The Names of Carpentry Tools

Updated February 21, 2017

While it’s easy to envision the desired end result of a carpentry project, it’s often difficult to know which tools will most efficiently perform the work. Many carpentry tools have names that simply reflect their function, while the names of other tools are ancient, obscure or downright confusing. There are carpentry tools to perform every imaginable woodworking task, tools that shave away a board’s surface, reduce its length or width, tools that measure and tools that mark. Learn the names of carpentry tools and fill your tool box with the right tools for your woodworking project.

Spirit Level

The carpenter’s spirit level has small, liquid-filled vials at the end and centre of its wood, plastic or metal body. Gravity forces an air bubble within the vial upward and, when aligned with marks engraved on the vial’s surface, the bubble’s location indicates the tool’s position in relation to the earth’s horizon, a characteristic referred to as levelness. The body of the tool looks like a rectangular bar and its length varies according to application—short levels work in tight spaces, while long levels gauge the levelness of broad surfaces.


The two sides of the L-shaped square, a carpentry layout tool, meet at a precise 90 degree angle. Placed on top of boards, the tool facilitates the marking of right angles for accurate cutting. Pressed against adjacent walls, the tool gauges whether the two surfaces are crooked or meet at a right angle. One side of the square’s L is short and thin, usually 1 and 1/2 inches wide by 16 inches long, and the other side is wide and long, usually 2 inches wide by 24 inches long.

Tape Measure

The modern tape measure appears as a roughly palm-sized, rounded box. The box contains a coiled metal strip marked with increments of measurement, such as centimetres or inches. A spring mechanism holds the tape in place and forces it to retract when pulled out. At the end of the tape measure, a metal clip called a tang, allows the tool’s user to pull and attach the tape to stationary objects, such as the edge of a board.

Hand Saw

While hand saws vary according to use, their distinguishing features remain the same; all have metal blades with one sharp-toothed cutting edge and all have handles with which the tool’s operator pushes and pulls the blade across material. The standard hand saw, called a crosscut saw, looks roughly like a trapezoid attached at one end to a wooden, metal or plastic handle. Variations of the standard saw include the bow saw--a blade suspended between the open sides of C shaped, metal frame--and the back saw--a saw specifically designed for clean, accurate cuts, such as those required for moulding and trim.

Circular Saw

While the hand saw uses muscle power to achieve its cuts, the circular saw uses an electric motor. This common carpentry tool rapidly spins a circular blade. The blade’s circumference is surrounded with sharpened teeth that chip away and shear through wood surfaces. Circular saws make cuts across both a board’s width and length.

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About the Author

Based in Hawaii, Shane Grey began writing professionally in 2004. He draws on his construction experience to write instructional home and garden articles. In addition to freelance work, Grey has held a position as an in-house copywriter for an online retailer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Humboldt State University.