Top 10 DIY Terms Explained

Any DIYer knows that doing it yourself isn’t so difficult once you’ve got the tools and a little bit of guidance to complete projects. But there is one aspect of DIY that can be difficult: understanding the terms used to describe those projects. For the last 5 years, these 10 DIY terms have been some of the most popular on It’s time to master these essential terms of the trade, figure out what they mean, and learn all about them so they never confuse you again.

Sandpaper Grit Numbers

Someone sands the side of a house.

When you go shopping for sandpaper, it's easy to get confused. There are multiple types of sandpaper available that are categorized by various numbers. These numbers represent the grit type of the sandpaper. The wide range of numbers runs from 24 to more than 2,000.

What sandpaper number you should choose depends on the type of project you're doing. Smaller grit numbers, up to 100, are good for removing paint and varnish. You can also use this sandpaper for removing rust on metal or smoothing down wood. Higher numbers that range from 100 to 180 are best used for removing scratches and smoothing down pieces prior to finishing them.

If you're doing hand sanding, however, look for grit numbers ranging from 180 to 320. You can use this type of sandpaper for removing grain fibers and scuffing up finishes to make additional finish coats easier to apply. For most common household DIY projects, grit numbers from 60 to 220 will suffice.


Epoxy on a white background.

Epoxy is a type of adhesive that's required for lots of different DIY projects. Epoxy typically comes in two main types: one component or two component blends. One component epoxy adheres to a variety of materials and is exceptionally strong. These types of epoxies must be cured with heat to be fully effective, but they cure very quickly with only a moderate amount of heat. Two-component epoxies are slightly more difficult to work with, but they're extremely stable and create a very secure bond.

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.

PEX Pipe

A PEX pipe.

PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, is a type of plumbing pipe made out of flexible, plastic material. This pipe is extremely popular in DIY and home repair. It is 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.


A man uses a yellow hacksaw.

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.

Incandescent Bulbs

Light bulbs on a white surface.

Incandescent bulbs are, by far, the most common type of light bulb and the most recognizable. These bulbs provide light through the heating of the filament, a thin strand that you can see running vertically through the center of the bulb. Incandescent bulbs come in a huge range of sizes and voltages. These bulbs have been in existence for more than a century, and they were the original form of electric lighting. Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the incandescent light bulb in 1879.

Despite their wide range and high availability, incandescent bulbs are the least energy-efficient light bulbs available. However, they're also extremely affordable and produce soft white light that many find preferable to bulbs that produce brighter light, such as fluorescent bulbs. Newer incandescent light bulbs are offered in a halogen variety that is more energy-efficient than conventional, or standard, incandescent bulbs.

Oil Paint

A variety of colors of paint cans.

Oil paint is used most often in artwork, not so much in DIY projects. This is because oil paint is extremely slow-drying, and over time it changes color and begins to look dull as it is exposed to air and age. Oil paint is great for art projects because the different colors blend together beautifully to capture every possible hue and create slight variations in shading. When diluted with turpentine or similar thinning agents, oil paint dries more quickly. It's also very versatile. Oil paint can be used to add color to canvas, wood, paper, or even metal.



Oriented strand board, otherwise known as OSB, is often compared to plywood. It's the most-used type of wood for sheathing and subflooring material, and it has become even more popular than plywood in recent years for various DIY and home improvement tasks. OSB is typically more affordable than plywood.

However, the two types of wood are not identical or interchangeable. Plywood retains its strength when wet, unlike OSB which can sag when exposed to moisture, and plywood dries out more quickly. Plywood also retains its shape when it dries, while OSB tends to degrade and swell in moisture. OSB is made up of scraps of other types of wood, and can look and behave in inconsistent ways as a result.


A bradrawl on a white background.

It sounds like a strange name or a type of accent, but a bradawl is actually a useful DIY tool. Shaped like a small screwdriver, bradawls are used to make small holes in wood just before screws are inserted. You've probably seen bradawls before and dismissed them as small screwdrivers. The "blade" of the bradrawl is slightly different — it's shorter than most screwdrivers and ends with a sharp point used for boring.

Bearing Walls

A basement with walls.

Load-bearing walls, also known as bearing walls, can make or break any DIY project. Load-bearing walls do exactly what they sound like: bear the load. Bearing walls are an essential construction element that bear the weight of the roof or the floor above it. You can't always tell a load-bearing wall simply by looking at it, which makes tearing down walls for any DIY project a pretty dangerous business. Tear down a load-bearing wall, and you could weaken your entire structure. If you're not sure whether or not your wall is load-bearing, the wisest course of action is to consult a professional. Running into a load-bearing wall does not necessarily stop a DIY project. There are ways to install beams to shift the load, but again this is something you need to do under the guidance of a pro.

Shadowbox Fence

A shadowbox fence.

Shadowbox fences are a specific type of privacy fence. They're 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.

Explaining DIY Terms

If you find yourself confused by specific DIY terms, find out what they mean. Understanding industry terms makes it much easier to complete the projects you envision, and it will help you find exactly the right tools and materials for every job. Learn the right DIY terms and what they mean, and you’ll end up learning lots more about DIY.