Tool Glossary

adjustable bevel square

Use this square to transfer any angle accurately.

aluminum bench level

A mechanical bench level that is extremely stable and lightweight.

aluminum file

Addresses the problem that ordinary files pose when used on soft aluminum, which is clogging. The scalloped-tooth pattern cuts cleanly and leaves a fine finish.

angle driver

A unique tool that simplifies work in corners and at awkward angles. It holds a driver bit at a 60-degree angle to the bladed. Turning the handle rotates the bit. Bits are stored in the handle.

angle grinder

A tool found mainly in metal and auto-body shops, it is useful to woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers, as well. Does well cleaning up pitted or rusted metal surfaces. Can smooth out welded seams and, when properly equipped, cut metal. Ideal at metal finishing.

angle meter

A versatile tool used to measure any angle easily, including level and plumb. Features an easy-to-read dial.

automatic center punch

Allows one-handed operation by pressing down on the tool and a spring-loaded mechanism strikes a blow. More precise than using a hammer and punch.

awl (also scratch awl)

Ideal (and necessary) for all types of precision layout work and general scribing.

back saw

Perfect for the fine, accurate cut. Includes the dovetail and tenon saw. Distinguished (from other hand saws) by a stiff length of brass or steel set over the top edge of the saw blade, providing support for the blade and preventing the blade to twist or flex.

ball peen hammer

Featuring a hardened head, it’s used for striking cold chisels and punches for general metalwork. The ball peen was originally used to mushroom rivet heads. Sizes 8 to 32 oz.

band clamp

For clamping round, oval and odd-shaped pieces. Features a nylon band and ratchet mechanism. The clamp is tightened by turning a handle. Can be adapted into a multi-angle (or corner) clamp by adding corner blocks, with the nylon band running through the blocks and final pressure added by the handle. Ideal for frames and objects with corners.

band saw

The more versatile of the curve-cutting saws, the thin blade allows work to be maneuvered easily and accurately along a winding line of cut as well as in and out of tight corners. Able to make straight cuts such as rip, crosscut and miter and possibly bevel and compound miter (with a tilting worktable). Also excellent for re-sawing boards.

bar clamps

Suited for jobs that require strong clamping pressure. Permits two-handed tightening. Available in ranging capacities. Ideal for joining boards to make wider panels.

belt sander

Reach for this tool when you want to save some elbow grease from a hand plane. Powerful and able to remove stock aggressively, this tool is fitted with a coarse abrasive belt that can grind down door edges and trim uneven frames. Comes in a range of sizes.

bench grinder

Critical for a complete workshop, a grinder can buff, clean, polish, sharpen and remove rust, among many uses.

bench level

Designed primarily for machinists, it’s a highly accurate level used for all types of precision work.

bevel-edge chisel

For use in fine cabinetry work; features a chrome-vanadium steel blade and double-hooped boxwood handle. Boxwood is considered to the be the best wood for tool handles because of strength and shock-absorbing qualities.

bevel-edge square

Useful when extreme accuracy is required to determine 90-degree angles.

bevel protractor

Read, transfer and mark angles quickly and accurately with this tool.

block plane

Designed for trimming end grain. Also used for smoothing small wood pieces and for edge-planing plywood, particleboard and plastic laminate.

bow saw

Ideal for pruning, landscaping work and sawing firewood. Tubular steel frame with blade-tensioning lever that snaps closed to form a handle.

brick mason’s hammer

Indispensable masonry tool; designed exclusively for setting and splitting bricks, masonry tile and concrete block. Forged-steel head with a square striking face opposite a flat, sharp cutting edge. Should never strike metal, including a brick set or stone chisel.

brick saw

Used in sawing bricks. Features coarse-cutting blade that cuts on both the push and pull strokes.


Similar to the vise grip but offers a wider opening. Holds objects in place while sawing or joining. Feature clamp pads that protect the surface and allow for gripping tapered pieces. Ideal for laminating or veneering.

cabinet rasp

The quickest way to remove woodworking stock is with this. Has a round and flat face.

cabinet scraper

Available in three basic shapes: rectangular, straight with concave and convex ends, and gooseneck. Works by cutting, not abrading, the wood. Excellent at smoothing wood. Sharpened by burnishers.

cabinetmaker’s screwdriver

Features a turned oval beech handle and a blade designed for wood screws. Part of the blade is flattened to handle a wrench if more torque is needed.


