaning use. Unfiltered dehumidified water can be used for cleaning purposes, or to water plants. Electric models tend to have a slight warming effect on spaces in which they're used, since the energy expended to cool air enough for condensation remains in the local environment, warming the surroundings.

    American inventor Willis Carrier is credited with creating the first dehumidifier in 1902, to improve production conditions in a printing factory in Brooklyn.

    Diatomaceous Earth

    Diatomaceous earth is a soft rock or powder consisting of the fossilized remains of diatoms, a category of hard shelled microalgae. Trillions of different kinds of diatoms live all over Earth, mostly in water, producing about 20% of the planet's oxygen, mostly through photosynthesis.

    Unprocessed diatomaceous earth makes an excellent natural insecticide and pest repellent. The tiny jagged edges of its particles won't hurt humans or pets, but they can kill tiny creatures like fleas, maggots, and silverfish.

    Processed diatom fossils are used as an element in many otherwise unrelated products, including fertilizers, blood clotting agents, cat litter, dynamite, and toothpaste.


    A dibble is a gardening tool. It is used to make holes in the ground to plant seeds. One one end, the dibble has a handle. On the other side, it has a pointed end. The dibble, which is also referred to as a dibber, can come in a variety of designs. These designs include T-handled and L-shaped dibbles.

    Dormer Window

    A dormer window is a window that sticks out of a sloped roof. Dormer windows feature their own roof. Dormer windows increase headspace, which can improve functionality in the upper level of your home. They can also improve ventilation and allow more natural light into a room. They can be difficult to install and require a lot of technical knowledge.

    Double Glazing

    Double glazing or double glazed windows are made with two panes of glass in a single frame with space between them. The sealed air gap between the two panes of glass offers energy efficiency in the form of insulation, keeping heat inside the home during the winter and outside in the summer. Additional benefits include noise reduction and safety, since two panes of glass are harder to break than one.

    Double Pole Breaker

    Double pole breakers can channel 240 volts instead of the normal 120, and 20-60 amps instead of the normal 15-20. They also have two hot wires connected to one neutral wire, unlike single pole breakers, which have one. If either hot wire experiences a short, both of the poles will trip.

    Because they provide more energy, they're necessary for some larger appliances, like car chargers, dryers, central air conditioners, and some stoves and water heaters. They can also be used as two 120 volt breakers, and can still provide power to smaller appliances as well.

    Although it's a more advanced project, you can install a double pole breaker yourself. This procedure may require a special permit, and some municipalities require these systems to be inspected by a certified professional.

    Downspout Extension

    Many times a downspout ends with just an elbow. This causes a huge problem for the homeowner as the downspout ends up dumping large amounts of water in one spot at the base of the house. This usually leads to flooding and many other problems. If you happen to have a downspout that ends with just an elbow there are a few different extensions that you can do to prevent flooding:

    Surface Extension - A surface extension is by far the easiest and fastest way to solve the problem. Go to the local hardware store and get at least five feet of extension pipe and attach it so that it leads downhill away from the house.

    Manual Hinged Extension - By making a manual hinged extension, you can keep it folded up and out of the way during the dry days and prior to raining you can lower it down to drain the water away.

    Underground Extension - This is the most hidden extension you can have. The biggest downside to it is that you have to dig a trench and backfill it.

    Drain Snake

    A drain snake is a handy tool to have on hand when you encounter the inevitable clogged drain. Instead of calling a plumber, you can fish this flexible metal cable down the drain in the hopes that the auger will grab onto the obstruction in the pipes that is causing the backup. By turning the handle, you turn the flexible cable around and down the pipe's path and can pull up whatever is causing the obstruction.

    Dry Rot

    dry rot in intersecting beams

    This isn’t a term you want to run into in your DIY travels, but it’s still an important one to know, especially when working with wood. Also referred to as “fungal wood rot,” this is a fungus that eats away wood fibers, causing their diminishment into a powder. This issue thrives in moist and damp conditions.

    Dry rot is the decaying of wood caused by a fungus that eats away at its structural integrity. While moisture initially attracts the fungus, the actual process of decay requires very little, if not any, moisture to take place. You can identify dry rot by the wood's brittle, cumbly appearance with cubicle-like cracking over the surface. If left unchecked, dry rot can entirely collapse structures. To prevent dry rot, limit wood's exposure to moisture (e.g., seal wood siding and decks, ventilate bathrooms and kitchens, and check roofing annually for water damage or mold). Treatment for dry rot may involve copper compounds, commercial anti-freeze, or epoxy for renewed strength.

    Drywall Saw

    A drywall saw is used to cut holes in sheet rock, typically for outlets and windows. It's usually 10 to 12 inches long with a serrated blade that easily cuts exact openings.

    Drywall Screw

    A drywall screw is used to attach drywall to wood or metal, but shouldn’t be used to fasten wood boards together. Because the length of the screw is threaded all the way, the top of the screw can anchor in the top board, keeping the two apart instead of fastened together.

    D-Sized Nails

    The "d" sizing for nails has to do with a bit of history. "D" stands for penny, harking back to Roman rule in England, when a denarius was also the name for an English penny. This was when nails were hand-forged, and the marking system indicated length of a nail. So, for instance, a 16d nail is 3.5 inches in length. Some say one 3.5 inch nail was worth 16 pennies, while others say that perhaps 100 3.5-inch nails were worth 16 pennies. Either way, this coding system still exists today, with both length and d-sizing on retail boxes.

    DWV System

    We may not like to think about it much, but there's a lot of work that goes into removing waste and gray water from buildings. In modern structures, what makes it all possible are drain-waste-vent systems, also known as DWV systems. Regulated neutral air pressure in drains from sinks, toilets, and showers or tubs facilitates free air flow. A downward slope in the plumbing keeps everything moving away from the building, with traps that prevent gases from entering where they shouldn't. In residential structures, the systems are vented through the roof.

    Earth Ground

    Ground, or earth wires connect directly to the earth, providing a point of comparison to the voltage in the rest of a system, and protecting devices (and people) from insulation failures by triggering circuit breakers to cut power. Voltages significantly above that of the ground can be dangerous, causing electrical shocks to grounded people who touch them.

    Ground connections also prevent static electricity from building up in some devices, and in some kinds of circuits, the ground can even function as a conductor, reducing costs.

    Even many electronic devices with no physical connection to the earth have a conductor referred to as the ground. Also known as "common," they provide a unified avenue for current to return from different places on a circuit.


    An easement is a legally binding rule about the use of a property by a someone who doesn't own that land.

    There are many different kinds of easement, separated into two broad categories: affirmative and negative. Affirmative easements preserve nonpossessory rights to use land in certain ways, such as passing through an otherwise private space. Negative easements restrict the use of a property by an owner, limiting certain kinds of construction or landscaping.

    A property subject to an easement is known legally as a "servient estate," while a person or entity with a positive right granted by an easement is called a "dominant estate."

    Easements can be established by explicit provisions in a written document like a deed, and can also arise over time from habitual use. If people cross a piece of private property to get to a beach, for example, and that behavior continues for several decades, this might create a public right of way.

    It's a good idea to establish whether your estate has any easements attached before you start any construction projects, especially along property lines.


    Eaves are a common architectural feature found on most houses. Simply put, they're the portion of the roof that hangs off (or meets) the side of a building. Eaves serve a purpose in terms of keeping rain water or other precipitation off of the side of the building, while also preventing erosion from the base of the structure. In some cases, they also create a covered walkway.


    Efflorescence is the white powder that can appear on the surface of brickwork and plaster. You've probably noticed it on red brick walls, either indoors or out. It's the result of a chemical process where the alkaline salts dry out of the porous structure and form a coating.

    Egg Shell Enamel Paint

    Paints have all different kinds of finishes—all are not created equal. An eggshell enamel has a soft, velvety look that resists dirt and usually has a medium-level durability. It's shiner than a flat paint, but not as shiny as a gloss. Use an eggshell finish in high traffic areas of your home such as stairwells and hallways where you may want to clean the walls from time to time—eggshell is perfect for frequent cleaning.

    Egress and Ingress

    These terms refer to the right to enter and exit a property, often involving shared driveways and roads that may cross into another property. The legal rights provide clear notice as to who can use what. Egress and ingress rights are found in details of the easement for a particular property. A property easement is a legally-binding document that describes the rights of use to a property. It often includes the right to enter and exit.

    A fairly common instance of egress and ingress occurs when two homes share a single driveway. Both parties have legal right to the driveway to enter and exit their garages or parking areas.

    Egress Window

    Egress windows are required in habitable basements as an emergency exit in case of fire or other such disaster. If a basement is divided into sleeping quarters or bedrooms, it must have an egress window for each room. This can be either an actual window, a skylight, or a door, but it must meet specific requirements. According to the International Building Code, basements and sleeping rooms below the fourth floor must have windows that meet the following measurements, among others:

    They must be at least 24 inches high and and at least 20 inches wide.

    The bottom of the window must be within 44 inches from the floor.

    It must open from the inside without tools or keys.

    Note that the window must have a net square opening (the space once the window is open) of 5.7 square feet, or 5 square feet for a ground window. These measurements should be the actual square space a person has to climb through, set to accommodate a firefighter in their gear with or without a ladder. (A window with the above dimensions of 24 inches high and 20 inches wide must actually be larger in one direction or the other to accommodate the net square opening number, hence the phrase at least.)

    Most newer construction should provide appropriate egress windows in each sleeping quarter, but older homes and those with remodels are difficult to monitor. Make sure each sleeping room in your home has an escape route in the form of an egress window. Contact your local building codes for specific requirements.

    Egress and ingress are legal terms used in real estate and property law. In short, they mean the right to leave and right to enter a property, respectively, whether an owned property or a rental, occupied or vacant. While the term ‘egress’ is used in home construction and remodeling to mean the ability to exit a home in the event of an emergency, when used with ‘ingress’, it takes on a legal definition.


    Emulsion is a water-based paint. The term is commonly used in the United Kingdom. In the United States, it is more commonly known as water-based latex paint.


    Epoxy is a generic term used for synthetic adhesives, coatings or primers, and is usually found in the DIY world in a two-part package of a resin and a hardener to be mixed before use. They are available to the consumer in numerous varieties including slow and fast-drying, opaque and clear colors, water-resistant, and flexible or rigid options. Epoxy has hundreds of DIY uses from coating floors and countertops to filling in rotting wood.

    Two-component epoxies withstand heavy weights and chemical influences and can be used for just about any adhesive job you need to do. With two component epoxies, you will need to apply both components before you use heat to initiate the process that makes epoxy bond properly. Epoxy is resistant to corrosion and stands the test of time, making it an ideal DIY material.


    In the home improvement world, you may hear the term escutcheon used when discussing plumbing and hardware in general. It's the round metal plate in a wall covering the hole where a pipe extends. Also known as a flange or cover plate, you may see them behind the toilet where the water supply line is, under the sink where the water line for the faucet is, and where the shower head meets the wall. Its purpose is simply to look nice and hide the hole in the wall. For that reason, there are lots of different styles and finishes available. When it's rusty, there's no reason not to replace it!

    Euro Hinge

    European, or Euro, hinges are a type of concealed connection used to maintain the sleek style of cabinets or doors with narrow or invisible frames. They're easy to install and remove, and their small footprint makes them an appealing hardware feature.

    Another reason Euro hinges are popular is that they use a mounting plate system with a circular mortise, which means they can be adjusted in two or three different directions, allowing more precise control of door alignment.

    Evaporative Cooler

    Evaporative coolers (aka swamp coolers, desert coolers, wet air coolers, and swamp boxes) cool air by evaporating water, unlike AC systems that use absorption or compression. Water takes in significant heat before evaporating, so that heat can be absorbed from the surrounding air as the water turns to vapor. This process is especially valuable in dry climates, since it increases nearby air humidity.

    The systems date back to an ancient Egyptian and Persian technology called windcatching, which used shafts in roofs to channel incoming outside air down to run over underground water, releasing the resulting cool air into buildings. Today, the descendants of these passive systems cool people with powered versions in arid places from Iran to Arizona.

    Early refrigeration also used evaporative cooling principles, by storing food goods in jars surrounded by water and covered with a cloth. The human body performs a version of evaporative cooling, as sweat turns into vapor on the skin. And compression refrigeration systems use the same principles, just in a closed system that doesn't release any steam, instead cycling it back into water and blowing away the heat released in that process with a fan that takes the hot air outdoors.

    Evaporative coolers are much cheaper than refrigerated air conditioning, cost less to install and maintain, and rely only on water instead of dangerous chemicals. They also keep air fresh and filtered, and even reduce static electricity by raising humidity.

    On the other hand, they're not as effective as refrigerated systems, don't work as well in environments that are already humid, and use a large amount of water. Moreover, the humidity they release can accelerate corrosion, shortening the lifespan of electronic devices, and it reduces the effectiveness of human sweat as a coolant.

    Poorly maintained evaporative coolers can be a breeding ground for mosquitos, bacteria, and mold. The name swamp cooler is attributed to the pungent scent from algae in some early modern models.

    Expanding Foam Insulation

    Spray foam insulation, also known as spray polyurethane foam, is an alternative to standard insulation, such as those made of fiberglass. The foam expands once its sprayed from the gun to be used to fill in wall cavities or where standard insulation would typically go, and then hardens. The R-value of spray foam varies, but it is generally favored to combat air leaks.

    Flexible, water resistant, and available in a wide range of densities, expanding polyurethane foam has a variety of uses in both home and marine structures.

    The lighter—less dense—kinds can be used for boat flotation, while the denser varieties make excellent insulation. Expanding polyurethane and urethane foams are especially convenient for filling awkward gaps that are otherwise difficult to reach.

    These products can often be poured in multiple layers with excellent bonding between layers, and many can be finished with a laminate like a vinyl or polyester epoxy resin.

    polyurethane foam insulation inside wall

    Like many synthetic materials, expanding polyurethane foam can pose dangers if not used correctly, so always carefully follow any manufacturer's instructions.

    Explosion Box

    Exploding boxes are hand crafted gifts made from layers of paper and card stock. They incorporate elements of scrapbooking, card making, and origami, and often feature photographs, hand written notes, and personalized design flourishes using a wide variety of materials.

    On the outside, explosion boxes look like any other gift container. Once their ribbon is pulled or wrapping paper removed, they begin to fold out, piece by piece. They can contain a little physical gift at their center, but the fun part for both gift giver and recipient is walking through all the little treasures tucked into the cascading layers—from precious memories to inside jokes to heartfelt sentiments.

    If you're starting from scratch, you can find printable templates online (or even pre-constructed blank, foldout boxes), then make your own special creation using whatever pictures and decorations feel right for the person you're celebrating. It's the thought that counts, and depending on how elaborate you choose to get, your handmade bursting boxes are among the most thoughtful gifts you can give.


    The term faceplate is commonly used to describe light switches and sockets. Faceplates are protective, but they also enhance the appearance of a device. Some faceplates are screwed on, but others are simply snapped on, making them relatively easy to remove and change out to update a space.

    Face Nailing

    Face nailing is the most common form of nailing, and simply means hammering a nail into a surface until it penetrates to the material behind the board. For example, you've employed face nailing if you've attached trim to a wall. Sometimes this technique is the only one you can use, and other times it may be the one that's most convenient or secure.


    Some people may recognize the term fascia from its common use in medicine, but it is also a commonly used term in contracting. To architects and contractors alike, fascia refers to the vertical board that covers the soffit and/or eaves of a home. It protects home from water damage and water infiltration, and creates a smoother, more even aesthetic for the edge of the roof.

    Felt Pens

    black felt tip pens with tops off

    Felt-tip pens and markers are writing implements used in crafts, design, and sometimes construction. They have a reservoir of ink inside contained in an absorbent material, and a porous fabric nib at the tip.

    Felt pens might also be known as flow markers, marking pens, and sketch pens, among other names. They originated in the early 1900s and have evolved considerably in the last century. Today, their fabric elements are more likely to be synthetic fibers.

    Check out felt pens on Amazon.

    Fish Tape

    A fish tape, or draw wire or draw tape, is used in electrical work to direct wiring through walls and electrical conduit. Because the "tape" is actually a length of narrow spring steel, fiberglass, or nylon, it can easily be pushed and guided through small spaces inside walls. The tape has a hook or loop on the end with a fastener to attach to the guide string that was dropped inside the space. The guide string can then be pulled through different types of wiring.

    Floating Vanities

    Floating vanities are sinks with no bottom that jut out of a wall, usually including some kind of storage, such as drawers, shelves, or cabinets. A hot new trend in bathroom design, floating vanities can create a stylish open space, usually in bathrooms.

    Wall mounted vanities can help show off attractive tile or other interior aesthetic elements, and can be easily adjusted to accommodate family members of different heights or with varying mobility needs. They also allow extra space for radiant heat, improving comfort and efficiency.

    Flushing Drain

    These days low-flow toilets and faucets save a lot of water, but drains don't fare as well because of it. Since such small amounts of water are flowing through the drains on a daily basis, a lot of debris stays lodged inside the drains. Over time it can build up and form clogs. To counteract this problem, you should occasionally flush your pipes with large amounts of water. For the toilet, pour a large bucket of water into the bowl as you flush continuously. For bathtubs or sinks with low flow faucets, fill them up with hot water and then release the drain plug.

