Glossary of Terms

Butt Joint

A butt joint is typified by two pieces of wood meeting at right angles where it is most often glued. While appearing to be tight, the joint is not as strong as many others and is not used extensively on fine furniture.


This joint connects two pieces of wood. One piece has a flared head while the adjoining piece has a flared cut. The resulting joint is very strong. Look for dovetails as signs of good quality and long lasting durability, particularly on drawers.


A dowel is used to reinforce a simple joint. A hole is drilled in both adjoining pieces of wood. A small dowel is inserted in the first piece and glued. After drying the piece are fitted together with the dowel slipping into the second hole. The dowels reinforce the joint and prevent twisting.


This process is used to smooth the surface of wood. Instead of a large mechanical planer and sander, the wood is shaved off using a hand-plane. The result is a gently undulating surface that is especially pleasing to the touch.

Hard Finish

A number of different types of finishes including, varnish, polyurethane, and catalyzed lacquer belong to this classification. These finishes are generally impervious to water and alcohol. Once this finish is scratched, the only remedy is to disguise the scratch with wax or have a professional “spot lacquer” it. A beautiful gloss can be achieved with a lacquer finish.


This joint is often used to connect perpendicular pieces of wood. The tenon is a rectangular projection on the end of one piece. The tenon slides into the mortise, a corresponding hole in the adjoining piece. Look for the mortise-and-tenon joinery on table and chair bases.

Natural Finish

A number of different types of finishes belong to this classification. Most often the finish is the result of many applications of oil, such as boiled linseed, which soaks into the wood. A natural finish is often completed with a coat of paste wax. Natural finishes are resistant to water and alcohol spill. Scratches can easily be erased by applying paste wax with “0000” steel wool. Natural finishes achieve a beautiful patina over time.


Wood is an organic material and thus changes properties over time. Most often we notice the change in color. Natural cherry changes from a blondish pink to a russet red; mahogany from orange to red-brown; maple from white yellow to a buttery gold.


A rabbet is a slot or groove in a piece of wood into which slides another piece of wood. An example is a good quality drawer. Often the interior sides are rabbetted at the bottom allowing the bottom of drawer to slide into place.


A variety of different types of stains are used to change the natural color of the wood. When used well, stains highlight the best aspects of a piece of wood. Often, however, staining has become a way of disguising lower quality graining or use of many small adjoining boards.


Veneering is the process of applying a thin piece of wood that will serve as the visible surface, to another based piece of wood. This is done to showcase the surface wood, often a rare exotic species, or to provide stability where a single solid piece of wood might warp.