These two tools are designed for accurately transferring and measuring outside and inside dimensions. Invaluable to woodturners. The bowlegged caliper is used to measure outside dimensions, with the straight-legged caliper measure inside.

cam-action clamps

Light and medium duty, as well as veneering, clamping. Cork faces won’t mar delicate work. The cam works as a lever to apply varying degrees of pressure.

circular saw

A voracious tool, the portable circular saw is critical to any building or framing project because it can cut lumber quickly, with power and with accuracy.

chalk line

Useful for marking a straight line, this tool features a line that is reeled out from a chalk-filled canister, hooked at one end of the intended cut line, tensioned and snapped.

chisel plane

Excellent for removing glue and trimming work. Features a blade that extends in advance of the body, so the plane can be used to reach the farthest corner of a joint to get it clean.

claw hammer

Finish carpentry and light-duty nailing jobs. Features two sharp, beveled edges for gripping and drawing out stubborn nails.

clutch-head screwdriver

Features a distinctive bow-tie shaped head that drives screws featured in mobile homes, cars, boats, appliances and electric motors.

cold chisel

A stone-cutting tool that has an integral handle and blade made of steel. The handle is struck by a hammer to cut material. It can cut sheet metal, remove rivets, bolts, nails or cut away ceramic tiles adhered to a surface.

combination hand vise

Indispensable for holding all types of small parts securely; can be fitted on a handle or on a clamplike mechanism to secure it to a work surface.

combination square

A valuable tool, equipped with a six inch long steel rule for marking 90-degree and 45-degree angles.

compass saw

Similar to a coping saw, but more heavy duty. A thin blade set into a pistol-grip handle, it quickly cuts curves, circles and cutouts in wood, plywood and wallboard. Useful for cutting access holes when installing pipes and electrical boxes. A smaller version is the keyhole saw.

compound miter saw

A miter box and hand saw used in conjunction to make compound-angle (45 and 90-degree) miter cuts. Also can be used with a measuring accessory for cutting frames. Basically a chop saw with a tilt mechanism added to the pivoting head. Miters are set by rotating the tool’s turntable and the head is tilted for bevel cuts. A great choice for working with moldings and trim. A Sliding version has the in-and-out capability of a radial-arm saw that enables it to make most any kind of cut.

construction chisel

Designed for rough carpentry, framing and construction. Made of a single piece of hand-forged alloy steel.

coping saw

Has a narrow metal frame which supports a thin blade held in place with a hook, loop or pin on each end of the blade. Can be rotated in the frame to make intricate curved cuts. Makes a finer cut than a compass saw.

corded drill

Maybe the most popular power tool ever, the corded drill is a true jack-of-all-trades. Bore holes in a range of materials, drive screws and nuts, brush away paint and rust, sand edges and stir paint – these are just a few of the tasks this tool can accomplish.

cordless drill

All the benefits of a corded drill, but without a tether. Allows you to work on top of a ladder, on damp ground and without the tangles of a cord. The tradeoff is that a cordless may not be able to handle more rugged work or have quite the power of a corded.

corner chisel

Used for cutting clean, sharp inside corners. Perfect for the serious woodworker and tool collector.

cranked-neck rasp

Ideal for carefully shaping flat or slightly concave surfaces and is especially useful in woodcarving.

crosscut saw

Hand saw used to cut across the grain (the width of the material).

crutch-pattern screwdriver

The large, flattened-oval handle of this screwdriver allows you to deliver tremendous torque to stubborn screws, especially in tight corners.

curved-tooth file

Widely used in auto-body work and on aluminum and sheet metal, it features deeply cut, curved teeth for fast cutting and reduced clogging of soft material.

dead-blow hammer

Strikes blows without damaging the work’s surface. The tool’s hollow head is partially filled with small metal shot, which reduces rebounding.