    Foam Board Adhesives

    foam board with gray adhesive on one side

    Available in cartridges designed for use with a caulking gun as well as smaller squeeze bottles, foam board adhesive is a high-strength bonding agent used primarily for foam of various types, but it is capable of adhering to other surfaces as well. Made of latex and water resistant, foam board adhesive emits a low odor and easily cleans up when still wet. Once set, foam board adhesive provides a great bond between a variety of materials. In addition to bonding surfaces, certain types of foam board adhesive can fill gaps of a particular size.


    Use foam board adhesive on craft foam core, drywall, molding, solid-sheet foam insulation and greenboard around tubs and sinks. It may also adhere to MDF panelling, plywood, particleboard and corkboard. Foam board adhesive should not be used outdoors or for underwater applications. Mirrors, marble, tile and wood flooring are incompatible with foam board adhesives.


    For highly-porous materials, clamps or other mechanical fasteners should be used to hold the bonding surfaces together until the foam board adhesive has had time to cure. Another, albeit different, type of foam board adhesive are prefabricated sheets of foam board with an adhesive in place. To affix this material, simply peel away the backing paper and set in place.


    forging a hot piece of metal

    Forging is an ancient technique for shaping metal objects by heating them to a point of malleability and hammering them into new forms. Classical forging, or smithing, often involved holding and working an object against an anvil. In addition to traditional hot forging, warm forging and cold forging are also possible with materials that are flexible at lower temperatures.

    Industrial forging usually involves powerful machinery, including hydraulic or electric hammering equipment. Home craft metalwork can also include working with power hammers for increased speed, accuracy, and control.

    Forstner Bits

    Forstner bits are valued by woodworkers for their ability to make precise, clean holes. As opposed to other styles, the bit cuts from the outside instead of the tip. Forstner bits create a flat-bottomed hole, making them perfect for mortise and tenon joints.


    Some fraises can be used to enlarge existing drill holes, not unlike a standard bit. Other, more rare varieties are used in watchmaking to fix the wheels of timepieces by cutting them back into shape.

    fraise cutter drill tips

    The varieties used in horology (clock making) must be paired precisely with the shape they're correcting, or they'll result in further inconsistencies in the shape of the metal, leading to inaccuracies in the timepiece.

    Framing Hammer

    This is the most common type of hammer, with a long wood handle, a heavy duty steel head on one end and a straight claw on the other. (Some are made with a lighter weight titanium head that increases swing velocity and reduces arm fatigue.) The straight claw is used to remove nails and pry apart lumber, but what’s especially unique about the framing hammer is the grid-patterned head that grips the framing nails so the hammer doesn’t slide off of the surface of the nail.


    Frass is a term with multiple definitions and uses as it refers to bugs and insects. In the home improvement world, it's often used when identifying an invasive insect presence, referring to the powdery wood material that boring insects such as carpenter ants leave behind as they tunnel through solid wood.

    French Cleat

    A French cleat is a simple system, and it is very strong yet it allows the cabinets to be moved if needed, with minimal damage to the wall.

    The cleat is simply a strip of wood which has been cut with an angle, lengthwise. In this case, the angle of the strip on the wall would be on the upper end.

    Respectively, attached to the cabinet itself, there is another corresponding strip with the angle cut on the lower edge. These two strips fit together, the cabinet strip lowering on top of the wall strip, and it creates the support for the cabinet.

    French Drain

    A French drain system is essentially a ditch filled with gravel to channel water runoff. A French drain may or may not have a pipe at the bottom of the trench. However it's constructed, its main purpose is to protect the foundations of buildings from being penetrated by draining water.

    A basic French drain system consists of a narrow trench that's several feet deep. A small layer of gravel or small stones lines the bottom, followed by the placement of one or two perforated pipes known as weeping tile. Atop the pipe, the majority of the trench is filled with gravel. There may or may not be a layer of dirt or sod covering the trench. The pipes increase the amount of water that can be drained, while a wider trench further increases its ability to collect water runoff.

    When rain falls, a functional French drain redirects the runoff, especially if a home or building sits at the bottom of a slope where it would otherwise be inundated by water. Sometimes gutter downspouts may feed directly into a French drain to help alleviate pressure on a storm drain.

    Frost Line

    The frost line refers to the maximum depth at which soil will freeze and swell during the winter seasons. This line influences major construction projects, as pipes placed above the frost line are prone to bursting and cracking. The frost line will vary depending on what part pf the country you are in, so it is important to research your area before taking on any major projects.

    Furring Strip

    These narrow strips of wood (sometimes metal) can be used for multiple purposes, including raising or leveling surfaces, creating room for insulation, or resurfacing walls or ceilings. Attached with nails or screws, they offer an easy solution for creating plumb surfaces.

    Gabion Walls

    Gabion walls are made by caging one material with another. One common combination is a rock wall contained in metal fencing—this combination of raw elements with controlled structure creates a clean, natural effect popular in landscaping.

    The term gabion comes from the Italian word "gabbione," which means "large cage," and the technique is also used for construction, civil engineering, and even military applications. Sometimes the materials used are as simple as sand or dirt in boxes or bags.

    Erosion control and flooding prevention are among the most common uses for gabion structures, and indeed this is the purpose for which they were originally patented in the 19th century, but they can also be deployed as an affordable structural or aesthetic element.

    Shop Gabion Wall Supplies on Amazon


    In DIY circles, you may often hear the term "galvanized" in terms of piping or plumbing, gutters, roofing, and construction steel. Galvanization is a process of covering steel or iron with a zinc coating to prevent rusting. While galvanized metals will last years with their protective coating, they will deteriorate over time in acidic environments such as salt water marine locations and cold climates with salted roads. In terms of plumbing, galvanized pipes replaced cast iron and lead in the early 1900s, but have since been used mainly for outdoor applications because of their strength. Galvanized plumbing typically lasts about 70 years before it starts to rust from the inside out.

    Galvanized Pipe

    Galvanized pipe was used in the construction of water lines prior to the 1960s, but as history has found, the coating of zinc meant to prevent rusting on the steel or iron pipes erodes over time. With the loss of the protective zinc layer, corrosion builds up inside the pipes, causing low water pressure and releasing lead into the water supply. The only way to prevent lead from entering the service lines is by replacing them with plastic or copper piping (commonly used since the 1960s) or installing a treatment device at the tap. However, galvanized pipe is still used in outdoor applications requiring the strength of iron or steel.

    Gambrel Roof

    A gambrel roof consists of twin slopes (one steeper than the other) with a gabled structure at both ends. It's simple and stylish structure is preferred by architects because the design is minimalistic with few complex structures required for building it. A gambrel roof is also the most common form of roofing preferred for building detached structures like barns.

    A gambrel roof can be used to create extra space in a large room used for storage purposes. If you have seen a barn from the inside, you would have noticed that the gambrel roof adds a virtual floor inside the building without requiring an extensive frame to hold it in place.

    City dwellers can use the gambrel roof to add extra space to their single-storied detached structures in their garages so that the extra space can be put to good use for storing tools. The space carved out by building a gambrel roof can be even used a mini workshop with a small worktable.

    Garden Fabric

    Covered garden rows help protect plants by sheltering them from precipitation and wind, maintaining optimal growing temperatures, and deterring pesky insects. Garden fabric (AKA floating row cover or just row cover), is the substance used to create rows of tents that cover developing fruits and vegetables.

    Some plants can support the fabric directly, others would be damaged by draping cover, so they need frames of some kind to hold it up. These can be anything from simple wooden braces to curved metal or plastic hoops. Secure the fabric with some kind of stakes, like earth staples, so it doesn't blow away.

    Garden fabric differs from typical drop cloths in the amount of light it allows to pass through. Where a tarp would block almost all sunshine, leaving shade beneath, good garden cover can admit 70% or more light, nourishing the plants beneath and keeping them cozy. This shelter can be especially valuable for newly transplanted baby plants—the most vulnerable to pests and weather.

    Row cover is also designed to admit moisture from precipitation or irrigation, so it can stay in place as the plant develops. Products with greater transparency for light and water tend to have lower heat retention, so they're good in warmer months, but won't protect from frost. Others work the opposite way, reducing light and water transparency by increasing heat trapping to extend the growing season into spring and fall.

    Garden fabric should last at least a few years. Keeping it firmly pinned to the earth will help it last as long as possible by reducing wear and tear from flapping in the wind.


    Garlands are decorative strands, often featuring flowers, with a rich history of use in various religious traditions. From lines of pine boughs and strings of popcorn assembled for winter holidays, to ropes of vines or flowers used for summer celebrations, garlands accentuate the significance of an event or period.

    Derived from old Italian and French words meaning "braid," garlands often feature flowers bound together in a long string. Some of the most popular stemming from different parts of the world include daisies, jasmine, and hibiscus.


    You’ve probably heard the expression "don’t blow a gasket" before. But what exactly is a gasket? A gasket is a seal which fills the space between surfaces. This prevents leaks. Gaskets can be made from a variety of materials depending on what you are sealing.


    When discussing anything electrical that has to do with your house, you've probably heard the term GFCI. A ground fault circuit interrupter literally interrupts an electrical circuit when it detects that it may be flowing along an unsafe path like a person or water. It's used to prevent electrical shock or electrical fires. When electrical current on either side of the power source isn't equal (as would be the case if it were traveling to water or a human), the power shuts off. To reset it, the red button on the receptacle must be pushed. GFCIs can also be found in electrical panels.


    A gimlet is a handheld woodworking tool used for drilling small holes. It is often used in wood to create holes without splitting the wood. It has a spiral tip attached to a handle.


    The term girder refers to a horizontal support beam in construction that supports smaller beams. Keep in mind that all girders are beams, but not all beams are girders. The difference between the two is mainly in the function and not their size. Girders are the main support system and are built to carry large dynamic and rolling loads, which is why you'll often see them in bridge construction. You can distinguish a girder by its typical l-shaped cross-section and stabilization web.

    Grease Pencils

    grease pencils

    Grease pencils are tools for writing on difficult surfaces like glass, rock, plastic, and metal. They're also known as wax pencils, since their core is made of wax, and china markers, since they can durably label glossy ceramics.

    The outer layer of a grease pencil can be made of wood, which can be sharpened like a typical pencil, or wrapped paper, which can peel away as the wax gets worn down.

    Grease pencils are common tools in home construction and repair, since they can mark a surface without damaging it, and leave writing that's durable and moisture-resistant, but also easy to clean off with paper towels.

    Check out grease pencils on Amazon.


    When constructing a bathroom or other area such as a basement or utility room with damp conditions, you should use a moisture-resistant board—such as greenboard—instead of standard drywall. While both drywall and greenboard are made of gypsum, greenboard's paper covering is water-resistant, and the board is slightly thicker than standard drywall. While unique, the green color exists only to distinguish it from other boards. (Note that greenboard is not water-proof. It shouldn't be used in shower construction—use cement backer board for that.)

    Greenboard is commonly used in damp areas of the home—such as the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. It's face and core are water-resistant, but not waterproof. Sometimes contractors will use green board when building a shower or tub surround to save cash, but this is not recommended. Doing so will inevitably lead to mold growth and other potential hazards. When constructing a shower or tub surround, use a cement-based backerboard instead. Why the green color? It's simply for contractors to tell the difference between green board and regular drywall.

    Grey Water

    Grey water is all used water except that coming from toilets. This includes water from sinks, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers. In recent years, this wastewater has been used for irrigation in landscaping and crops and for other non-potable uses. Grey water undergoes treatment in urban facitilites before its use is redirected.

    Grit Number

    Sandpaper is paper (imagine that) with abrasive grit adhered to one side. When rubbed across a surface, the grit removes small amounts of material, unveiling a smoother surface. Sandpaper is categorized according to the number of abrasive particles per square inch of paper. The larger the number, the more particles there are. The smaller the number, the fewer particles there are.

    So how does this translate to your next project? Sandpaper grit numbers range from 24 to 1,000. For initial sanding on a project and quick removal of offensive material, choose something in the 24 to 50 range. For prepping wood for fine finishing or removing varnish, go with a grit rated either 60 or 80. Fine sanding calls for grit rated from 100 to 220, which is appropriate for working with completely bare wood. Grits rated from 220 to 1,000 are used in the varying stages of final polishing.


    For bathroom and kitchen projects, grout is referenced frequently. This is a hydrous mortar whose consistency makes it easily able to be placed or pumped into small joints or cavities. This includes in between pieces of ceramic, clay, slate, or tile.

    Grout Float

    A grout float is a hand tool used to apply grout to tile, whether on a wall or floor (there are specific types for each application). It typically has some sort of handle on it to make it easy to hold, and a rubber pad where the grout is positioned. The putty-like mixture is worked between tiles at an angle to provide a clean and even finish to the tiling job.


    When it comes to cutting into materials other than wood, a hacksaw is what you want. With teeth shorter and smaller than a typical saw, the blade is perfect for slicing into pipe or conduit. In fact, the blades are replaceable, and are classified by teeth per inch; a fine class includes 32 teeth per inch (tpi), a medium class 24 tpi and a coarse class of 18 tpi. The less teeth per inch, the rougher the blade edge. However, you can cut faster and more aggressively with a coarse blade. But be careful—because the blade is suspended between a bow frame, the tension needs to be just right or else it won't cut straight.

    Hacksaws are extremely useful in DIY projects as they can cut through plastic, metal, and other materials. Hacksaws are recognizable for the U-shaped frame that holds the blade, which is finished with a handle. Some come with adjustable frames to hold different-sized blades. Hacksaws most commonly come with 8-inch, 10-inch or 12-inch blades.

    Hacksaw blades are toothed blades. The number of teeth on the blades varies. Some hacksaw blades are made with teeth that are spaced farther apart. These widely-spaced blades are best for cutting large objects (thick chair legs or 2X4s), while the blades with closer teeth are designed for smaller cutting tasks. Hacksaw blades are much easier to replace than sharpen, and it's very easy to find these replacement blades at home improvement stores.

    Halogen Bulb

    Whether you’re looking to simply replace a burnt out bulb or you’re attempting to increase your home’s energy efficiency, it can be confusing to know which light bulbs are best for your needs. Halogen bulbs use halogen gas for a longer life and increased light output compared to a standard incandescent bulb. When a standard incandescent bulb burns, tungsten evaporates from the filament, blackening the glass and reducing the light output and life of the bulb.

    In a halogen bulb, the release of halogen stops the tungsten from affecting the glass and actually increases the life of the bulb as it returns to the filament. Enough chemistry for you? Here’s some practical information. Compared to standard bulbs, they’re cheaper to operate, about 20 percent more energy efficient, and last twice as long. However, they cost about 4 times more than a standard bulb, and don’t give off the cozy warm glow that some people enjoy. Halogen bulbs give off a pure white light, making them great for task lighting or for use at night.

    Hand Compactor

    In construction and landscaping, hand compactors are devices for tamping down loose material such as dirt or wet concrete. They range from simple handheld objects, like a pole with a flat surface on the end end, to electronically powered machines, like a drill or saw with piston pumping action.

    Hand compactors are often used for finishing work in tighter spaces, like the areas right up against a foundation or wall, where larger equipment might be too bulky to deliver targeted effects.

    Some tools for crushing recyclying and garbage into smaller spaces are also known as hand compactors. These can be as large as industrial presses and as small as home

    Browse hand compactors on Amazon.

    Hanger Bolt

    hanger bolts with screw threads

    Hanger bolts have screw threads on one end and bolt threads on the other, so they can be screwed into a surface and then support a bolt attachment. This allows them to create a connection between two construction elements that will be masked when the parts are combined, like a tabletop and one of its legs.

    These fasteners have a headless design, so they look like a screw with one pointed tip and one blunt tip. They're common in furniture construction, and can also be useful for projects like attaching pegs to a coat rack or decorative tops to fence posts.

    To install a hanger bolt, you can use a special driver attachment, or thread a bolt onto one end and use that as the grip for a socket wrench.

    Check out hanger bolts on Amazon.

    Hard Water

    Hard water has a high mineral content of calcium and magnesium (61 to 80 mg/l of calcium carbonate). If you have hard water at home, you'll find that it may be difficult to suds up your shampoo or soap, and that limescale or calcium buildups form on surfaces water comes into contact with including tea kettles or faucets. To combat hard water, water softening is often used, in which certain mineral ions are removed with various methods.


    A hardscape is a rocky landscape. Hardscapes use concrete, brick, stone, pavers, wood, and other non-plant materials to create a landscape. Patios, fire pits, and walkways are common hardscaping features. A lot of these projects can add value to a home. Hardscapes are often utilized in areas with less rain.

    Hardwood and Softwood

    You would think that a classification of either hardwood or softwood is determined by the actual feel of the wood—but it isn't. The difference between the two actually depends on the tree's structure. Hardwood comes from trees known as angiosperms, which are flowering trees with enclosed seeds like apples or walnuts. Therefore, hardwood includes ash, aspen, balsa, birch, cherry, elm, mahogany, maple, and oak.

    Softwood comes from trees known as gymnosperms, which have uncovered seeds that typically blow away from the tree once they fall off. Examples include cedar, pine, and spruce. By this definition, it's easy to see that you can't simply go by the feel of a piece of wood when determining its hardness. For example, balsa, which is classified as a hardwood, is actually one of the least dense and "softest" (to the touch) woods of all.


