DIY Glossary

A useful glossary of some of the words and phrases used on this website, by builders or handymen, or in the DIY Stores. This glossary of terms in constantly being updated, and if you think you have a DIY term that we should add, feel free to get in touch.


Abrasives – Materials such as sandpaper or wire wool used for rubbing down surfaces.

Acrylic – A water-based paint which can be used on internal walls and ceilings.

Adhesives – Any product used to bond materials together. You can find many different types for different materials.

Airbrick – Perforated bricks built into a wall to aid ventilation.

Airlock – Air trapped in pipework which acts as a blockage.

Alkyd – A resin used to make most modern solvent-based paints.

Ampere (Amp) – A measurement of the rate at which electricity travels through a circuit.

Anchor Bolt – A heavy-duty bolt which is set in concrete and then used to support structural elements of a building.

Apron – A sheet of zinc or lead which is set into a brickwork joint and then shaped to overlap the edge of a roof. Forms the waterproof edge.

Architrave – The moulded wood surrounding doors and windows.

Armoured Cable – Electric cable wrapped in a “skin” of steel wire to prevent it being damaged. Most often used on underground cable.

Arris – The sharp edge formed where two surfaces meet at an angle.

Auger – A flexible cable of coiled steel which can be fed along pipes to dislodge and clear blockages.


Ball Valve – Valve operated by a floating ball. Designed to open and close with the rising or lowering water in a cistern.

Baluster – The vertical posts of a stair handrail.

Balustrade – The handrail supported by Balusters.

Basin Wrench – A long handled wrench specifically designed for working in small or awkward places.

Beading – Thin wood or plastic mouldings used as decoration.

Belt Sander – A power tool that uses a “belt” of abrasive paper to remove paint or to finish wood and metal.

Bolster – Wide bladed cold chisel designed for cutting bricks or blocks.

Bond – The way in which bricks are laid so the joints do not line up. Used to give strength to a wall.

Bradawl – A small, pointed tool for making guiding holes for screws or nails. Also used to make holes in leather.

Butt joining – Joining wallpaper edge to edge, with no overlap.

Butt Joint – A joint between two pieces of wood where one piece simply “butts” onto the end of the other (as opposed to a Mitre or dovetail joint).


Capillary joints – The method used to join copper pipes by soldering.

Casement – Windows that are hinged on one vertical edge.

Ceiling joists – The horizontal wooden beams used to suspend the ceiling.

Cavity walls – Wall which have an air space in the middle to aid ventilation.

Chipboard – Board made from small softwood chips. Can be bought in several grades.

Chisel – Sharp bladed tool, used for cutting and shaping wood, brick or stone.

Circuit – The generic name for a complete pass of wiring.

Circuit Breaker – A safety device that cuts the electrical supply in the event of a fault or overload.

Compression joint – A method of joining two pipes, both copper and plastic, that does not require soldering.

Conductor – Single wire or group of wires in continuous contact with each other.

Consumer Unit – The fuse board in your house. Usually underneath the stairs or in a ground-floor cupboard. Sometimes above the front door.

Counterbore – Enlarging the opening of a hole to conceal the head of a bolt, etc.

Countersink Attachment – A fitting for a power drill. Cuts a shallow angled recess for the screw head to sit in, allowing it to be flush with the drilled material.

Cove, Coving – Shaped wood, plaster or polystyrene cornice to fit in the angle between the wall and ceiling of a room. Decorative function only.

Cross Lining – Applying lining paper horizontally to disguise the joins when the finishing wallpaper is applied.

Cylinder – Another name for a Hot Water Tank.


Dado – The bottom part of an internal wall that has a different décor to the top. Often a Dado Rail, a strip of decorative wood, divides the top and bottom sections of wall.

Damp-Proof Membrane – A layer of waterproof material used to stop moisture rising through concrete floors.

Door Furniture – The name given to anything attached to a door, e.g. handles, knockers, etc.

Dowel – A small peg of round wood used to add strength to wooden joints.

Downpipe – The plastic, steel or cast iron pipe which carries rainwater down from the guttering to a drain head or soak away.

Drip Groove – The groove that runs the length of the underside of a windowsill (outside) which stops water running back to the wall. Helps to prevent damp problems.


Eaves – The lowest overhanging edge of a sloping roof.

Elbow – A pipe fitting, used to connect two lengths of pipe at a set angle.