detailing file

Basically a half-round combination file, this tool is handy for working small flats, rounds and hollows. Ends are tapered for work in confined spaces.

digital protractor

Four tools in one, featuring an anglefinder, compound cut calculator, protractor and level.

dog-leg chisel

Skewed blades are ideal for trimming joint work in furniture making and for undercutting.

double square

This unique tool is designed for checking squareness of a board’s edge after planing and jointing. Fits easily in a work apron pocket.

dovetail saw

The most important of the back saws (and one of the smallest). Almost entirely dedicated to one function: cutting dovetails, where a clean and accurate saw cut is the hallmark of fine work. Have three handle designs: closed, pistol-grip and a turned spindle-like handle.

dovetail square

Lays out and marks dovetail joints with consistent accuracy.

drill press

Extremely versatile tool for hole boring, the drill press bores a variety of holes accurately and easily. It can also sand, rout, polish, saw, shape, grind, sharpen and mortise. Used in both metalworking and woodworking.

drywall hammer

Designed for installing drywall, this hammer has a milled striking face opposite a hatchet blade. Use the hatchet blade to score the drywall to permit snapping it along the scored line of cut.

electronic level

This tool makes use of blinking lights and a beeping signal to indicate level, plumb, pre-selected and unknown angles.

English bow saw

Curves and straight lines can be cut accurately with a bow saw. The blade can be rotated 360-degrees to a convenient working position. Historically used to cut chair legs, arm and arches

firmer chisel

Designed for heavy-duty work such as timber framing. The heavy blade can keep the chisels from flexing under heavy work loads or from mallet blows. Ideal for cutting and fitting joints in hardwoods, paring and fitting.

flooring chisel (also electrician’s chisel)

All-steel tool used primarily for ripping up old wood strip flooring. Used to notch house framing for installing cable and electrical boxes.

four-in-hand file

If you only own one file, this should be it. Has both round and flat surfaces and each side of the file has a double-cut and rasp-cut end.

frame clamp

Uses corner blocks and long-threaded rods with sliding speed nuts to assemble square, rectangular and other oddly-shaped work pieces. Ideal for frames and objects with corners.

framing hammer

For use by house framers. Features an extra-long handle, ripping claw and checkerboard face that reduces glancing blows and flying nails.

fret saw

And adjustable frame can hold blades up to six inches, which allows you to use broken blades. Similar to a coping saw but with a deeper “throat” which allows it a deeper reach to cut further away from the edge of the work. Great for fine, detailed work.

graduated straightedge

Indispensable for scribing perfectly straight lines and checking the flatness of a surface.


Cuts metal quickly and smoothly. Proper amount of tension prevents flexing during the cut. The handle provides knuckle protection.

half-round file

Bastard-cut file that is double cut for fast stock removal and one face is round for working concave shapes. Classified as a machinist’s file, it’s also useful for fine trimming in wood.

hammer drill

Specially designed to both rotate the bit and apply a pulsing pressure that breaks through masonry neatly, faster and easier than a rotary-action alone. Intended for concrete and other masonry work.

hand saw (also panel saw)

The most common and recognizable of all handsaws. Has a wide, tapering blade with teeth cut along one edge and a handle riveted to the wide end. Two basic types: crosscut and rip. Most effectively used to cut large, wide or thick pieces of wood.

hand screws

Traditional woodworking clamps, hand screws feature solid maple jaws and dual handles that allow for tremendous pressure. Can be set parallel or at angles. Ideal for complex work with no parallel sides.

heavy-duty drill

Perfect for propelling large multispur bits, Forstner bits and hole saws. Necessary for tasks such as boring fist-sized holes.

hook chisel

Features a harpoon-like tip for light finishing cuts on delicate pieces and hard-to-reach areas.

insulated screwdriver

Designed for use by electricians, the blade is covered in plastic sheathing with only the tip exposed. Only a protective measure because it should never be used as protection against a flow of electricity.

jack plane

All-purpose and most useful of all bench planes. Used to smooth rough boards and flatten uneven surfaces.