    A hawk is a handheld tool used by plasterers. It is a square board with a handle in the middle. When laying bricks, workers usually scoop mortar onto the hawk. A trowel is often used at the same time to scrape off excess material.

    Heating Element

    Heating elements are pieces of metal or compound material that conduct electricity to generate heat for cooking or warmth. They're the key ingredient in heating systems and ovens, as well as myriad advanced devices used in commercial engineering and scientific research.

    As electrical energy flows through the element, it meets resistance from the material's internal structure, regardless of the current's direction. This friction causes heat, which radiates off the object, warming nearby air.

    Metal heating elements are common in home devices like electric ovens and space heaters. These popular items are typically made from an 80/20 mix of Nickel and Chromium, but a wide range of different compounds can generate the necessary resistance to serve as heating elements, including ceramics, platinum, tungsten, and even some kinds of rubber.

    Check Out Replacement Heating Elements on Amazon


    grassy area with trees next to a sidewalk

    A hellstrip is the land between a sidewalk and curb. It's a tricky area to plant and maintain, since it's not quite private but not quite public either. Ownership and responsibility for hellstrips vary by municipality. In some places, homeowners are charged with their care, in others, the city or township may maintain them.

    Because they're close to the street and can see heavy foot traffic, hellstrips are a good spot for hardy plants. You might be frustrated if you maintain essentially an extension of your lawn, which might become a visiting spot for passing dogs. Some people prefer to plant their hellstrip with durable perennials, or drought-resistant shrubberies and succulents.

    Check out some beautiful low-water plants on Amazon.


    Homesteading (AKA "smallholding" or "crofting") is a style of living designed around self-sufficient agriculture, resource production, and craft work. A homestead in this sense is essentially an off-the-grid farm, where the food production, capture of energy and water, and creation of home goods are the main or entire support system of the inhabitants.

    Many contemporary homesteaders use solar and wind energy, and collect precipitation in rain barrels for later reuse. They almost certainly grow vegetables and fruits on the premises, and many keep livestock such as chickens or goats for renewable food resources like eggs and milk.

    In some places, particularly areas once controlled by the British Empire, a homestead is simply a household containing an extended family.

    Hopper Spray Gun

    Hopper spray guns facilitate the easy application of thick materials like textured finishes to exterior and interior surfaces. They feature a container shaped roughly like a funnel above a spray gun, which pushes the wet substance through.

    worker using hopper spray gun to apply texture to exterior wall

    Older hopper guns rely on gravity, but most contemporary models use a pneumatic system that forces material out with high pressure. This significantly speeds up the process of applying textured coating, and makes it much easier to create smooth, even layers.

    Hopper spray guns typically hold around 20 pounds of material, so make sure to take occasional breaks when you're working with one, to prevent injury or strain.

    Check out hopper spray guns on Amazon.

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    Hose Bib

    If you're a gardener or you water plants in your front yard on a regular basis, you've probably used a hose bib countless times and not even known it. A hose bib is the faucet you'll find outside your home (probably at about knee-height) attached to an exterior wall. It's threaded to connect your garden hose to a water source. One of the more common problems a homeowner will have with the hose bib, also known as an outside spigot, is leaking. If you live in an area with exceptionally cold weather, you're likely familiar with the process of shutting off the water flow to the bib to prevent flooding and freezing pipes every winter.

    Hot Ground Reverse

    When investigating the function of electric circuits in your home, you might use a socket tester or a continuity tester to spot-check specific outlets.

    Socket testers typically provide one of six readings: "Open Ground," "Open Neutral," "Open Hot," "Hot/Grd. Reverse," "Hot/Neu. Reverse," and "Correct."

    Hot Ground Reverse readings are fairly rare, but don't panic if you see one. Despite the ominous name, this result is likely just an indicator that you have a missing or non-functional neutral conductor in your system. In other words, for practical purposes, this reading is identical to "Open Neutral."

    If you receive a Hot/Grd. Reverse reading, check your neutral conductors. One of them might be burned out, requiring replacement, or simply loose, in need of a gentle tightening.


    Because many home improvement projects center around or at least involve this household system, it’s an important one to know. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. This is the system of appliances that makes up the heating and cooling processes of a home.

    Hydronic Heating

    Hydronic heating is a process that uses water to heat the home. These systems provides a green method of heating as it recycles water and uses heat already present in the home. Another benefit is that is saves the homeowner money on heating and cooling costs. Hydronic heating systems can be installed in an old home or a new build. One of the more popular types of hydronic heating is using it as radiant heat as the sub-floor. Read on to learn more about how hydronic heating works and why it is an economical heating solution.

    Hydronic Heating Element

    Hydronic heating works on the premise that it recycles heat and water, which are both abundant in your home. The heating element is either your boiler or furnace, which heats the water, but then pushes it out to the rest of the home. The heating elements you use in the home can vary and can be used with each other, depending on your needs. The most common heating element found with a hydronic heating system is the radiator. Other forms include floors vents as well as under floor heating.

    Types of Hydronic Heating

    A hydronic heating system can consist of several ways to transport the heat. The word "hydronic" means water, and one of the types is a water-based system, found in radiators as well as under the floor. You can also have a dry hydronic system where warm air is forced through the vents. The hot air is created by the heating of water. Radiant heat is the process of heating water that is present in tubes under a floor. A hydronic heating system can also use electric storage, which stores the energy at night for a slow release during the day.

    The Process of Hydronic Heating

    Hydronic heating is an easy way to heat the home. It can use existing duct work from a forced air heating system or you can renovate the home with hydronic heating in mind. Unlike other types of home heating the hydronic heating system doesn't produce gaps in heating. In other types of heating systems the hot air is blow out a vent with no direction. This means that the room will be unevenly heated and drafts and cold spots will be present. Hydronic heating uses radiant heat to warm a room.

    The best hydronic system is one that works as the sub-floor of the home. It is aluminum covered foam board with grooves carved out of it. They are placed on the floor in a manner that resembles a snaking pattern. PEX hose is then placed inside the grooves with the termination point leading down to the furnace or the boiler. As the boiler heats the water it is pushed through the hose.

    Impact Driver

    An impact driver is a small, lightweight version of a standard drill. It operates with more torque than a drill, providing short bursts of force useful during large projects to quickly drive large fasteners such as screws and lag bolts. Impact drivers can reduce strain on your wrists as well as time during extensive projects. They also happen to strip screws less than standard drills because the short pulses are more controlled and keep better contact with screws.

    Incandescent Bulb

    Whether you’re looking to simply replace a burnt out bulb or you’re attempting to increase your home’s energy efficiency, it can be confusing to know which light bulbs are best for your needs. Most of us are very familiar with incandescent bulbs, but they are being phased out for more efficient alternatives (such as the halogen variety).

    Incandescent bulbs put off light when the wire filament inside is heated by electric current. However, they convert less than five percent of the energy they make into visible light, with the rest converted to heat. And compared to fluorescent bulbs which give off 60 lumens per watt, incandescent bulbs only give off 16 lumens per watt. But out of all the bulbs you see on the shelves, they remain the cheapest to manufacture and purchase.

    In Situ

    In situ means "in position," applied to work done in the position where it's finally required. For example, concrete may be precast in sections which are later taken to the position where they are required or it may be cast 'in situ'.


    For projects that aim to increase the energy efficiency of a home, this term is an important one to grasp. Insulation is material used to prevent heat loss in a structure, most notably in your home. It’s placed within ceilings, walls, and even floors to lock heat in and keep the cold out.


    A jamb is known as the vertical side portion of a doorway, window, or fireplace. The original Latin form gamba literally means "leg."


    In the world of architecture and construction, joists are integral. They’re a series of strong lengths of lumber, steel or sometimes even concrete running parallel to the ceiling, floors and beams they support. Joists can be considered the skeleton of a house, floor, or ceiling because they support the surrounding structure (and everything we fill that structure with). Therefore, they require replacement if they are damp, sag, or show signs of termite decay or a general loss of structural integrity.

    Junction Box

    junction box with connected wires

    Junction boxes are protective enclosures for electric wire connections. Shielding these electrical junction points protects the wires from damage, especially in outdoor areas, and protects people from potential contact with hazardous materials, which can cause shocks.

    Usually made from plastic or metal, junction boxes are often designed to be mounted on a wall or a ceiling. Some can be fit under floors, tucked behind control panels, or even mostly encased in plaster or concrete.

    Some junction boxes feature terminals to facilitate connections between wires, others are just empty cases.

    Pick up a basic junction box on Amazon.

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    Jury Rigging

    Jury rigging is a classic do-it-yourself phrase that means crafting an improvised solution for an engineering challenge. Whether it's a sketchy, temporary fix, or a permanent, innovative solution, if you use whatever tools and objects you have available to complete a project (instead of following a professional plan), you might be said to have jury rigged that system, object, or device.

    The term has been around since at least the late 1700s, and may come from the nautical phrase "jury mast," which takes its meaning from the French word for day ("jour") and refers to the temporary sailboat rigging used when an original mast is down for repairs.

    The phrase "jerry-rigged" is a newer term, possibly derived from a combination of "jerry built" and "jury rigged." Some sources use jerry and jury interchangeably. Others maintain that, unlike a jury rig, a jerry rig carries the specific connotation of poor workmanship and/or shoddy construction.


    brow jute baskets

    Jute is a natural fiber made from the jute plant. It forms the base of burlap, and is sometimes called the golden fiber, in reference both to its color and value.

    Jute is broadly popular since it's durable, affordable, and easy to grow. The strong fiber comes from the bast (outside layer) of the jute plant, which thrives in standing water in hot, low-lying regions like Bangladesh and parts of India.

    In addition to fabric, jute can be used to make twine, rope, mats, and baskets.


    If you were to look up the simple definition of kerf, you’d find that most use it to refer to the actual incision on a material made by a saw blade. But to woodworkers, it’s more complicated than that, and refers to the width of the material being removed by the cutting process. This is important because the width of the cut itself will impact the final dimensions of the cut piece and needs to be accounted for.


    In parking lot parlance, the verb "to key" means to deliberately scrape another person's car. In the context of construction, keying is the process of roughening a surface by scoring or sanding it, to provide a receptive surface for the application of paint, plaster, rendering, tiles, etc. It's often used between one layer of plaster and the next—the more surface area each new layer can adhere to, the stronger the bond.

    Depending on the project, keying can be done with a professional scratching tool, rough sandpaper, or a board with drills poking out a millimeter or two on one side (AKA a "devil float"). If you're using such an improvised too, don't press too hard―the goal is to seal the layers together without leaving marks on the final surface.

    Use a figure eight motion to cover as much of the wall as you can, with a loose goal of leaving no gaps wider than six inches between any scored lines.

    A keyed surface may also refer to the spaces between laths or wire meshes, which provide a grip for plaster.

    Knotting Fluid

    Knotting fluid, also known as knotting solution, is a sealant made from shellac that prevents wood resin from bleeding through a surface finish where wood knots exist.


    While most people think of insulation for walls and attics, pipes and boilers can sometimes need it, too. Pipe lagging is a form of insulation that wraps around water pipes. While particularly useful in cold climates where freezing conditions are possible, insulation for pipes and boilers can also be utilized for energy efficiency.

    Latex Paint

    To begin, latex paint is also known as water-based paint. Oil-based paint is also known as…oil-based paint (are you more confused than when you started reading this?). Latex paint dries fast, is easy to clean and is better for the environment than oil-based—if you care about that sort of thing. Oil-based paint, which is made from both synthetic and natural oils, covers better, applies smoother and takes longer to dry than latex. It is also more difficult to clean and requires safe disposal at hazardous waste collectors. So, which can of paint should you pick up? That depends on your needs. Use oil-based paint for areas of the house that receive the most wear and tear, such as baseboards and doors. Latex paint can be used for walls, but may be best for a beginning painter regardless of the surface because of drying time and ease of cleanup.


    The word "lath" has been recorded since the 13th century to mean a thin strip of wood under roof shingles or on walls to hold in plaster and/or lattice work. It has since expanded to mean any type of backing support, including wire mesh, for plaster. What makes lath so effective is that wet stucco or plaster is allowed to settle between the openings created by a series of laths and form a strong bond between the wood support system and the shingles or lattice.


    A level is one of those tools that every DIYer should have if they want to achieve professional results when hanging artwork, blinds, shelves, or working with wood. The most user-friendly length is 24 inches, although they come in a variety of sizes, not to mention styles. The most common variety is the spirit level, consisting of a vial of liquid with a bubble that slides around until it is level between two lines. When using this tool, remember the terminology: “level” means parallel to the floor (as in a shelf), while “plumb” means perpendicular to the floor (as in a window jamb).

    Light Ballast

    A light ballast controls the current running through a fluorescent light bulb. These elements are necessary to limit the electricity running through the light. Without them, a fluorescent lamp would quickly draw in too much energy, resulting in an overheating burnout.

    Light ballasts provide one quick burst of high voltage to illuminate fluorescent bulbs in the first place by connecting the electrodes with an arc of current. After that, they strictly limit the flow to preserve the lamp.

    Some can also heat the electrodes with low voltage to increase lifetime operation of the bulb. Because these operations are so precise, ballasts tend to be built specifically for the lights they power, as opposed to being standardized for use with many different models.

    Light Spectrum

    colorful crystals in light

    The light spectrum is the range of visible light as described by the length of its waves in nanometers. Only a small slice of this range is visible, disappearing into the ultraviolet at the bottom of the wavelength scale and infrared at the top. Adult humans can see light with wavelengths between about 400nm and 700nm, though some children and young adults can see ultraviolet light down to about 310nm.

    The wavelengths can also be expressed as a frequency of terahertz, which refers to the number of times per second they oscillate (the visible spectrum is roughly 430-750THz). These variations manifest to the eye as a range of color, with blue occurring toward the lower end of the wavelengths, red at the top, and green and yellow in the middle.

    Different frequencies of light can evoke different moods, and can even have distinct physical effects on plants through a process known as photomorphogenesis.

    Liquid Nails

    Liquid Nails is a brand of construction adhesives popular for heavy-duty projects. It comes in several kinds of containers, some shaped like classic caulking guns, others with a simple screw cap. The cut and squeeze containers generally work best for single-use sessions, since they can harden over, making the glue difficult to access.

    Liquid Nails products have a wide range of bonding temperatures (from as little as 22 to as much as 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and meet the GREENGUARD critera for low-emitting materials.

    Pick Up Some Liquid Nails on Amazon

    Load Bearing Wall

    Knowing what a load-bearing wall is could save you many problems. This is because a load-bearing wall carries and distributes parts of the house upon it. Accidentally knocking down a load-bearing wall without the proper support can cause injury or death as the structure may collapse.

    Load-bearing walls are tricky to find. There are a few steps you can take to help you narrow down your search.

    The outside walls are always considered load-bearing walls. Not only do they help support any other stories but they are the main support for the roof.

    In the basement you should look for any kind of concrete footers and grinders. This is a good signal that the beam directly above them is load bearing.

    Interior walls that happen to be perpendicular to the rafters are also load-bearing walls.

    Another good sign that the wall is load bearing is if there is a support beam above the wall or a wall below it.

    Finally, you can always check the building plans of your home to see which are load-bearing walls.

    Load-bearing Wall Suggestions

    With a load-bearing wall being so important you should never start remodeling before knowing which walls are load-bearing. If you can’t figure out which walls are load-bearing make sure to call a contractor or a structural engineer before you start your work.


    Loppers are shears used for pruning twigs and branches that are less than two inches in diameter. As compared to pruning shears, loppers have longer handles and require two hands for use. There are two kinds of loppers—bypass and anvil. Bypass loppers work like scissors with two blades passing next to each other, while anvil loppers have one blade coming down on top of another. Many avid gardeners prefer a bypass lopper because of the clean cut the blades give as they pass completely through a branch. Anvil loppers have a tendency to crush and bruise stems as the blades come from either side of the branch to cut it. Bonus: Check out our video on the pruning process for expert landscaping tips!


    Louvers are seen in various areas around the home—they're a series of horizontal slats or angled strips that allow air or light through on doors, windows, shutters, screens, etc. Sometimes on windows or doors, the slats are adjustable to control weather or light exposure. They were first used on the roofs of medieval buildings to allow for ventilation from cooking fumes or fires.


    Lye is a caustic alkali commonly used in cleaning products. Typically it refers to sodium hydroxide, but it can also be used to describe potassium hydroxide. Both chemicals are hazardous to handle.

    Less caustic forms of lye are used around the world in various culinary traditions, from curing, to canning, to baking. The kinds used in cleaning, however, are very dangerous to consume, and working with them requires caution.

    Water poured onto lye, for example, can cause a messy chemical reaction that can lead to severe injury if inhaled or brought into contact with skin. Consuming lye can be very dangerous, even fatal.

    pot burned from chemical reaction

    Lye also has a strong reaction with several metals—it can form hydrogen, which is flammable, with aluminum, brass, bronze, chromium, magnesium, tin, and zinc, and can corrode copper surfaces.

    Lye has been in use as a cleaning agent for thousands of years, and may have been discovered when the ashes from an ancient cooking fire ran into a nearby body of water, where the animal fats and burned wood combined to form soapy suds.