Emulsion (Paint) – Water-based paint for covering walls, etc. Dries with a matt finish.

Escutcheon – Metal plate used to surround or line a keyhole.


Fascia – The boards running along the bottom of the eaves. Guttering is usually attached to the fascia.

File – An abrasive metal tool used to smooth or shape wood or metal.

Flashing – Strips of zinc or lead used to seal roofing joints.

Flex – Short term for flexible wire. Generally refers to the wire connecting electrical appliances to the plug.

Flux – A paste added to solder to increase the effectiveness of joints.

Footing – Concrete foundation, upon which a buildings walls are built.

Formwork – A temporary wooden structure used to create a mould for concrete.

Fuse – A safety device designed to break in the event of an electrical overload or fault.


Galvanized – A zinc coating applied to steel to stop it rusting. Can prolong the life of a steel structure by many years.

G-Clamp – A G-shaped (hence the name) clamp used for holding wood or metal together or onto a bench.

Gloss (Paint) – Oil or solvent based paint that dries with a gloss finish.

Grout – Filler (usually white) used as a waterproof seal between ceramic tiles.


Hardboard – A type of man-made board made of wood fibres. Usually used to cover a softwood frame, but not generally used as a finishing material.

Hardcore – A mix of stones, rubble and other material used as a base for paving or concrete.

Horns – The name given to the excess wood at the top and bottom of a new door. Designed to protect the door whilst in transit. Must be removed before the door is hung.

Hot Air Gun – An electrical tool that uses a heated element to soften paint in readiness for stripping.


Inspection Chamber – Small cavity beneath a manhole cover, designed to allow access to the drainage system.

Insulation – Any material which is used to reduce the transmission of heat, cold or noise. This can range from Rockwool in your loft to Polystyrene sheets inside your stud wall.

Isolating Valve – A valve used to shut off water to a particular room or outlet, rather than having to shut off water to the whole system.


Jamb – The vertical part of a doorframe. Also see Rails.

Jig Saw – Power tool used for making curved cuts in wooden board.

Joist – A wooden or metal beam used to support a structure such as a floor, ceiling or wall.

Junction Box – Housing for cable connections in wiring circuits.


Kerf – The correct name for the cut made by any saw.

Key or Keying – Simply scratching or roughening a surface to aid the adhesion of paint, plaster, etc.

Knot – A dark circle or oval in wood showing where a branch would have originally grown. Unless treated, these can leak resin or shrink and fall out.

Knotting – A solution that is painted onto the knots in wood to stop the resin seeping through the paint finish. Must be painted on to bare wood and allowed to dry thoroughly.


Lagging – Insulation placed around pipes to stop heat loss and to protect from freezing. Various types available.

Laminate – Can mean thin wood or wood-effect flooring and the outer surface of kitchen worktops.

Lath and Plaster – Rarely used nowadays, lath and plaster is method of constructing partition walls and ceilings. Thin strips of wood (laths) are nailed to the softwood frame and plaster is applied over the top.

Liming – A process used to lighten the colour of hardwood. Modern liming involves a specialist paste or emulsion rather than the traditional Lime.

Linoleum – Man made flooring material available in a huge variety of colours and finishes. Made from natural fibres, linseed oil and resins.

Lump Hammer – A large headed hammer used for driving chisels or demolishing brickwork.


Mallet – A wooden or rubber headed hammer. Used when a metal headed hammer would damage the object being struck.

Masking – The process of covering areas with tape, etc, to keep them free of paint when painting an adjacent area.

Mastic – A waterproof sealant that does not set, allowing limited movement of the joint around which it is applied.

Matt – A dull (non-shiny) finish. Usually associated with paint.

MCB – Stands for Miniature Circuit Breaker.

MDF – Stands for Medium Density Fibreboard. Strong board made of fibres and resin. Very easy to work with and available in a wide variety of grades, but dust can be harmful if inhaled.

Mitre, Mitre Joint – An angled cut made to allow the edges of two surfaces to join at a right angle. Results in a more pleasing finish than Butt Joints.

Mortise (Mortice) – A deep slot cut into wood to insert, for example, a mortise lock.


Nail Punch – A short pointed steel tool used to drive the head of a nail below the surface of wood, etc.

Newel, Newel Post – The supporting post at the top and bottom of a staircase.

Noggin – A horizontal supporting strut, used to strengthen a stud/partition wall.

Nosing – The part of a stair tread which overhangs.