Japanese panel saw

Although it looks like a standard Western hand saw, actually a Japanese tool. The unique tooth design helps reduce friction at the beginning of the cutting stroke while increasing the cutting action throughout the stroke.

joint-maker’s square

Slightly smaller than a standard miter square, this square is especially helpful for furniture builders

keyhole saw

A small saw with a short, narrow blade and a tight turning radius. Smaller than a compass saw, it can also cut light metal.

keyway rasp

A combination rasp for shaping wood.

knife file

Used by tool and die makers, it is excellent for tight, acute angles.

laser plumb bob

Improves on one of the world’s oldest tools by emitting a laser light that indicates exactly where to mark, with no guesswork involved.

log saw

Designed for crosscutting logs and large timbers, it comes with 15 sets of three teeth. The teeth are separated by deep gullets that remove sawdust quickly. Cuts on both the push and pull stroke.

long tape (fiberglass)

Measures extended distances accurately. Tape is made of tough fiberglass that resists stretching and won’t rust, kink or conduct electricity.

machinist’s vise

Designed to be bolted to a worktop. Able to swivel on it’s base. Useful for holding metal pieces and provides an anvil surface for striking metal.

magnetic bevel finder

A pocket-sized tool that is actually four tools in one: a level, protractor, square and pitch gauge. Excellent for measuring and transferring angles, as well.

magnetic-tip screwdriver

Enables you to carry one screwdriver instead of four or five by storing five bits in the handle. The shaft is fitted with a magnet that allows the bits to hold steel screws securely.

marking gauge

Used to lay out wood joint lines-of-cut. Designed for marking with the wood grain, it scribes a very fine, precise line more accurate than a pencil line.

mill file

The most common single-cut file. Used for sharpening circular saw blades, draw-filing, lathe work and anywhere else a smooth finish is required.

miter saw (also chop saw)

The power alternative to the miter box, miter saws are great for basic crosscuts for lumber and trim. Although not capable of beveled or compound-angle cuts, they are simpler to use, durable and less expensive than compound or sliding compound miter saws.

miter square

Designed exclusively for laying out and marking precise 45-degree angles. An oversized blade accommodates large workpieces.

mortise chisel

Has a straight, non-beveled edge, unlike a standard chisel. Designed to take a heavy pounding and prying.

nail-holding hammer

A magnet set into the head grips an iron or steel nail. One sharp strike starts the nail.

nail puller

Has a V-notch, which slips under the nail head and a long handle to provide extra leverage to pull up a nail.

nail sets

For use when a nail head is to be sunk below the work surface. Tips can vary: point, flat or a cup, which permits firm location on the nailhead. Cushioned grip versions can protect your hands, allowing you to concentrate on the work and not your knuckles.

narrow-belt sander

A good sander for narrow spaces and tight spots. Easy to maneuver, but doesn’t do well on wide surfaces.

needle rasps

Tiny rasps ideal for model-making or detailed carving and fitting. Come in varied shapes: rectangular, tapered, triangular, round, half-round and square. For metalwork, needle files are available.

nest of saws

Great for homeowners, this tool is actually four saws in one. The tool comes with three interchangeable blades to handle cutting jobs around the home and yard. Features a hardwood pistol-grip handle. Quick-change wingnut and bolt hold the steel blades in place.

ninety-degree corner clamp

For accurate 90-degree joints, allows for gluing and nailing while the pieces are secure. Can be screwed to a bench top.

orbital sander

Great for finishing work, the square pad can sand inside corners. Should be used with care, because swirl marks can show up when sanding dense hardwoods. Accepts sheet sandpaper.

paring chisel

The design allows you to make light finishing cuts with the blade flat on the stock, even when working in the middle of a wide board.

patternmaker’s rasp

Like regular rasps that have individual teeth for fast cutting, these tools also are staggered and smaller to give a finer finished surface in wood. Also have cut edges for working in corners.