    This tool is a type of hammer with a much larger head than a typical claw or framing hammer. While mallet heads can be made from wood or lead, the usual DIY mallet has a head made of rubber (with a wood handle). With a softer impact than that from a metal headed hammer, rubber mallets are perfect for woodworking or forcing tight-fitting pieces together. (Or as a prop in a violent cartoon.)

    Mastic Sealant

    Mastic sealant is a liquid substance used to join two materials together or to protect the area where it's applied. Notable is its ability to bond to almost any material, including glass, metal, aluminum, concrete, and marble. It maintains a flexible bond after it dries, but isn't meant for use in joints that have a lot of movement.

    Mass Timber

    engineered wood beam

    Mass timber is a design and construction style that uses massive wood pieces as load-bearing elements in commercial-scale structures. The wood in mass timber projects can be cut from big trees in whole segments, or engineered by combining many smaller pieces with pressure and sealant.

    Since steel and concrete are both expensive and energy-intensive to synthesize, mass timber is a greener, more sustainable option than standard industrial construction. It's still a relatively new practice, however, and some legal codes don't yet formally support it.

    Mass timber buildings can be quite large. The Ascent building in Milwaukee, for example, features a 25 story tower supported primarily by structural wood.


    A mattock is a hand tool used for a variety of outdoor digging purposes. With a construction similar to a pickaxe, its long four-foot handle supports a double-ended tool that comes in either one of two ways. The first is two flat blades opposite each other with one rotated 90 degrees. This is commonly referred to as a cutter mattock. The other option is referred to as a pick mattock, with one end formed as a pick and the other as an adze (a cutting tool with an edge perpendicular to the handle). The pick mattock is preferred for cutting into rocky terrain and hard soil, while the cutter mattock is often used for cutting into roots embedded into the ground. Mattocks have a long history, existing in some form or other since the Bronze Age in Asia and Greece.


    MDF stands for medium-density fibreboard and is a man-made wood product used in place of solid wood. It came on the market in the 1980s and is made by combining wood particles with a resin or wax binder. It's often used for cabinets or other interior applications due to its inability to resist moisture.

    Membrane Roofing

    Membrane roofing is typically made out of synthetic rubber and placed on flat roof surfaces to protect against ultraviolet rays and weathering. A membrane roof is preferred to a gravel roof on flat surfaces because leaks are easier to detect. Although there are some DIY manuals for installing membrane roofing, it's advised to be installed by a professional. The installation of this style of roofing is very exact and time-consuming, and it's important to get right the first time.

    Mini Bog

    A mini bog is a gardening container designed to replicate consistently wet conditions. Plants native to tropical or swampy habitats might need a mini bog to thrive outside their natural climate—examples include orchids, flytraps, pitcher plants.

    You can make a mini bog by placing a small planting container with drainage holes inside a larger tray or pot without them (a rigid pond liner makes a good receptacle, but you can use anything that holds water). Position the small container in the center, or wherever you'd like to be able to add water, then surround it with gravel or some other drainage material to a depth of about two inches. On top of that, lay your planting soil, sphagnum moss, compost, sand, and any decorative mulch material you like, then welcome your plants to their new home.

    Water the mini bog by filling the smaller container completely, then letting the level go down over several days. Filtered or purified water are the best liquids for the health of your plants. If your bog is exposed to frequent rain and the water level is staying high all the time, drill some drainage holes on the outside container, about an inch from the top of the soil.

    You can also create bog conditions by reversing the potting strategy—placing individual container plants with drainage together inside a water-holding receptacle. Either way, let the water level ebb and flow so the sub-surface dirt can get periodic exposure to oxygen.

    Sunny, outdoor locations are ideal for mini bogs, but they can thrive inside, too, as long as they have five or six hours of direct light. If you live in a colder climate, bring your bog inside during colder months, or protect it with some greenhouse equipment and/or two to three inches of topsoil cover like pine needles or mulch.


    A miter is any angled cut on a piece of wood, the most common being 45 degrees so it can connect with another piece. The cuts are usually across the edge or the face of the lumber. Face mitering can be seen in photo frames and molding, while edge miters are seen in cabinet corner joints and similar box construction. Because most miters are on the end grain of a piece of wood, adhesive doesn't hold well when connecting to another piece. To counteract that, nails and dowels are often used.

    Miter Box

    Miter boxes (spelled mitre in some parts of the world) are devices that help guide a saw so it can cut a precise angle, such as 45 degrees. Plenty of commercial options are available, usually constructed from plastic, but you can also make your own miter boxes with just a few pieces of wood.

    The most typical design is a bottom piece with two sides extending upward, creating a channel for the wood you'll be cutting to fit in the middle. Using an angle finding tool, you can then draw whatever angles you'd like to be able to cut routinely (45 and 90 degrees are popular choices), then cut them through the sides. Whenever you need to cut a specific angle, just slide the material you're slicing into the channel, place the saw in the corresponding line, and cut away.

    Miter Saw

    A miter saw is used specifically to cut boards at an angle, and often to make miter joints, which are beveled edges meant to fit together such as in picture frames or molding. Miter saws were once only manual tools used in conjunction with a miter box, with the saw held on rollers. They have been replaced by the power miter saw, which makes quick and accurate cuts and is relatively portable. While the saw can be set at any specific angle to make a cut, there are standard presets including 15, 30 and 45 degrees.

    Mod Podge

    Mod Podge craft glues on a store shelf

    Mod Podge is a craft adhesive with a wide range of applications. It can be used as both a connecting glue and a finishing sealant, which makes it perfect for projects like decoupage (a paper cutout decoration style).

    Mod Podge has been widely used by artists and crafters since the 1960s. It's non-toxic and easy to clean off with soap and water, so it's a great low-stakes choice for working with kids, and it effectively bonds porous materials like paper and fabric to almost any surface.


    While the uninformed may think mortar and concrete are interchangeable, there are differences in their makeup and applications. Both mortar and concrete are composed of sand, cement, and water, but concrete also has rock chips and gravel in the mix. Concrete uses a lower water to cement ratio than mortar, which means it's not suitable for the bonding efforts that mortar is known for such as adhering together building materials like brick. Conversely, concrete is used for structural and support applications such as supporting walls and building foundations.

    Mortise and Tenon

    The mortise and tenon joint has been around for as long as people have been trying to connect two pieces of wood at a 90 degree angle. (Some say it dates back almost 7,000 years.) The "mortise" portion is a square or rectangular hole in which the "tenon," a projection at the end of a separate piece of wood, is inserted. There are various kinds of mortise and tenon joints, but they all are known for being strong, and are usually glued or wedged into place.

    A mortise is the second part of a mortise and tenon joint. The mortise lock is the square hole, or cavity, in which the plug, or tenon, is inserted. This type of joint has been a staple in construction for thousands of years. It has been a traditional joining technique used by masons and carpenters since prehistoric times.

    An open mortise has only three sides like a birdie joint. It normally is a slot cut into a piece of wood to accept a tenon forming a 90-degree corner. A stub mortise is very shallow hole that does not go all the way through a piece of lumber or wood. A through mortise is a hole that is completely cut through a piece of lumber or wood

    The mortise is cut in either the face, edge or end of the second piece that will make the connection. A popular spot is in the edge of the second piece. The mortise must receive the tenon snugly so there needs to exist enough friction to hold this joint together. But, it shouldn't take any pounding to fit the tenon in the mortise. The mortise should also be the same thickness as the tenon. It should also be the same width as the tenon, however, the length needs to be from 1/32 to 1/16 an inch longer. This will prevent the tenon from bottoming out of the mortise.

    The word mortise can also refer to a popular, secure kind of lock, in which the bolting mechanism is contained mostly or entirely within a door.


    You've probably seen this decorative or architectural element a lot without even realizing it. A mullion is a vertical element that divides a window, screen, or door and is often used for structural support or for window glazing. The use of mullions dates backs thousands of years to the 10th century and became popular in Europe within Romanesque and Gothic architecture, particularly in churches.


    This handheld instrument, also known as a Volt-Ohm meter or VOM, is used to measure electrical current, voltage, frequency range, and resistance in wiring systems, electronic equipment, appliances, and batteries. They are available in both digital and analog forms, and can range in price from ten bucks to much more depending upon their applications—some multimeters also measure decibels, temperature, and frequency in hertz.

    The average DIYer, however, can get away with an affordable option. With a little bit of practice, you can use a multimeter to troubleshoot electrical problems, from testing battery life to checking the workability of broken extension cords and appliances. When touching the two test probes to a device, the meter can reveal poor connections, broken parts, and loss of power when contacting a circuit. (Please note that reading the user manual prior to use and applying common sense when working with electricity is very important in injury prevention and general safety.)


    colorful window with frame dividers

    A muntin is used in windows, doors and other furniture. A muntin is a strip of material, usually wood or metal, that separates a glass element, whether a door window or piece of furniture, into segments.

    The bar not only segments the glass are, but also holds the glass in place and adds an architectural embellishment factor to the whole project.

    There are many types of muntin and different ways this bar can be used. For example, the material a muntin is made out of will affect the way it looks. When using the bars, most contractors use metal for a gothic look and wood for a more western style appearance.

    The muntin bars are also called lytes or lites, astragals, glazing bars and a few others. In the United States it will often call it a grill. Whichever name they are called, they still produce a very attractive grid work on a piece of glass.


    red salty powder in bowl

    Muriate is an old term for a material that's been combined with chloride to form a salt. Muriated materials tend to be salty, as in brined or pickled (salt itself is a combination of sodium and chloride), but others have medical, industrial, or agricultural applications. Potassium chloride, for example, is a common fertilizer known as muriate of potash.

    N95 Masks

    The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health certifies filters as N95 when they can block 95% of airborne particles larger than .3 microns across. N95 respirators fall into the category of "mechanical filters," which protect breathing passages from particulate mater like dust, bacteria, and some—though not all—viruses. They won't, however, protect against the infiltration of oils, vapors, or gases.

    The "N," in fact, is a mask rating that stands for "non-resistant to oil." Other ratings include "P" for "oil proof" and "R" for "oil resistant." The polyprophylene fiber from which they are constructed carries an electrostatic charge, which can be damaged by alcohol or soap, so N95 masks are difficult to clean without degrading their effectiveness.

    The U.S. Food and Drug administration recommends N95 masks and filters for medical professionals, since they can help obstruct the droplets that carry communicable illnesses like COVID-19.

    Nail Set

    You would think all that's needed for pounding a nail into wood is, well, a hammer and nails. But a nail set can lend a bit of finesse when working in delicate areas.

    Nail sets come in handy in two instances.

    The first is when you need to set the nail below the surface of the wood to putty over it, as with baseboards or molding. The tapered end allows the hammer to exert force in the concentrated area of the nail head, lowering the nail below the wood’s surface.

    The second instance where nail sets come in handy is when you want a finish nail to lay at the surface of the wood. The tapered end of the nail set protects the surrounding wood from damage that a hammer would otherwise cause.

    To use a nail set, position it over the nail head, holding it with one hand and tapping the top of the nail set with the hammer held in the other hand.

    Neem Oil

    The seeds of Azadirachta indica—AKA Indian lilac, neem tree, or margosacontain a useful natural product called neem oil. It has a range of health applications, from moisturizing and conditioning skin and hair, to reducing scalp itching and dandruff, to promoting tooth and gum health.

    Impressively, it's also a potent natural pesticide, not because it kills on contact, but because it triggers hormone changes that can disrupt the biological processes of insects.

    Finally, the anti-fungal compounds nimbin and azadirachtin make neem oil a powerful cleaning agent. You can mix into a shampoo for your carpet, or dilute it with water (about one tablespoon of oil for each cup of water) and spray it on mattresses or furniture to kill microbial pests.

    Neutral Tones

    One way of thinking about neutral color tones is that they fall in between more distinct hues on the color spectrum, making them difficult to define. Another is that they tend to be more organic, mimicking some of the lighter and more muted shades of nature, like those of stone, water, and wood.

    Because of their more subtle visual profile, neutral tones are considered calming and restful. They're also less likely to clash with more pronounced tints, which makes them good for unifying spaces with bolder colors or splashy patterns, and well suited for supporting visually striking art.

    As peaceful, calming, and naturally influenced elements continue to come to the fore of design, neutral tones like off-whites, tans, taupes, and grays will grow increasingly popular, including many hues influenced by or infused with stronger, more eye-catching colors.


    A newel is a supporting pillar, or column, on a staircase. Generally, it is at the foot of the staircase, at landings, or the top of the staircase. Newels are commonly decorated to reflect the decor of a house. Newels are often either box posts or turned posts. Box posts are rectangular while turned posts are cylinders and more ornate. Newels can be either solid or hollow. Hollow posts are found on staircases that use walls for support and are decorative while solid newel posts support the stairs.


    An ohmmeter is a handheld device that measures electrical resistance. Resistance is expressed in ohms. To use an ohmmeter, you must turn off power in the circuit you are testing, use provided plugs to plug into the socket on your meter, zero out the meter, touch one probe to a circuit and the other to the other end, and read the resistance. An ohmmeter can help you detect problems in systems like your car's electrical system.

    Oil-Based Paint

    An oil-based paint is a durable option for those looking to paint high-traffic areas in their home, such as baseboards or kitchens. However, it takes longer to dry than other varieties.

    To begin, latex paint is also known as water-based paint. Oil-based paint is also known as…oil-based paint (are you more confused than when you started reading this?). Latex paint dries fast, is easy to clean and is better for the environment than oil-based—if you care about that sort of thing. Oil-based paint, which is made from both synthetic and natural oils, covers better, applies smoother and takes longer to dry than latex. It is also more difficult to clean and requires safe disposal at hazardous waste collectors. So, which can of paint should you pick up? That depends on your needs. Use oil-based paint for areas of the house that receive the most wear and tear, such as baseboards and doors. Latex paint can be used for walls, but may be best for a beginning painter regardless of the surface because of drying time and ease of cleanup.

    On-Center Spacing

    On-center spacing, also known as center-to-center distance (and OC or CTC for short), is a method of measurement that describes distance between parallel construction elements based on the center of the material. If a blueprint calls for OC spacing of pieces such as beams, rafters or columns, place the center (not the edge) of each plank or bar in line with the measurement described.

    Architectural plans often use OC spacing because the dimensions of building materials typically vary slightly between pieces. If some are a little wider than others, on-center spacing will keep your construction more uniform than it could be if it were planned based on edges.

    One specific application of on-center spacing is ensuring support for any wall materials that will be applied in sheets, like drywall. Referring to OC spacing is a good way for building planners to make sure the edges of those sheets will line up with solid backing from a stud underneath.

    Orange Peel Texture

    If you have a house that was built over 20 years ago, chances are it has an orange peel texture on the walls in at least one room. If you can't picture it in your mind, think of (surprise!) the peel of an orange. It's smooth to the touch, but still has a somewhat dimpled surface. While this may seem like a strictly aesthetic choice in home design, it does actually provide a level of durability. The extra layer of plaster protects against dings and scratches in the wall that would otherwise be noticeable and more detrimental on a smooth surface.


    OSB is short for oriented strand board. (Yeah, that still didn’t clear much up.) Found in the lumber area of home improvement stores, OSB is a manufactured board of compressed wood chips cross-layered in a specific pattern and bonded with a resin/wax combo. (OSB is not to be confused with particle board, which is made of wood particles and shavings bound together at random and inherently subpar.) OSB gets its strength from the organization of the wood strands, making it suitable for use in residential flooring, walls and roofing.


    Outfeed is a term you'll often hear when dealing with the cutting of wood on a table saw or other machine worktop. It refers to the feeding out of wood from behind the blade as a cut is being made. It can also be referred to the actual space behind the blade on the worktop. Often woodworkers will build an "outfeed table" to hold the cuts on long pieces of lumber.

    An outfeed table is one of those pieces of equipment in a workshop that can make all the difference for someone who uses their table saw a lot. It's simply a platform, typically in the form of some sort of table, that catches or supports the wood being cut as it moves along the saw blade. To serve this purpose, some table saws come with extensions that fold out when needed, but many DIYers also make their own outfeed tables.


    It can be tempting to replace a burnt-out lightbulb with a different wattage if that's all you have in the house, but the effects can be deadly. Many house fires are caused from overlamping, which is the act of using a bulb with a higher wattage than what's listed for the lamp. The socket of a lamp that should only be used with a 60-watt bulb can overheat if used with a 100-watt bulb, melting wires and potentially starting a fire in your home. To prevent overlamping, pay attention to the labels on your lighting fixtures and make sure you always have backup bulbs of the correct wattage.


    Overseeding is the process of sowing grass seed in bare spots of a lawn. Not only will the seed fill in sparse areas that have occurred from foot traffic or lack of water, but it will keep weeds from taking over and improve the quality and strength of the existing grass.

    Painters Holiday

    A painters holiday isn't when they take a break from the work. It actually refers to a missed spot on a project when using a roller, which is detected when you can see the previous color coming through. The origin of this phrasing dates back to the 1700s when people would use pitch or tar to "paint" over the seams of a boat's hull. The task was so ardorous and unpleasant that to accidentally miss a spot was considered a "holiday."