Essentially a large nail puller and cutter, a pincer is designed for removing brads and small nails. Can pull nails like a claw hammer.

pinch dogs

Perfect for edge gluing, they pull joints tightly without the need for clamping. The dog is hammered into the butt ends of the work.

pipe clamp fixtures

Long reaching fixtures attached to a pipe, that, once positioned, are tightened by turning a handle. Only pipe length limits capacity. Ideal for joining boards to make wider panels.

plastic-tipped hammer

A steel-core hammer that features two replaceable plastic faces – one hard, one soft. The hammer can strike various materials without marring, including wood, metals, plastic and stone.

plate joiner

A tool designed to quickly and accurately cut matching slots in pieces that are to be joined with a small carbide-tipped blade.

pneumatic nailer

Framing: Perfect for frame construction. The most powerful of the air-powered fasteners, it can drive nails up to 3-1/2-inches long. Pin: Used for attaching trim, carpet strips and moldings. Finish: Useful for installing siding, flooring, door and window casing and most types of finish carpentry.

pneumatic stapler

Can drive crown-style staples up to 1/2-inch wide and two inches long. Smaller models are great for installing carpeting, roofing felt, floor underlayment and insulation.

pruning saw

Excellent for trimming trees and bushes, the curved blade folds back into the curved hardwood handle for convenience.

pry bar

Has a curved blade to fit behind molding or between two sections of an object that are to be separated. The long handle provides leverage to pry the sections apart.

quick-action clamps

A workshop favorite designed for easy operation, the lower jaw slides easily on a bar and locks securely in position under the slightest pressure.

rabbet plane

Has a wide blade which is ideal for trimming narrow dadoes and rabbets.

random-orbit sander

This tool spins like a disc sander but moves in a circular orbit, like an orbital sander. This action chews through wood grain but doesn’t leave cross-grain scratches. Can sand in any direction.

reciprocating saw

An indispensable tool for contractors and remodelers, the “recip” saw will chew through most any cutting task. Ideal for demolition tasks, such as wall removal. Can cut through wood, metal or plastics easily. Great at cutting rough openings, cutouts for plumbing and heating ducts and can even prune tree branches.

right-angle drill

Allows you to reach around a corner or into a confined space to bore holes or drive screws. Great for smaller jobs such as drilling pilot holes or driving screws inside a cabinet.

rip hammer (fiberglass, wood and solid steel)

Great for rough carpentry work, this 22-oz. hammer has a straight ripping claw. Many workers prefer fiberglass-handled tools because they are virtually unbreakable and more shock-absorbent.


Tools for shaping and smoothing details that other files can’t handle. One end is fine, the other end is coarse.

rip saw

Hand saw used to cut along the grain (the length of the material).


Portable power tool that, when fitted with one of a myriad of bits, can do such things as cutting cabinet joints (dado, rabbet, etc.), trim plastic laminate, shape decorative edges, mill moldings and carve signs and plaques.

round file

Standard file for cleaning up or enlarging holes and shaping tight internal curves. Works on metal or wood.

rubber and plastic mallets

Use these mallets to strike blows without damaging the surface. Useful for assembling furniture parts, setting dowel pins, metalwork, etc.

sabre saw

If you need the ability to follow curved or straight lines, cut metal (as well as plastic, brick, etc. with the right blade) or enclosed holes, reach for this tool. A popular tool, the unique design provides relatively-safe cutting.

scroll saw (or jigsaw)

Freehand curve-cutting machine (along with the band saw) with fine-tooth blades that can cut intricate patterns and smooth edges in thinner stock. Operates with little vibration, quick blade changes and easy-to-operate clamps. Is stationary, as opposed to a sabre saw, which is portable

sharpening stones

Blocks of natural or artificial stones that have been dressed or smoothed. Used with an oil or water lubricant to sharpen blades of woodworking tools such as chisels and planes. Most are rectangular in shape and come in many grades, from coarse to fine.

sliding bevel square (or T-bevel)

Indispensable for marking, transferring and checking angles. Helpful when marking odd angles and dovetail joints and when cutting a board to fit an existing angle.

smooth plane

Designed for general-purpose planing; often used after the jack plane for final polishing.

speed square

One of the most popular and versatile carpenter’s layout tools available, combining the best features of a framing, try and miter square with the angle finding capability of a protractor. Use for all framing layout work including wall and roof construction and stairway building.