    Penetrating Oil

    Penetrating fluids are low viscosity oils popular for lubricating squeaky hinges or loosening rusted fasteners like nuts and bolts. The name refers to the oil's ability to penetrate the microscopic spaces between threads.

    In some cases, penetrating oils can be used as cleaners to clear away metal corrosion or remove sticky residues. Although they're good for a quick fix, they're not great for use as lubricants over the long run, since they tend to evaporate quickly.


    A PEB (pre-engineered building) is a building designed entirely by one manufacturer to be assembled at a construction site. PEBs can be made of many different materials, and designed using different methods, though the use of metals is so common that the terms PEMB (pre-engineered metal buildings) and EMB (engineered metal buildings) are widely used in the construction industry.

    Dating back to the 1960s, PEBs often feature a series of steel plates welded into I-beams, which can then be bolted together to form a frame. Because of their efficient designs, PEBs can be as much as 30% lighter than conventional steel buildings, resulting in significant cost savings.

    Diverse options for cladding materials offer plenty of different looks for these buildings, making them appealing for residential as well as industrial construction.


    trowel adding perlite to soil

    In gardening, perlite is a natural soil additive. It's highly permeable, so it supports good water flow, while helping keep the dirt aerated so root systems can expand. It can also be used as a growing medium in place of soil.

    The product of volcanic activity, perlite is fairly dense and dark, but expands dramatically at high temperatures, becoming lightweight and bright white in the process.

    It has many uses beyond gardening, including filtering beer, insulating super cold refrigerators, and fortifying ceramics.

    Check out perlite on Amazon.

    PEX Pipes

    This form of piping is constructed of cross-linked polyethylene, formed into tubing for domestic water piping. PEX piping is commonly used as a replacement for, or alternative to, PVC, or copper piping. Compared to copper, PEX costs less, is quicker to install, doesn't corrode, and doesn't develop "pinhole" leaks. Compared to PVC, PEX doesn't require glue and won't burst if frozen. Because of its flexible form, PEX is easy to "fish" into walls and accommodate turns without elbow joints.

    Commonly used to replace older copper and galvanized steel pipes in new building projects., PEX is popular because it's extremely easy to use, and even non-professionals find that they can work with it. PEX is easy to cut and easy to install because it bends, flexes, and moves, unlike copper pipe which runs only in straight lines. PEX is so versatile it can be used as the sole piping material for an entire house. PEX is non-corrosive, does not need to be soldered, and expands as needed. Because of this expanding ability, PEX pipes very rarely burst even when the water inside them freezes.

    However, PEX is not made for use outdoors because it can't withstand harmful UV rays. It's also not a recyclable material, so some green builders and environmentally-friendly designers will not use PEX at all. Another drawback of PEX is the cost. It can be very expensive to plumb an entire house with this pipe, but because of its general wear-resistance and due to the fact that it is very easy to replace when leaks form, it can be a cost-saving measure over more traditional plumbing choices.

    Pilot Hole

    A pilot hole serves a useful purpose when connecting wood with hardware. To serve as a guide for inserting a nail or screw into a piece of wood, drill a pilot hole, which should be smaller and shallower than needed. It will prevent the wood from splitting, make it easier to insert the nail or screw, and result in straighter hardware.

    Pinhole Leak

    If you have copper pipes in your home, you may have experienced pinhole leaks before. These tiny holes usually occur in pipes near the main water line of a home where pressure is greatest. They also usually occur near a joint in the plumbing, where water surges around the bend and causes corrosion from the inside out—and where the pipe wasn't reamed when the plumber was cutting it. However, there can be other causes as well including the age of the pipes, the minerals in the water, and water pressure. While copper has been the gold standard in plumbing for many years, it is susceptible over time to these tiny leaks. The good news is that PEX pipe can be attached to copper, so you can replace the copper plumbing in your home to durable plastic little by little.

    Pipe Dope

    Although it has a funny name, in plumbing the term pipe dope is used to refer to a lubricant or sealant that creates a tighter bond in pipe fittings when secured together. The idea is that the liquid fills in the threads of the piping and creates a leak-proof, pressure-tight seal.


    Both hand planes and power planes can be used to complete many carpentry projects. However, there may be times when you prefer to use one over the other for a particular project, either because of personal preference, efficiency, or ease of use.

    There are several different types of hand planes. Among the most popular are jack planes, block planes, smoothing planes, and rabbit planes. Smoothing planes are used on almost all wood projects and rabbit planes are used to create rabbits in wood projects. Hand planes are good for smaller projects where only a few strokes of the plane are needed to create a smooth, even surface. Hand planes are also good for applications with tight areas where a power planer cannot be easily accommodated.

    Power planes, on the other hand, are definite time savers. They can be used in almost all of the same applications as a hand plane, except where the space is too tight for the power plane. A power plane can also provide a smoother, more even cut, including an evenly controlled depth.


    Plaster is a common construction and art material, usually made by combining clay, cement, lime, or gypsum with water. This sturdy, malleable stuff has been a go-to for humanity for several thousand years.

    When it's wet, plaster is easy to manipulate into the desired shape. Dried and hardened, it's very stable, though it can't bear bear heavy loads without some internal framing structure.

    man applying paster patches with scraping tools

    It can be formed up on site, or installed as pre-constructed sections attached with fasteners or adhesives, and it provides some insulation, which can help cut down on heating and cooling costs.

    Plaster is relatively unexplosive, but it can still be dangerous. Its reaction with water causes heat, so you should avoid getting too much on your hands when mixing it up. Some varieties also contain materials that can be dangerous to inhale, so work with a protective mask when its in powder form.

    Plenum Space

    vent space in a dropped ceiling

    A plenum space is an interior area dedicated to air flow for heating, cooling, and ventilation. These spaces, like the area between the top and bottom of a drop ceiling or an elevated floor, can house cables for network communication, but should not contain high voltage electrical equipment, which can increase the risk of fire.

    For safety, it's best to assume that open spaces contained in walls, ceilings, and floors qualify as plenum space, since airflow can leak in over time from small vents that run through. Ideally, ducts should be carefully maintained to keep non-plenum space free of heated and cooled airflow, since it can cause hazards by interacting with some machinery and construction elements.


    Pliers are the perfect tool to get a grip on life. Well, at least the DIY life. Like scissors, they have a lever mechanism that allows them to squeeze or grip things between two jaws. However, pliers are also useful for twisting and cutting, depending on the material. For those with large hands and fingers, they're the perfect substitute to grip tiny objects. This hand tool comes in a variety of styles for different applications including flat nose, needle nose, round nose, crimping, and diagonal.


    This is a simple term with a simple meaning: “true vertical.” This can be compared to “level,” which is a “true horizontal.” Both are important to know in the world of DIY.

    You may be surprised to hear that it doesn't directly have anything to do with plumbing. It's actually used to describe when a edge or surface is perpendicular to to a level line, with true vertical orientation. (Think when you're framing a house or installing a door jamb.) To know if a surface is plumb, you can use a level, which usually has at least one vial to read plumb, or a plumb bob, which is a weight suspended by a string.

    Plumb Bob

    A plumb bob is used to make sure something is plumb, or vertical. It is a weighted object, usually with a pointed tip, connected to a string. Plumb bobs are also known as plummets. Plumb bobs date back to at least ancient Egypt.

    Plumber's Putty

    Plumber's putty is a sealant used in plumbing applications to protect areas that may be exposed to unpressurized water to prevent leaks and water seepage. It's usually applied to areas around drains and faucets, and is a staple in any plumber's tool kit. It's made of clay and is pliable, making it able to create a watertight seal.


    When you’re building something from scratch, it’s almost a guarantee that this material will come up on your “to-buy” list. Plywood is a building material made out of thin sheets of wood that have been glued and pressed together. Given what a versatile material this is, it’s an important one to know.

    Pneumatic Tools

    Pneumatic tools used compressed air or other gasses to power movement. They can perform a wide range of actions, from driving in fasteners, to buffing rough surfaces, to screwing or unscrewing powerful bolts. The gas or air used for these effects can be stored in a canister attached to the tool, or run through a tube from a containment tank.

    Pneumatic systems can be simple or complex, and sometimes use solenoid valves to facilitate advanced functions in machines like motors and actuators. The word comes from the Greek term pneuma, which means "wind" or "breath."

    Check Out Pneumatic Tools on Amazon

    Pocket Joint

    A pocket hole joint is a connection point in a piece of carpentry where two surfaces are united with screws inside sunken holes. Pocket joints make an elegant solution for connecting elements securely—they're easy to tighten, and they don't require any complex math to create.

    A pocket hole jig can make drilling these pockets much faster and easier, since it can attach to the wood while working, creating more unified and even holes. Jigs can be large pieces of equipment to which wood is secured, or portable devices that clamp on where they're needed.

    Pocket screws make the best connectors for these kinds of joints. They're a little pricier than normal screws, but they're self tapping, which means they can create their own hole as they screw in, and they have a slightly wider head, to prevent cracking through the wood at the base of the hole. For soft wood, use coarser threads (wider apart)—for hard wood, use finer (closer together).

    Because of their angle (typically about 15 degrees), pocket hole joints are stronger than other traditional joining methods. They still require a perpendicular connection between the two elements for maximum strength and durability. Most are screwed into a board's edge or face instead of the end grain for maximum purchase.

    The only downside of a pocket joint is that because it grabs the wood so effectively, it only fails when the wood itself breaks. Repairs at that point require replacing at least part of the project.

    Polyurethane Varnish

    Polyurethane varnish is a synthetic material that's essentially a liquid plastic. When applied onto the surface of wood it provides a durable high gloss finish that protects the wood from a variety of foes including fungus, mold, and moisture. Polyurethane varnish comes in a variety of options including water and oil-based varieties, and satin and glossy finishes.


    red salty powder in brown bag

    Potash is potassium used in fertilizer. It's especially important in farming, since crops draw nutritionally valuable potassium from the ground, leaving it in need of replenishing.

    When plants don't have enough potassium in their soil, they struggle to grow, and become more vulnerable to pests and disease. Potassium chloride, which is a muriate of potash, tends to be the cheapest potassium fertilizer. Other options include potassium sulfates (some of which are mixed with other minerals, too) and potassium nitrates.

    The name potash comes from an old method of producing it by cooking wood ashes in pots. Today, we source this nutrient by mining plentiful deposits of ancient marine salt.

    Power Tool Grinder

    A power tool grinder is one of several power tools used to smooth and polish different kinds of surfaces. There a many different types of grinders and pads for different jobs and surfaces. Most grinders are handheld, but there are some larger ones that stand on their own as well. To use a power grinder, follow these steps:

    Step 1: Choose the right size grinder and pad for the job. Some projects will require a smaller grinder or a certain grain pad.

    Step 2: Clamp your project firmly onto a table so it will not be thrown away by the power tools grinder. There will usually be sparks, so make sure the area is clear of flammable material.

    Step 3: The grinder will fling sparks in the direction it's spinning, so make sure you are out of the way.

    Step 4: Turn on the grinder and press it to the surface. For large projects, you can lay a power grinder flat, while smaller ones require only the edge of the grinder pad.

    This is a fairly dangerous tool and can cause serious damage if misused. Always wear protective gloves, goggles, and clothing while operating any power tools or grinder.

    Pressure Treated Wood

    Because wood is a naturally occurring material in the environment, it's subject to rot and decay if exposed to moisture, insects or vermin. Wood doesn’t last forever—unless it’s infused with chemicals to preserve it. This is where pressure treating comes into play. By immersing a piece of lumber (harvested wood) in a liquid preservative within a pressure chamber, chemicals are forced deep into the wood fibers.

    a fence made of pressure treated wood.

    Until recently, the chemical most commonly used in this process was chromated copper arsenate, which is considered quite hazardous to humans. (Arsenic, anyone?) Fortunately, more human-friendly, copper-based chemicals are used widely today.

    There are varying levels of treatment, depending on the intended application for the wood. The details of the application should be posted with either ink or a plastic tag at the end of each piece of lumber.


    If there's anything with a drain in your house—shower, washing machine, sink—it has a p-trap to drain waste water. In most homes, you can see the p-trap installed for sinks underneath the basin. The curved design of the pipe (in the shape of a "p") traps debris so that it doesn't clog the plumbing system down the line, and also stops sewer gases from entering the home. If you notice suspicious smells coming from the pipes, you may need to empty or replace the p-trap, which is an easy task for beginning DIYers to do.

    Putty Knife

    A putty knife is most commonly used for applying putty or compound to the joints, seams, and flaws of walls. But it can actually be used for more applications, such as spreading plaster; scraping off paint, wallpaper, or glue; and as a substitute screwdriver using the edge of the blade. This wide, flexible blade and the short handle make it a useful tool to have at your disposal no matter what your diy skill level.


    PVC is short for polyvinyl chloride and is the third most commonly produced plastic in the world. PVC pipe is used in residential and industrial water and sewer systems because of its low cost, chemical resistance and ease of jointing (as compared to metals like copper or iron). In fact, about half of the world’s PVC production is used for pipe manufacturing. Of course, if you’re a creative type, PVC pipe can be used for things other than plumbing systems—just Google image search “PVC pipe furniture.”

    Quarter Round

    Think of a wood dowel cut equally into four pieces, and you have quarter round molding. It's typically used to hide a gap between flooring and the baseboard.


    A rabbet is a rectangular groove cut into the edge of a piece of wood or other material. Rabbets (or rebates as they're known in Britain) are often found in moldings, window jambs, or as joints in woodwork. When viewed, they're open to the edge or end of the wood's surface. Multiple tools can be used to achieve this feature, including routers, a rebate plane or shoulder plane (as pictured above), circular saws, or even a basic hand saw and chisel.


    A rafter is a vertical beam, usually with a slope, that supports a building's roof; any building with a roof likely has rafters. Resting on a supporting wall, the weight of the roof is transferred through the rafter down to the building's foundation. They are usually made of wood, but depending on the building's architecture can also be made from concrete or steel.

    Random-Orbit Sander

    The random-orbit sander is perfect for eliminating cross-grain scratches on wood pieces like furniture and cabinet surfaces. A spinning disc and orbital movement leaves a smooth surface that is otherwise difficult to achieve. They come in varying sizes, some small enough to use one-handed, while others even have a dust pickup port for easy cleanup.


    A rasp is a hand tool, specifically a file, used for shaping wood in a coarse manner. It typically consists of a handle attached to an elongated piece of steel made with many sharp individual teeth. Usually the rough surface on wood left behind by a rasp is smoothed down with a file made of finer teeth.


    Wall plugs, or rawlplugs as they're called in the United Kingdom, are plastic inserts with a screw attached that are used on walls otherwise not able to hold up objects with just a screw. They're essentially anchors that offer support for the screw. A predrilled hole holds the wall plug, which then holds the scew. As the screw is tightened, the wall plug expands and conforms to the wall material, anchoring and securing itself into the wall. They're particularly useful in situations typical screws and fasteners may not work well, such as masonry or plasterboard.


    Short for reinforcing bar, rebar is used as a tension device to strengthen concrete or masonry structures. The pattern you see on the steel bar itself is meant to create a superior bond with the concrete, which, while strong in compression, is a weak material when it comes to tension over the long run. Fun fact: rebar has been used in construction since at least the 1400s.

    Reciprocating Saw

    The word ‘reciprocate’ basically means to return. Appropriately, reciprocating saws cut in a basic forward and backward motion, like a miniature mechanical version of the motion you make using a handsaw.

    The small blades of reciprocating saws allow for a freedom of motion that can be used to make controlled, potentially curved cuts. Jigsaws are essentially smaller reciprocating saws, used for work requiring finer lines.

    The idea of the reciprocating saw came from the two-man saws used by lumberjacks, where one man on each end of the saw would pull and then the man on the other end of the saw would pull in the opposite direction, eventually cutting down the tree.

    Reciprocating saws are also known as oscillating saws, recipro saws or Sawzalls (a brand name saw from the Milwaukee Electric Tool company).

    There are many different designs, ranging in power, speed, and features. Smaller handheld models are usually shaped like cordless drills, and are suitable for home use in smaller projects, like model or furniture construction. Larger models are usually powered via cord, and can be valuable in heavier projects, like professional demolition.

    Most reciprocating saws have variable speeds, controlled either through trigger sensitivity or via a dial on the saw. Some newer models include an ‘orbital’ action, which allows the tip of the blade to move in an oval pattern, up and down as well as back and forth, facilitating more precisely curved cuts.

    Reciprocating saws usually have a guard at the base of their blade to help prevent injury. Always make sure your power saws are switched off before and after use, and allow the blade motor to come to a complete stop before you lay a handheld saw on any surface.

    Some saws have a lock switch or button to ensure that they cannot be turned on without pushing the button.

    Rejuvenation Pruning

    Also known as renovation pruning, rejuvenation pruning is an extreme measure of cutting a shrub down to the ground—or a bit higher—in an effort to restart its growth process. This is commonly done when a shrub is overgrown. The remaining stems should grow back thinner and with more blooms or leaves. Rejuvenation pruning should only be done to multi-stemmed shrubs like dogwood or spirea and can take place every three to five years in the spring.