spiral-cut chain saw file

Featuring a special spiral-cut pattern, this file cuts faster than standard, round chain saw files.

spiral-ratchet screwdriver

A spring-loaded shaft turns the driver bit, driving screws quickly and easily.

spring clamp

Ideal for holding mitered corners, each jaw has tiny teeth that grip and hold angled work pieces, irregular moldings and tough-to-clamp joints. The “paperclip” of the workshop, ideal for small work and light pressure.

square file

When needing to make a round hole square, this is the tool. The long, tapered profile makes it useful for cleaning up right-angle shapes such as slots and keyways.

square-recess screwdriver

A square-tipped tool drives square-recessed fasteners in items like recreational vehicles, boats, mobile homes, hobby equipment and furniture hardware.

squeeze clamps

Light duty clamps applied with one hand with an automatic advancing squeeze handle.

steel straightedge

Worth the price and a staple of most workshops. Etched gradations provide better accuracy. A T-Square is formed by adding a head to this tool.


The essential tool for locating wall studs. Crucial when hanging heavy objects.

super shear file

Designed for work on softer metals, iron, annealed steel, plastic and hardwood. Has an offset circular tooth that cuts both fast and smooth.

surform tools

Versatility and speed make these tools the good choice for shaping wood, body filler, fiberglass, aluminum and other soft materials. The round Surform is ideal for roughing out tight curves and shaping holes.

swan-neck mortise chisel

This unusual-looking tool is extremely helpful in smoothing out the bottom of mortises. The curved blade is used like a lever to scrape the mortise bottom flat.

tack hammer

Perfect for driving small brads and tacks. Has a magnetized head that holds the tack for one-hand starting. Goes easier on the thumb and forefinger.

tenon saw

Fine-toothed hand saw used to cut tenons and other wood joints accurately. Similar to a back saw, but shorter to offer greater control.

three-way edging clamp

Used to apply and repair moldings, decorative trim and edging. C-clamp design with a third screw that applies right angle pressure to the edge.

torpedo level

No tool box is complete without one. Back-pocket size makes it ideal for work in restricted areas.

trammel points

Allows you to scribe a large diameter circle or arc, or transfer measurements that are too great for dividers.

two-handed screwdriver

Features a unique double-grip handle that allows you to apply extra high torque. Can work in deep holes and narrow spaces

universal clamps

Designed for cabinet framework, these clamps can be secured to the edge of a work to hold two pieces together. Ideal for holding drawer supports, shelves and butt joints.

upholsterer’s hammer

The magnetic face of the hammer makes it easy to start upholstery tacks and small nails. Also called a tack hammer

vise-grip hold-down clamp

Squeezes objects together to promote bonding.

violin plane

Small plane used for precision finishing and decorative work.

warding file

Designed for shaping and trimming notches in locks and keys. Double cut on the faces and single cut on the edges. The tapered profile makes it useful in situations where an ordinary file won’t fit.

Warrington hammer

The woodworker’s choice of hammers, it has a cross-peen which enables you to start small nails and brads, then finish hammering with the opposite end.

wet saw

If the job is cutting several bricks, pavers or tiles, this tool uses water to keep the blade and brick cool as well as decrease dust and flying debris.

wood (lignostone) mallet

Use this mallet for striking wood and plastic-handled chisels and gouges, for installing dowel pins and assembling wooden parts. Have tremendous resistance to cracking.

woodworker’s vise

Indispensable for the workshop. A solid investment for a workbench. Has smooth jaws designed to not damage wood.

zigzag folding rule

Classic woodworking rule that is better for measuring longer runs.


Popular Mechanics: Encyclopedia of Tools and Techniques
by Steven Willson (Editor) and Joe Oldham
Hearst Books, October 2001

Power Tools: An Electrifying Celebration and Grounded Guide
by Sandor Nagyszalanczy
Taunton Press, November 2001

Tools: A Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia
by Garrett Wade
Simon & Schuster, September, 2001

Renovating Woman
by Allegra Bennett
Pocket Star, April 1997