    Repointing is the process of removing mortar from exterior joints in masonry construction, known as pointing, and replacing it with fresh mortar to offer renewed strength. Over time, weathering can allow for moisture to permeate the pointing, causing damage. Sometimes during repointing, existing mortar is removed before the new layer is added, and other times it's left to serve as a base for the fresh coat.


    Natural resin is a sticky sap drawn from trees. With the right treatments it can be used for myriad crafty purposes, including making paints and varnishes. Commercial resin often features a combination of organic ingredients like coal-tar. It's usually soluble in alcohol but not water.

    Certain resins, such as pine pitch, can be used to seal boats since they're not soluble in water. In some ancient cultures, it was used to seal bodies in mummification, as well as to store vulnerable goods in containers.

    Synthetic resin is a common ingredient in various paints, varnishes, jewelry, inks, perfumes and more. Cheaper and easier to produce, it's considerably more common than plant derived varieties.

    Retaining Wall

    A retaining wall is a common feature in landscaping and construction used in an attempt to retain soil to a specific area of land. Usually this will be where a slope occurs or where there's another change in elevation. A retaining wall is typically a freestanding structure with support at its base.


    gloved hand holding plant with root that has small shoots

    Some plants send out little tiny roots that break off, growing new plants. Rhizomes are underground stems from which plants send out new roots, which become nodes for new plants.

    The name rhizome means "mass of roots" in Ancient Greek. Also known as root stalks, the name rhizome goes back to Ancient Greece when it meant "mass of roots."

    Some unwelcome plants like Bishop's Weed propagate with rhizomes, but other, more valued plants like ginger, asparagus, and lilies expand by sending out rhizomes.

    A stolen is a related mechanism but works above ground, allowing plants like strawberries to send out branches that can become new plants when they reach the soil.

    Pick up some ginger plants on Amazon or sew some wild strawberry seeds.

    Rim Joist

    A rim joist is an important piece of deck or flooring framing. It's attached perpendicular to other joists to offer support and cap off the entire deck or flooring system. Rim joists can also be referred to as headers or rim board.

    Rip Cut

    When cutting lumber, there are two types of cuts you can make in regards to the wood grain. A rip cut is when you go parallel to the grain. (Or, think about it as going in the same direction of the grain.) This is the typical cut you may think of in relation to a sawmill, where a tree is cut down into boards of varying length and width. In comparison, a cross-cut is made when you go perpendicular to, or against, the grain. Different tools are used to achieve these cuts. A table saw is best for rip cutting, while a miter saw or separate chop works best for cross-cutting. However, there are some combination table saw blades that can work for both.

    Rip Hammer

    Rip hammers are heavy-duty hammers with straight prying implements, and are useful for general demolition or ripping apart wood that’s already nailed together.


    When you need to strengthen a DIY project and make a secure connection between two pieces of metal, use a rivet. A metal rivet is a short pin or bolt that holds two pieces of metal securely together. Use rivets wherever an extra connection is needed, or your connection needs to be incredibly secure. Rivets aren't usually used as primary fasteners, but rather to strengthen an existing connection.

    Robertson Screws

    Where another screw would have a straight line or a cross shape, Robertson screws have a square socket. Also known as square or Scrulox screws, they're designed to make it easy to keep a square drill or screwdriver head in place while fastening. This makes them a little easier to work with one-handed.

    Invented by Canadian P. L. Robertson in 1908, Robertson screws are still more popular in that country to this day, though their use has expanded around the world, primarily for woodworking, construction, and assembly of machinery like breaker terminals. The slight taper deployed by Robertson was an improvement on an earlier square screw design patented by American Allan Cummings in 1875, and made it easier to "cold form," which facilitated mass commercial production.

    Roof Flashing

    Roof flashing is one of those simple solutions to an inevitable problem. The weather starts getting wet, rain falls on the home, and leaks through the ceiling are bound to occur at some point in a homeowner’s life. The solution is thin pieces of material, usually metal, installed over seams and joints to circumvent the passage of water either off the building or to a more waterproof area. Flashing is usually installed where the edge of a chimney, vent, dormer window or skylight meets the roof, and can be either under or over roofing material.

    Roof Pitch

    Roof pitch is a measurement of the sloping angle of a roof. It's calculated by dividing the vertical rise by the horizontal span. (You may remember this from geometry class where it's called slope, or from trigonometry where it's called the tangent function.) Using the calculation, roofs are classified in ranges from "flat" and "low slope" to "conventional" and "steep-slope."

    Rooting Hormone

    Root hormones stimulate the development of new roots from a cutting, allowing a part of a plant to grow a genetic copy of the original. The key ingredient in most rooting stimulants is a growth regulating plant hormone called auxin, which sends a signal to the plant's cells to stop differentiating into various elements (like leaves and branches) and start focusing energy on roots alone.

    The best place to apply a rooting hormone is, unsurprisingly, the end of the plant that could most easily be planted. If you have a twig from a tree, for example, you can shave off some bark near the break point and apply root hormone to the exposed end. These substances are most helpful when applied to a fresh cut spot, not one that's been scabbed over with new growth.

    If you use a powdered version, wet the end of the plant to encourage the hormone to stick. If you use a liquid version, dip the plant briefly—don't use it to stir the substance, and don't let it steep too long. It's possible to overdose a plant on auxins, killing part of it and maybe negatively affecting budding later on.

    a small succulent plant growing roots

    While it's not a fail safe solution, root hormone application increases the chance a clipping will grow new roots. It also appears to help plants form phloem and xylem (phloem helps move the sugars made from photosynthesis to the rest of the plant, and xylem helps move nutrients from the earth into the roots).

    Indolebutyric acid and naphthaleneacetic acid are the two most common auxins on the commercial market. They're especially useful for stimulating rooting in plants that won't otherwise tend to do so. Most succulent plants, for example, will grow new roots from clippings in the right conditions. Many trees, however, are unlikely to grow roots without some coaxing. Some, like pine and fir trees, are very difficult to root from clippings, even with the help of growth hormones. Others, like willow and yew, might be very receptive to this kind of boost.

    Willow trees, in fact, are so good at making auxins that some gardeners use cuttings from them to make natural rooting solutions for other plants.


    A router is basically a height-adjustable motor that can apply finishing touches and detail work to wood. They can cut fancy shapes, joints including dadoes and dovetails, and details on either the face or edge of boards. With different bits you can cut flat grooves, flutes, edging, and trimming.

    Rotary Saw

    Also known as a spiral cut saw or a cut out tool, a rotary saw spins a cutting implement around an axis, cutting out lines and patterns in wood, drywall, aluminum, etc. What's unique about a rotary saw is that it eliminates the need for a pilot hole (a small hole that allows another tool to be inserted for a larger cut). The spinning does the cutting, so the tool can be applied directly to the surface. This type of power tool usually has different bits that can be attached for various types of work and angles.


    R-value is a measurement of heat resistance through a material. The higher the R-value, the more effectively it insulates against heat per inch of thickness. This measurement is used primarily when discussing insulation and energy efficiency in people's homes. Keep in mind that installing two sheets of insulation in a given area back-to-back instead of only one will not double the R-value, though it will increase it slightly.

    Satin Paint

    Satin paint has a slight gloss to it and a richer tone than its counterparts such as a flat or semi-gloss finish. It's smooth, and strikes a nice balance between gloss and sheen. This variety is suitable for use as trim or ceilings, but also on walls in high-traffic areas like kitchens, bathroom, and kids' rooms.


    Sawhorses come in handy first and foremost for sawing something. They give a sturdy surface and proper height to cut cleanly and evenly. Depending on the length of your material, you may only need one sawhorse, but ask any avid DIYer or carpenter and they will tell you to have two. Two sawhorses give you the ability to create a work surface by placing a piece of plywood (or old door!) on top, with each sawhorse offering support at either end. Not to mention, a pair makes it easier to cut long lengths of lumber or pipe, with or without a platform between. Sawhorses are often made of wood themselves, with a beam and triangle supports at either end, and are often designed to fold or stack for easy storage. You can purchase sawhorses at any home improvement store, but if you really want to go the extra mile, why not make your own?

    Scandi Style

    Scandi style is a nickname for Scandinavian design, a loose term for the cozy, minimalist style of the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.

    This loose collection of design principles began to cohere in the public imagination in the 1950s. Some of its signature elements include natural, durable materials, lean, curvy shapes, and spare elegance.

    natural tones in bedside table next to comfortable bed

    The clutter-free grace of Scandi style has been popularly commercialized by the Swedish furnishing company IKEA. Historically, Scandi style has referred primarily to home goods like furniture and decor, but in recent years it's expanded to include commentary on the form factors of technological products.

    .Scandinavian design for home office with clean, elegant funiture

    The airy comfort of Scandi style has been described as comfortable without being kitschy. Wood surfaces and house plants are common in this style, which celebrates the natural world. Inviting textures like rough knit blankets and woven grass objects fit comfortably this design world, too, as do calm neutral tones like whites, blacks, and tans.

    Browse Scandi style decor on Amazon.


    The term screed has several different meanings, but the one we're addressing here is a flat board or aluminum tool to smooth out or flatten materials like concrete, stucco, or plaster after they've been applied. The screed is pulled across the material to pull off any excess and smooth out the finish. Generally screeds are a specific tool you can find at a home improvement store; making your own may result in a less-than perfect or more rustic finish.


    Screwdrivers are essential items in any DIYer's toolbox. They can be either manual or powered and come in a wide variety of sizes based on the size of screws. By turning the handle, the tip that is inserted into the screw head rotates to either remove or tighten the screw. Screwdrivers are classified by the shape of the tip, the most common being Phillips-head (pointed) and flat-head (flat).


    A scriber is a hand tool used to mark lines and guide you when you are ready to cut something. Scribes work on hard materials like steel and glass. The scriber itself can take on a few different appearances: sometimes it looks like a pen, other times it may have two sides sharpened to different angles. It's lines are thin, easy to see, and more permanent than pen and pencil lines, making it more accurate. Using a scriber is called scribing.

    Scribing comes in handy when you're working with a crooked wall or uneven piece of material that needs another piece attached to it. Many DIYers or craftsmen use the technique to fit cabinets, paneling, counters, moldings, etc. to crooked walls. By transferring the odd shape or profile with a pencil and/or compass, you can shave down or file off the extra material to make a tight and accurate fit.

    Scrub Plane

    A scrub plane is a woodworking tool used to remove wood from lumber. Scrub planes can be used to distress beams. The tool can also be used to mold irregular walls or make a scalloped surface. Scrub planes usually have a thick blade and a curved edge. Scrub planes are usually used diagonally across a board.

    Semi-Gloss Paint

    Semigloss paint has a higher sheen than eggshell or flat finishes. However, because of its high sheen, it does draw attention to flaws on the wall, so avoid this variety if you have flaws in the wall you want to hide. One of its merits is that semigloss is easy to clean, making it perfect for bathrooms or kitchens.

    Shadowbox Fence

    A shadowbox fence is one in which there are pickets on both sides of the fence, with space between to allow for air flow. Therefore, the fence doesn't offer complete privacy, but just enough. As you're walking along the fence, you'll notice flashes of the other side but nothing too invasive.

    A shadowbox fence.

    Shadowbox fences are built with a basic privacy fence frame, but the fence pickets are noticeably different. Shadowbox fences are designed so that the pickets are visible on both sides, rather than just the frame, and this gives them a highly decorative and stylized look.

    Shadowbox fences are also more storm-resistant than privacy fences. Because there are small chinks between pickets, shadowbox fences are more likely to stay upright in strong winds. However, they're only semi-private. You can see in through a shadowbox fence, though you can't see much. Many homeowners still prefer shadowbox fences because they're so attractive, and look good on the outside and the inside.


    The difference between shakes and shingles goes back to a time when they were created with hand tools instead of machinery, as they are now. A shake is a piece of roofing or siding material that is split from a log (usually cedar) using a mallet and axe, or froe. By contrast, a shingle is sawn from a block of wood. As you can imagine, the shake has a more rustic appearance than the shingle, which is a bit more refined because of the precision taken to create it. A shake is typically thicker than a shingle and usually has grooves in the surface that make it appear more charming and prefect for use on cottage-like homes. Because shingles lack these grooves and are made more precisely than shakes, they tend to perform better at blocking out the elements from the inside of a house.


    The shank of a drill bit is the end of the bit grasped by the chuck, or clamp, of the drill. There are many different kinds of shanks, including the brace shank, straight shank, hex shank, square shank, sds shank, triangle shank, threaded shank, and morse taper shank. When combined with different chucks, shanks can produce different effects such as higher torque or greater accuracy.


    In house and building construction, you may hear the term sheathing in regards to OSB or plywood. Sheathing is a layer of boards (whether plywood or OSB) to joists, rafters, or studs to strengthen the structure, as well as provide a foundation for exterior weatherproofing and protective materials.


    When working on a DIY project, you may find that sometimes all you need is a shim as the final touch. Simply put, it's a small piece of wood, cardboard, metal, or other material that fills in space to offer leveling, support, or adjustment. The most common example of this is when you need to correct a wobbly table or armchair—a shim is the small piece of something wedged between the floor and the bottom of the offending piece of furniture to make it stable.


    Shiplap boards interlock to create a smooth, level surface. Their affordability and ease of use makes them popular for a wide range of construction projects. A rabbet in opposing sides of the board allows the shiplap to form a firm bond or seal when set up in a section or panel.

    Shiplap surfaces are easy to install and generally require very little maintenance, which makes them great for building cabins, ranch houses, and other rustic structures, especially those with large, open spaces.


    You may have heard this term before in reference to doors or windows in a house. A sill is simply the horizontal part of a window or door's construction at the bottom of the frame. As far as doors are concerned, the sill is usually a flat piece of metal or wood that is easily walked over, whereas in windows, the sill can sometimes take on the form of a small ledge or shelf.

    Slip-Joint Pliers

    Slip-joint pliers are different from your standard set of pliers because they have an adjustable element to them. The slot in one jaw allows for the other jaw to slide and create an adjustable span between the two, allowing for more or less space between the jaws than the average set. Slip-joint pliers are therefore able to grip items of various widths and thickness.

    Slotted Screwdiver

    The distinguishing characteristic of a slotted screwdriver is its flat, blade-like tip. Designed to fit into screws with a slot or flat impression, slotted screwdrivers do not have a pointed tip with ridges on the side as do Phillips-head screwdrivers. The slotted, or slot head screwdriver, is the oldest and most commonly found screwdriver. It also goes by the names flat-head, flat-tip, straight, and common blade.

    Snap Tile Cutter

    hands using snap tile cutter device to break tile

    Snap tile cutters, also known as rail cutters, use a scoring wheel and lever pressure system to manually cut tiles by breaking them along a line. This process makes them more like a glass cutter than a wet tile saw.

    snap tile cutter device

    Wet tile saws are more expensive than snap cutters, but they're also more accurate. For projects where you need perfectly clean cuts, or cuts in shapes other than straight lines, you're better off with a saw. Saws are also preferable when you're working with tiles larger than 12x16 inches.

    For smaller projects, though, or tile work where the edges will be covered, snap tile cutters are both faster and more cost-effective than working with a saw.

    Check out snap cutters on Amazon.


    A soffit is the underside of any construction element, but often the term refers to the part of a house that connects the roofline with the siding. A correctly installed soffit is an act of prevention against future roof problems.

    Soft Water

    You've probably heard the terms "hard water" and "soft water" thrown around in discussions of home plumbing or bathrooms. The difference is in the mineral content of the water, which manifests itself in things like soap scum, mineral deposits on hardware and fixtures, and even the amount of bubbles you get when lathering up.

    Soft water has a lack of calcium and magnesium ions. (To get technical, it's classified in the States as having less than 60 mg/l of calcium carbonate.) If you have soft water in your house, you'll find that it produces little to no soap scum in the bathtub or shower stall.

    Soilless Potting Mix

    Soilless potting mix is any growing medium that does not include dirt. These mixes offer several advantages over their classic counterparts, especially for container gardening. Most notably, soilless mediums tend to be less welcoming to insects, bacteria, fungi, and diseases, improving the chances of injury to the plants they support. They can also offer superior aeration and drainage, reducing the danger of rotting roots, and they can be lighter than typical soils, allowing for easy container relocation. Finally, they're less likely than traditional soils to contain spores or seeds for other plants, like weeds.

    Some gardeners enjoy working with soilless mix because they like the control it gives them over a plant's environment. You can make your own dirt-free growing medium by combining things like peat moss, bark, sand, vermiculite, coconut coir, and perlite. Most gardeners include some kind of fertilizer to the mix, too.

    Because they're highly flexible and relatively safe, these kinds of mix are especially valuable for starting seeds. They're also preferable for growing plants indoors, since they reduce the incidence of plant-eating predators who might be controlled in outdoor conditions by other factors like birds and weather.

    A basic homemade soilless medium might include a one-to-one mixture of perlite and vermiculite and four to six parts peat moss. To add natural fertilizers, you can include a few parts compost, and/or half a cup of bone meal, blood meal, soybean meal, dolomitic limestone, or dried kelp powder for each eight gallons of mix.

    Solar Shingles

    Solar panels have come a long way since their invention way back in 1839. The newest models are compact, resilient, and significantly more effective at converting the energy of the sun for human use.

    These advances have opened the door for rooftop arrays of panels that don't just augment normal roofing materials, but replace them altogether.

    Solar shingles are what they sound like—shingles that capture solar power. They're part of a class of materials and devices known as building-integrated photovoltaics, which include other construction elements like siding and windows that recover the free energy streaming through the air every day for home applications.

    As recently as a few years ago, solar shingles were more of an idea than a practical building material, but as of this writing, at least five companies, including Tesla, SunTegra, Atlantis Energy, Forward, and CertainTeed, have commercial models on the market.

    Soldering Flux

    Soldering flux is a material, generally a gel or rosin in contemporary metalworking, that removes metal oxides from joints during metal soldering. Without flux, solder won't sufficiently wet the joints, resulting in weaker structural bonds.

    A similar process can be used in other kinds of metallurgy, including extraction, welding, and brazing. The term comes from the Latin word "fluxus," which means flow. Early forms of flux include charcoal, lime, soda carbonate, and borax.

    Soleniod Valve

    Solenoid valves (sometimes called simply "solenoids") are electromechanically controlled fluid regulators. Used in a wide range of devices from motors to washing machines to sprinklers, they come in many types—varying in their size, complexity, energy output, and compatibility with different kinds of fluid.

    Their central jobs are to block, allow, or mix the liquids in part of a machine or system. Some use a plunger like linear mechanical motion, others pivot or rock. Some run on AC, some DC, and the strength of their magnetic field varies by application. Some are two way, some three or more, and they're typically either referred to as normally open (N.O.) or normally closed (N.C.).

    First built in 1910 by ASCO Numatics, these valves have since been broadly adopted for their reliability, efficiency, and long service life, and today are widely integrated into fluid-based mechanical systems on all scales, from commercial to industrial.

    Spackling Paste

    When prepping walls or other surfaces for painting and various treatments like wood stain, it's important to take the necessary time to create a smooth surface. That's where spackling paste comes in handy. It fills in small holes, dings, cracks, and other surface imperfections to make an even canvas. Spackling paste is actually more like a putty texture instead of a liquid, and it's made of gypsum plaster, hydrated calcium sulfate, and glue. The word spackle first came into use in the 1940s, and is from the German word "spachtel," which means spatula or putty knife—the type of tool you would use to apply the putty to a surface.


    While often used interchangeably, shovels and spades have different characteristics that make them work better than the other at specific tasks. Shovels and spades both have long handles to assist in moving dirt and debris, digging holes, and otherwise manipulating the ground. However, a spade is the one that doesn’t have the curved tip on the blade. That’s right; a spade in the DIY sense is not the same shape as the spade in a deck of cards. The tool typically has a flat edge that makes it ideal for cutting and scraping hard ground (i.e., outlining a garden bed, beginning a trench). For this reason, a spade also usually has a D-shaped handle at the top for gripping capabilities as tough ground is broken. A shovel does have the curved tip on the blade, making it ideal for digging those holes and scooping debris.


    cracked flaking concrete

    Spalling is the process of chunks cracking and chipping off a hard surface like a concrete wall. This process can be the result of long-term exposure to corrosive effects like weather and aging, or from physical impacts, either large and sudden or small and repeated. The flakes of material that have broken off can be referred to as spall.

    Pick Up a Concrete Patch on Amazon

    Speed Square

    This measuring tool, also called a rafter square or triangle square, is intended for carpentry, but it can also be a valuable measuring tool to have in your arsenal whether you do a lot of woodworking or not. It offers multiple measuring applications including a miter square for making 45 degree angles, a Try square for measuring perpendicular lines, and a protractor for making common angles. The speed square also includes a standard ruler and line scribing guide.


    a sap spile tapper in a tree

    A spile is a spiked tube used to extract liquid, whether from a container like a cask or a plant like a tree. These hollow pegs can be made from wood, metal, or plastic.

    In a natural context, spiles can be used as tapper spigots to extract sap from trees to harvest products like rubber and maple syrup. In some cases, they can channel drinkable water out of trees.

    The word spile has a few other meanings, too, including in barrier construction, where it can refer to a fence stake or post, and boatbuilding, where it can refer to a process for fitting shapes to a curved surface.

    Splitting Maul

    A splitting maul, also referred to as a block buster or sledge axe, is used to split a piece of wood along the grain. One end of the maul looks like a hammer, while the other end looks like an axe. However, unlike an axe, the edge doesn't need to remain sharp to be effective. It's efficacy is based on its ability to wedge between wood grain to split it, instead of the axe's ability to cut across the grain. The hammer end of the maul is used to split larger piece of wood in combination with a splitting wedge.

    Spotted Spurge Weed

    Spotted spurge is a rogue lawn weed that can become a serious nuisance in your lawn or flowerbeds if left uncontrolled. Spotted spurge is easy to recognize, with dark green small leaves and reddish stems. It can easily cover ground, invade grass and other open areas in a garden or a yard, and can even grow on sidewalk cracks.

    This persistent summer lawn weed multiplies rapidly due to its excessive seed production. For this reason, it needs to be addressed immediately. Even a single plant can manage to form a dense mat up to three feet in diameter, producing thousands of seeds which can remain in the soil until summer or until the conditions are otherwise suitable for germination.

    The best way of managing spotted spurge is preventing its formation in the first place because it's difficult to control once established. Use weed-free plants, seeds, and soil in your landscaping efforts. Always keep your gardening equipment clean to avoid spreading the seed to uninfected areas of the lawn. Make sure your grass is of fine quality. The better the quality of grass, the easier it will be to control the spread of spotted spurge weed.

    As with all weeds, if you prevent them from getting sunlight they will suffocate and die, so spread a fine or coarse layer of mulch over the spotted spurge until it's completely covered. The weeds will eventually die and you can then remove them.

    Spray Insulation

    Insulating a house can lower its heat loss by up to 75 percent. Even partial insulation can cut heat loss by up to 30 percent. The higher the R-value of insulation, which is a measure of resistance, the more resistant the insulation is to heat flow. The idea is to keep warm air in and cold air out in the winter, and to keep cool air in and warm air out in the summer.

    One of the easiest DIY insulation choices is spray insulation, which begins as a liquid and once released into the atmosphere becomes solid. The spray insulation can expand up to 100 times its volume, creating a complete barrier. If you are insulating an attic, you will need to use open-cell spray insulation so that it can breathe since attics generally require proper ventilation because of extreme temperatures. The walls of a home should be insulated with closed-cell insulation.

    Protective clothing and goggles are imperative when tackling a spray insulation project. Plan this project in phases and insulate one area of your home at a time

    Spring Clamp

    Spring clamps consist of a spring that creates tension between two handles, that creates pressure on the piece you're securing. This variety of clamp isn't ideal for heavy duty projects, but it can work as an extra set of hands or to apply light pressure on an object.

    Spud Wrench

    Named both for an old Irish farming tool and a piece of piping used in early toilets, spud wrenches have a tapered, spiky tail on one end. The head mechanism be anything from a regular, fixed wrench to an adjustable grip or specialty fixture. The name comes from the spike part of the tool, which can be used to help line up holes for bolting and welding (or to harvest potatoes).

    Its use as a standard hardware element is credited to Thomas Maddock (1818-1899), an English inventor whose devices contributed to the advances of indoor plumbing in the late 20th and early 21st century. He sold his "Maddock spud" wrench design to the Standard toilet company, which used it until roughly 1920.

    Steam Iron Press

    A fast alternative to traditional handheld irons, steam iron presses press clothes with dual plates that close together by hand-operated lever. Rather than run over a garment, an iron press can smooth an entire area in one go. Steam iron presses typically feature plates 30 to 35 inches in length, speeding up the morning ironing ritual.

    Ideal for quickly pressing pants, shirt sleeves, blouses, skirts or other garments, a steam iron press usually consists of dual, horizontally-mounted pressing plates, both of which feature numerous steam pores. Select presses designed for pants come with a vertical configuration. A frame supports the plates while providing a stand, so it may be conveniently set atop a countertop, washing machine or even an ironing board. An easy-to-lower handle brings the top plate together with the bottom plate, creating the precise steaming area. In addition to the main structural elements of a steam iron press, a water reservoir and control panel fill out the design.

    Vertical pants and garment presses work in a similar fashion, except they stand upright. A garment or pair of pants is placed between the presser plates the brought together. They include an integrated hanging rack to hold the garment in place during steaming.

    Manufacturers that offer steam iron presses include Hammacher Schlemmer, Singer, Vornado, Kalorik, Smartek and Reliable. Prices range from roughly $150 to $500. While more expensive than a household, handheld steam iron, presses work faster, saving precious time in the mornings before work. Equipped with many of the same features found on the most comprehensive steam irons, full-size presses may include digital controls, a large water reservoir and an automatic shutoff safety feature.

    Digital steam iron presses may feature a backlit LCD control panel and display for easy, one-touch operation. Producing 100 or more pounds of pressure when the plates are brought together, the combination of that and the steam effectively penetrates fabric fibers, removing the toughest wrinkles while making perfect creases. Steam iron presses produce steam up to 400 degrees F or higher but won't burn or damage clothing. Basic features include a fabric selector with which to accommodate everything from heavy denim to more delicate items, a steam burst button and an adjustable thermostat. Select units feature Teflon-coated or stainless steel plates, providing a superb nonstick surface. Other features include a temperature or steam-ready indicator, up to a 60-minute timer and a water reservoir capable of holding up to 15 ounces.

    Steam iron presses typically feature a powerful, 1,000- to 1,500-Watt heating element with excellent recovery when time is limited. Steaming areas vary according to the model. Width is generally a foot or less, while lengths commonly range from two to three feet. With such a large steaming area, you can wave adios to your handheld iron for collars and cuffs in favor of just pressing whole garments all at once.

    Stick-Built Home

    A stick-built home is a structure or addition built on-site instead of in a factory. Most stick-built homes are built using lumber, but the sticks can really be made from any material, including metals and plastics. They generally compose the structure of things like walls and roofs, which then get filled in using drywall, plywood sheets, and shingles or siding.

    Mobile and modular homes, which tend to be assembled in factories and installed onsite in their completed form, are typically not defined as stick-built.

    Storm Sash

    A storm sash can be handy to keep out the weather, but they can be difficult to remove. A storm sash is an extra window that has been placed over the first to add extra protection. They can be painted on or nailed shut if a previous owner did not want to have their windows open.


    Studs are referenced time and time again in projects that involve carpentry around a home or hanging items on a wall. A stud is a vertical member of a frame wall, typically located between a bottom plate and top plate. These normally exist every 16 to 24 inches apart from each other, providing structural support for drywall and sheathing.

    Strip Heater

    strip heater

    Strip heaters are simple warming devices composed of a heating element with a sheath and mount. Some feature rows of fins to help them function as radiant space heaters.

    Strip heaters channel electricity through their heating element to warm the air around them. They're usually mounted along the base of a wall, and often concealed with an outside shell of some kind to prevent the potential hazard of direct contact with skin.

    Check out strip heaters on Amazon.

    Stripped Screw

    When you turn a screw, you exert pressure against the line, lines, or other shapes on its head, spinning the threaded shank to drive the point into whatever surface you're fastening. Over time, these lines or shapes can get damaged by pressure that doesn't spin the screw, if it's stuck or already fully inserted, for example.

    Stripped screws have had the shapes on their heads so disfigured that a tool like a screwdriver or drill can't connect with them to turn the fastener with sufficient pressure. This can leave them stuck partly or fully embedded in the surface to which they were connecting.

    One common approach to removing a stripped screw is to grasp it with some pliers and turn it by rotating them counter-clockwise. In some situations, you may be able to use a hammer's claw, but that approach tends to be much messier and more difficult.

    To prevent screws from getting stripped in the first place, work carefully when using a screw—use the right tools for the job, apply no more pressure than necessary, don't over tighten, and stop using a screw if it starts getting stripped.


    The term subfloor refers to the lowest structural floor underneath the finished floor, which would include laminate, ceramic tile, etc. The subfloor offers support, and is sometimes the only thing between the finished, decorative floor and the joists.

    Sump Pump

    If you have a basement in your home, chances are you have a sump basin to collect any rain or groundwater from the perimeter of the house, and a sump pump to remove it all. Sump pumps solve the common problem of moisture or basement flooding by sending water away from the home to a storm drain or dry well as it flows from the house or surrounding area into the pump. While some sump pumps are operated by an electrical system, most are powered from the house's water pressure.


    T111 (also referred to as T1 11, T1, and T1-11) is a siding material made of laminated plywood or strand board panels. Its durability makes it a popular choice compared to other forms of wooden siding. The T stands for textured, a reference to the grooves carved into the surface.

    Created in the 1960s, T111 made from plywood is a little more resistant to moisture damage than the kind made from OSB (oriented strand board, also known as waferboard), as it contains fewer natural grains. Accordingly, plywood T111 is a little pricier, but it also has a more elegant look, since it's often constructed with long strands that imitate natural wood.

    Often constructed from southern pine, T111 is valued for its combination of resilience and flexibility. It's easy to cut, making it convenient for use around tricky roof edges. Despite its lamination, T111 usually needs to be treated, either with stain or paint, and requires flashing to reliably protect the walls it covers.


    The term taboret (also tabouret or tabourett) can refer either to a short stool, a small stand, or a cabinet that may have drawers or shelves. In the context of a design studio, a taboret is usually a storage solution for portfolios or tools, which can include any combination of shelf, drawer, and desk space. In a slightly older sense, it can also be a display stand for a plant or piece of art, or even a simple standalone table for a beverage.

    a short stool with plaid fabric cover

    In the royal French court of the 17th century, a tabouret was a backless and armless but finely crafted and luxuriously appointed chair—a place of honor for visiting aristocrats to sit in audience with monarchs. Its name comes from the Old French word for drum (tabour), since its design was historically cylindrical and short.

    Tack Cloth

    Tack cloth is useful in plenty of DIY projects because it has a sticky coating on it that's perfect for removing residue. Use it to wipe down a surface before painting or to remove sawdust.

    Tack Strip

    A tack strip is a crucial element of carpet installation. A long piece of wood with many tacks or sharp nails studded in it, the tack strip is what keeps the carpet grounded to the floor. The strip itself is nailed to the floor around the perimeter of the room, and the carpet is then stretched and anchored to the nails on the strip. The polished look of many carpet installations is when the carpet is wedged between the wall and the edge of the tack strip, creating a rounded appearance that's also secure.

    Taping and Floating

    Taping and floating are processes done to drywall after it is hung on a wall or ceiling. The tape is applied over seams or joints, which gives the wall a smooth finish after paint is applied. Floating comes after the tape and is a layer of mud or joint compound to smooth out the lines of the tape on the drywall.


    A taproot is the central root of a plant that grows downward from which smaller, less dominant roots grow latterly. When weeding or removing plants from landscaping, it's important to remove the taproot to ensure that the plant won't grow back and negate your hard work.


    Tearout is a common problem among beginning woodworkers. It occurs as a blade exits a piece of wood when the fibers aren't supported, typically on the edges, and results in splitting or other surface damage. There are multiple ways to combat tearout depending on the type of saw being used. A common solution with a table saw is to use a piece of plywood clamped onto the edge of the saw surface that offers support as the board pushes against it.

    Tee Valve

    A tee valve is a type of joint used in pipe fitting, and gets its name from its shape. This kind of fixture is used when the water flow between pipes needs to be split in two different directions or combined into a single pipe, depending on the directional flow of the water. The section of the valve that forms the top of the T shape is known as the inlet/outlet, and this is most commonly the same diameter as the length of pipe being fitted to the tee valve.

    Tee valves are one of the components needed to build what is called a T-Line in plumbing projects. A T-Line consists of the needed length of pipe, the tee valve(s) and an end cap that directs the water flow from the lines of the tee valves back into the main water system. Tee valves are available in the same materials as many pipes: copper, PVC, iron and others.

    A T-Line setup is often used for water-cooling systems as an alternative to a reservoir system. T-Lines are much more economical in terms of cost, use of space, and ease of construction, and as a result are a standard setup for DIY plumbing and pipe-fitting projects.

    Thermal Inertia

    Thermal inertia is a measurement of how quickly an object, material, or structure releases heat. This measurement depends on other qualities of an object, like how absorbptive it is of heat, how quickly it conducts that heat, how dense it is, and even how large and what color it is.

    Generally speaking, it's preferable for a building to have a high internal thermal inertia, since that means it will tend to retain its indoor temperature, and heating and cooling that space will be more efficient.

    Concrete has one of the highest thermal inertias, so buildings built primarily of concrete will tend to hold their internal temperatures better than those made of wood, metal, or a combination of substances.

    The study of thermal behavior is an area of active material and construction science. In some research conducted so far, it appears that in most climates and buildings, insulation with high thermal inertia on its interior side is especially effective at maintaining indoor temperatures, reducing the energy required to maintain a comfortable environment.

    Thread Seal Tape

    Thread seal tape, also known as plumber's tape or PTFE tape, is used to seal pipe threads in plumbing projects. It serves a couple purposes: to lubricate the threads, making it easy to tighten and seal the joint, and to prevent the threads from seizing when unscrewing the pipe. The tape is wrapped around the threads before the two pieces of pipe are screwed into place. Tip: Wrap the tape clockwise around the threads to prevent it from unraveling when screwing the joint together.

    Tico Nails

    long nails scattered on a piece of wood

    Tico nails were named for a company that made standard 10 penny nails. When they were in production, they were 1.5 inches long and .148 inches in diameter. The company has since gone out of business, but the name stuck around. Today, the phrase Tico nails generally refers 10d common nails an inch and a half in length.

    Sometimes referred to as joist hanger nails, these nails were originally used for that purpose. Today, though, they're better suited for lighter tasks like applying facing to joists, which are typically installed using longer fasteners.

    Pick up some nails on Amazon.

    Tin Snips

    Tin snips (also known as tinner's snips or tinner snips), are essentially scissors used to cut sheet metal. They have long handles and short blades, but usually have extra wide jaws, unlike most scissor-type tools. There are two main types of tin snips: straight-pattern and duckbill-pattern. As the name suggests, straight-pattern tin snips are used for cutting straight lines, while duckbill-pattern are used to cut curves and circles.

    Tongue and Groove Joint

    The tongue and groove joint allows for two flat pieces of wood to be joined together to create a new flat surface. For the joint to work, each piece of wood needs to have a slot (the groove) along one edge and a thin ridge (the tongue) on the opposite edge. Usually this allows for a tight fit and glue is not needed.

    Top Dressing

    Top dressing is putting a compost, sand, or soil mix on the surface of a lawn. Top dressing improves and fertilizes soil, protects plants, smooths lawns, and reduces thatch build up. The soil is applied in a thin layer, usually around a quarter of an inch. It can be spread using shovels and rakes or by a motorized top dresser. Although top dressing is generally seen as a positive way to improve your garden, it is quite time intensive.

    Torpedo Level

    A torpedo level is generally a six to 12 inch-long level in the shape of a torpedo. The levels can be used to see if something is plumb or level. Some torpedo levels use a vial of liquid. Others use lasers to tell you if something is straight. Some will allow you to check multiple angles at once. To use the level, align it with the edge of an item you are checking and hold it until the bubbles or laser settle.

    Torx Fasteners

    Torx screws and bolts have six pointed star shapes in their heads instead of simple crosses or straight lines. They're popular in electronics, automotive structures, and increasingly construction. Officially known as hexalobular screws, they are commonly referred to as star screws, and sometimes called 6lobe screws for short.

    Torx screws were initially used to improve tamper-resistance, but they also offer better grip for a screwdriver or drill, reducing the incidence of cam-out (screw drivers popping out of the head when too much force is applied). This is how the six pointed heads come by their name—they allow more torque to be applied to a smaller surface than traditional fasteners.

    Some torx screw variants are still used in tamper-resistant systems, others are popular for heavy duty engineering.

    Pick Up a Torx Screwdriver Set on Amazon

    Trombé Wall

    Named for French engineer Felix Trombé, who designed them in the 1960s with architect Jacques Michel, Trombé walls use a form of passive solar design to manage building temperatures throughout the year.

    Especially valuable in colder climates, these walls have a layer of glass on the outside, and a solid section of high heat capacity material with openings for air on the inside. The windows allow short wavelength light to pass easily, and the wall traps that energy, converting it into longer wavelength heat radiation, which doesn't move through glass as easily. This combination allows the sun to heat the interior air, which then disperses slowly through the structure, helping boost heat throughout the night.

    The walls themselves have many variations. Some have vents, others are completely solid. Some cover the full surface, while others are only half the height of the windows they abut. Some feature secondary windows, which may open and close for manual adjustment, some have exterior slits for better cooling on warmer days, and some even include fish tanks built right in to trap additional heat.

    The concept of these structures dates all the way back to 1881, when they were first patented by Edward S. Morse.


    A trowel is a tool used to spread and smooth plaster. It generally has a handle and a metal blade. A trowel can be used to apply adhesive in projects like installing linoleum flooring.

    It can also refer to a spade used for digging in gardens and landscape work.

    Trunk Line

    Like the base of a tree that supports all its diverging branches, the trunk line of any system is the fundamental avenue through which the substance or service provided by any given utility flows.

    In home design, this can refer to the main vent of a heating and cooling system, the fundamental water line, or the central cable of a telephone, cable, or internet connection.


    This tool is largely used by draftsmen to draw and measure out horizontal lines on a drafting table. However, it's also used by many DIYers to measure and cut drywall. You'll find that some table saws have T-squares, as well. The longer portion of the tool is known as the "blade" while the shorter end is known as the "stock" or "head."

    Tubular Skylight

    tubular skylight with curved window

    Tubular skylights channel light inside through a vent-like tube with a curved window on one end. They can help bring natural light to interior spaces with no access to outdoor sunshine.

    Natural light can be good for health, and it adds a cozy glow to interior design during the day. Tubular skylights offer a relatively easy window installation, and the ability to pipe natural illumination whatever desired, including spots like showers that typically don't have access to the sun.

    Check out tubular skylights on Amazon.


    Tuckpoint is a method of enhancing the aesthetics of a brick surface by using multiple colors of mortar in the joints. The contrast can create a look that conveys precision and elegance.

    Dating back to 18th century England, the process involves tools of various shapes, lengths, and widths. Their tips can be square, round, "stubnosed," or "long nosed," and some are curved for finishing mortar on corners.

    The name derives from an older process known as "tucking," which involved carving a narrow, straight line through the mortar between uneven bricks, giving the brickwork the impression of being cleanly laid.

    Turbine Vents

    Turbine vents are used for removing hot air from spaces, including attics. Hot air rises, but will remain trapped in a room because of a roof or ceiling if there are no vents to allow it an escape route. Turbine, or whirlybird vents, are installed on top of a roof and use wind power to suck the hot air from an attic or other room. As wind passes through the vent, a series of vanes spins, providing more air circulation than a standard vent.


    turnbuckle screw device

    Also known as a stretching or bottle screw, a turnbuckle is a connecting device designed to be tightened after it's attached. It often features a loop at one end and a hook at the other and can adjust the length of the rope, cords, or other materials to which it connects. This allows for some flexibility to get suspension items like hammocks positioned right where you want.

    The design features two screws mounted in a metal frame, which can be rotated to create a longer or shorter apparatus. This can be useful for tightening construction elements that are otherwise difficult to draw together, and for supporting significant amounts of tension. This makes them useful at many scales, from home scale to industrial engineering.

    Check out turnbuckles on Amazon.


    An undercoat is essentially a primer for paint — but it serves a slightly different purpose. An undercoat is used to provide an even, smooth surface for a topcoat over existing layers of paint while a primer is used over a new surface. An undercoat will provide thicker coverage than a primer, as well as block moisture from seeping through and fill in any blemishes. Undercoats are especially useful when covering dark shades of paint with lighter ones.


    Underlayment is, as the name suggests, a layer of material under flooring, whether laminate, carpet, wood, or another form. When you peel back the layers of your flooring, the underlayment will be sandwiched between the the flooring you see, and the subfloor. (Sometimes a moisture barrier is present as well.) The purpose of the underlayment is to reduce sound, offer cushion, and provide support to the flooring, among other benefits depending on the type of flooring. Underlayment can be made of any variety of materials from foam and cork to felt, depending on the flooring being installed over it.


    While R-value measures a material's ability to resist heat transfer, U-value measures how much heat is lost through a material. When analyzing insulation for your home, you want a low U-value number. The lower the number, the less heat is lost through the material and the better the material is at insulation. The U-value is regarded as the most accurate way to measure insulation ability.

    Vapor Barrier

    Vapor barriers limit the movement of warm, most air into the wall cavity. If the air were to move there, it can lessen the effectiveness of insulation and even promote the growth of mold. The most common type of vapor barrier material is plastic sheeting covering fiberglass batting, but kraft-faced paper is also used when stapled into individual stud cavities. However, this variety isn't as seamless as plastic sheeting and must be covered for fire prevention purposes.


    If you need something to stay firmly in place while you’re working on it, a vise will come in handy and may be something you want to invest in for your garage or workshop. Vises have two jaws, one stationary and one adjustable by a screw or lever, that allow for securing a piece of lumber, pipe, or other material to be worked on. While hand vises can be attached to a bench and then easily removed, woodworking vises are usually permanently attached to a workbench flush with its edge, while an engineer’s vise is attached to the top of a workbench with the adjustable jaw on the outside edge.


    Volatile Organic Compounds, also known as VOCs, are gases released over time from the degrading of things like cleaning supplies, wood, carpet, and paint. There are hundreds of types of VOCs that are harmful to your health. Exposure may cause allergic reactions, headaches, respiratory issues, and even cancer. While you can not completely eliminate your exposure to VOCs, you can minimize it by choosing products for your home and DIY projects that claim to be low-VOC or don't have any VOCs at all (for example, choosing ceramic tile over synthetic carpet). In recent years, there has been an increase in production of products like paint with intentional low-VOCs, making it easier than ever to eliminate these harmful gases from your living space.

    Wabi Sabi

    The Japanese concept of wabi sabi celebrates the messy and imperfect, and accepts the constant flow of change. Where some design derives beauty from clean, sharp, order, wabi sabi embraces rough edges, organic textures, and humble, natural colors.

    hand made clay mug with rough, wabi sabi design feel

    Rooted in ancient Buddhist and Zen insights about the transience, loneliness, and often emotionally challenging nature of life, this way of thinking teaches an appreciation instead of a rejection of these challenges. Wabi sabi isn't centered on melancholy—it's about inner peace, tranquil beauty, and bohemian joy.

    Asymmetrical shapes, rough lines and surfaces, modest simplicity, and a focus on the natural world are other key qualities of wabi sabi aesthetics.

    Check out some more wabi sabi designs on our sister site dornob to get some inspiration for your own home projects!

    Washing Soda

    Sodium carbonate, or washing soda, is a useful general purpose cleaning product. Sometimes called soda ash, it's technically a salt made from carbonic acid, and can help you unclog drains, clean decks, remove grease from cooking implements, keep pests off plants, and coax out pesky stains in laundry, among other things.

    For fabric application, you can either pre-soak the items you want to clean before you launder them, or you can add it to your homemade laundry detergent for regular loads. The chemical softens water by bonding to minerals, allowing detergents to move more freely and clean more thoroughly.

    homemade detergent

    For garden pest control, dissolve half a cup of washing soda into two gallons of water and spray or rub the mix onto the plants you want to defend.

    To make your own sodium carbonate, heat baking soda in a baking dish for two hours at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring and leveling once halfway through. Application to skin can cause irritation or burns, so keep kids away and avoid contacting large quantities directly.


    This piece of hardware is a flat disk of metal or plastic with a hole in the middle. It may not look like much, but it packs a punch when it comes to holding things together. Washers are typically used to distribute the weight of a fastener like a screw or nut to prevent surface damage. This type of washer is known as a “plain washer.” There is another not-so-plain washer—if you can image anything more exciting than a flat metal disk—a spring or locking washer, which is used to prevent the loosening of other hardware due to vibration on a mechanical device. There are, of course, many other washers including finishing washers (decorative) and fender washers (large outside diameters).

    Washi Tape

    rolls of tape with colorful patterns

    Washi tape is a popular plant-based craft material that often features bright colors and patterns. It literally means "Japanese paper," and derives from a traditional style of adhesive decoration.

    Washi tape is biodegradable and recyclable since it's made from organic material (usually shrubs or grass). It's easy to tear, and resistant to both heat and moisture, making it an all-around superstar for crafting projects, from scrapbooking to homemade journal creation.

    Water Hammer

    Have you ever been at home and heard a thumping or banging sound coming from pipes when a faucet or shower has been turned off? That sound is known as a water hammer. When the supply of running water is quickly shut off, an accumulation of pressure waves occur in the pipes, which causes the loud "hammering" sound. To prevent water hammers, you can install air chambers, which are vertical pipes next to the plumbing that prevent waves from occurring in the wall cavity.

    Water Popping

    Water popping is a term used when discussing the care and refinishing of wood flooring. The grain of the wood is raised when water is added to a floor prior to the stain. The moisture opens the grain of the wood, allowing it to accept the stain and producing a richer color that's otherwise not achieved. However, too much water can be used and the water that is being used should be spread evenly across the floor's surface. A tool called a "t" bar can help you achieve an even distribution, working much like a Squeegee.


    You would be hard-pressed to find a DIYer without a can of this in their garage or tool kit. WD-40 is known as the “can with a thousand uses,” and for good reason. The lubricant displaces water and penetrates oil, making it perfect for everything from greasing hinges and removing sticker residue to loosening stubborn hardware. Created in 1953 by a chemist who wanted a product to prevent corrosion, the ingredients remain secret to this day.


    The process of weatherstripping comes up in a variety of DIY projects, particularly as individuals are getting their homes ready for winter. This is the process of sealing openings and cracks around windows and doors. This is done with metal, wood, or plastic materials that prevent air and water from coming through the openings.

    When it comes to saving money on utility bills and keeping the elements out of the house, weatherstripping is the way to go. The term applies to the process of sealing windows, doors, and other openings in the house, as well as to the actual materials used. Depending on the area that needs attention, you may find yourself purchasing weatherstripping made of felt, rubber, vinyl, metal, or other materials.

    While the method of sealing will be different for each application—adhesive backed foam sticks to window sashes and spring metal strips fit inside window tracks or around doors—it’s all in an attempt to keep the hot or cold air, rain, and wind out of the home. Weatherstripping can be easily accomplished with minimal DIY skill, and is usually done as a fall chore before the weather gets cool.

    Weep Screed

    Weep screeds are sections of trim that create a drainage edge for siding, helping prevent surfaces like stucco from accumulating moisture damage. They're usually made of metal or PVC.

    Attached along the bottom of a wall, they allow moisture to escape through regular slots or holes instead of building up behind the siding surface, where it could potentially cause problems over time.

    stucco wall under construction with metal weep screed bottom

    Weep screeds also help hold the stucco above them in place during construction, since they're mounted to the wall and feature a supportive lip. This protrusion needs to be elevated from the foundation or ground beneath it, giving any water somewhere to go as it drips out.

    If moisture can't escape from beneath stucco siding, it can gradually lead to the formation of mold and mildew, posing health hazards and potentially contributing to structural damage.

    Compare weep screeds on Amazon or source them through a construction supplier.

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    Wet Sanding

    To limit the amount of dust that usually occurs when sanding drywall joints, use the wet sanding method. Purchase a large flat drywall sponge, wet it, and wring it out. Wipe smooth any flaws on the drywall and the mud. You'll find that the wet sponge will collect some of the dust, making this project less messy than it otherwise would be. Unless you have really uneven areas, you probably won't need to use the rough side of the sponge.

    Window Casing

    Window casings can be found both on the interior and exterior of windows around the frames. Outside of the house the casings are installed as a sort of weather proofing measure to keep cold air from entering the house from the outside. Inside, window casings have a less utilitarian purpose and are simply decorative as the way moldings and baseboards may be, to give a finished appearance to the look of the window.

    Window Valence

    A window valance, sometimes called a top treatment, pelmet, or swag, is a decorative layer that hangs in front of a set of curtains or blinds. Covering just the very top of a window area, valances can be rectangular, curved, pointed, pleated, or gathered together, and might be decorated with embroidery, studs, grommets, or buttons.

    They are typically made from a fabric like silk, polyester, linen, or cotton, and suspended from a rod or decorative backboard, but they can also be crafted from hard materials, like wood or metal. They date back to the era of the renaissance, though they became more elaborate in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    When valances are connected as draped bunting, they are sometimes accompanied by jabots, which drape in front of them, covering the connections between segments of fabric.

    Valances offer an elegant way to conceal the rods and other hardware that support window drapes, and can enhance an interior design by matching or harmonizing with other fabrics in a space, creating a sense of aesthetic unity.

    Wood Boiler

    wood boiler

    Solid fuel heaters like wood boilers can warm water or air with contained fire. Essentially based on classic wood stove designs, the most basic models can emit significant amounts of smoke. Some wood boilers feature catalytic converters to control this exhaust, and the most advanced variants burn additional gasses from the wood for the most efficient possible heating.

    Any lines running to a building should be insulated for their protection, and to conserve the heat conferred by the fire.

    Wood Grain

    The simple definition of wood grain is the texture of the wood, produced by its fibers, as seen when it's cut. Trees can produce wood in multiple different grain patterns, including straight, spiral, and wavy. Identifying the direction of the grain in lumber will work in your favor when doing things like cutting and sanding the wood.

    Wood Screw

    A wood screw is used to hold two pieces of wood together and has a sharp point on the end. It has an unthreaded section just below a flat head so that it can easily slide through the first piece of board to attach the two together.

    Wood Turning Parting Tool

    A wood turning parting tool is a small chisel that's used to cut grooves into wood while it's turning on the lathe. There are other times when the parting tool is also used to remove small pieces of finished wood. Using the parting tool to "part" the end of the piece of wood is another function of this tool. By turning a small screw, the operator can get just the right adjustment in order not to go too deep into the wood.


    When it comes to plumbing, the quintessential tool is a wrench. However, the type often used for plumbing repairs is an adjustable pipe wrench, while there are more than 30 other different kinds of wrenches. The common denominator between them all is that they are used to tighten or loosen fasteners such as nuts, bolts and screws, as well as pipes. Characteristic of most wrenches are two “jaws,” either fixed or adjustable, forming a “u” shape to fit around the hardware to be rotated.

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