Glossary of Terms

Baluster – Everyone has seen a baluster before. You might not have known that it was a baluster you were seeing. But rest assured that you’ve seen one. In fact they usually come in groups – they don’t travel alone. A baluster is one in a series of vertical posts that support a handrail or bannister. Look at any staircase, and you’re likely to see a baluster. Whether you call it a post or a spindle or a stair stick or a shaft, these vertical members (collectively forming a balustrade) are often decorative Balusters can be made of any of a variety of materials, depending on the theme of design. They can be made of wood, cast iron, stone, plaster, or metal. The design and shape of balusters can vary greatly, from a classic vase shape to a simple post. The term “baluster shaft” is also used to describe candlesticks, chandelier stems, furniture legs, or any upright support.

Casement  – A casement window is one of the two main types of operating windows you’ll find. The casement is the window sash that swings open along its entire length. It’s usually on hinges fixed to the sides of the opening the window is fitted to. Casement windows are often identified by the crank used to operate the window. Turn the crank, window opens outward.

Casing – Casing in the broadest sense of the word refers to any outer covering. In the world of home design and construction, casing – is the frame or framework of a window or a door. Anyone building a house can tell you that doors and windows can be a big expense. Well-built casing allows those doors and windows to perform and operate correctly. Sometimes a casing doesn’t even need a door or window to go inside. This would be called a cased-opening


Cremone: A cremone, or cremone bolt, is a piece of hardware you might find on a pair of swinging windows, a casement window, or French doors. It is a locking device that secures the panels in a locked position. Although they certainly serve a valuable function, they are mainly decorative.

A knob or lever handle is usually connected by a rack and pinion gear to a pair of half-round rods, or "surface bolts," which move over the outer surface of the door or window and extend into sockets at the head and sill of the opening. This mechanism moves the two vertical rods simultaneously; one rod extends up into the door head, and the other extends down into the door sill.

In other words, when you turn the knob, a bolt goes up and a bolt goes down. These bolts lock into the top and bottom of the door frame. And it's locked.

Dimensional Lumber:  When you think about the planks of wood that are used for building, you usually would have dimensional lumber in mind.  The studs which are used for framing are typically 2X4 or 2X6 and the carpenters cut them to the lengths that are needed to properly frame a wall.  Joists and rafters usually use dimensional lumber sized 2X8, 2X10 or 2X12.  These are used for the structural framing of the ceilings and floors of a building.

Double-Hung Window- a double-hung window is one of two main types of operable windows you’ll generally find. A double-hung window has two sashes, an upper and a lower sash, that slide vertically past one another in a single casement. One of the more traditional styles of windows, the double-hung window typically sets the lower sash in front of the upper sash. Each sash can be a solid pane of glass or may be divided into separate lights by built-in muntins. Some have a snap-in, removable grid of muntins to create the illusion of separate lights.

Versatility is the key feature of the double-hung window. The lower sash can slide up to create ventilation from the bottom of the window. Plus the upper sash can down to create ventilation from above. Often the sashes can tilt inward to facilitate cleaning. When not in use, the locking mechanism pulls the sashes together for a more efficient weather protection. Despite this, the double-hung window cannot match the tightness of the casement window. A double-hung window must maintain a degree of looseness in order to operate. Read lots more about all window types here  in my longer articles that tell you everything you ever wanted to know about windows. It will help you make the best choices of windows for your house.

Footing Drain    footing drain (often mistakenly called a French drain) is a perforated pipe set in porous fill (clean gravel) that is placed at the level of the footing all the way around the building.  Illustration and further description here.

Jamb- Think of a doorway. The two vertical pieces (of wood) on either side of the opening are the door jambs. It’s as if this jamb was jammed between the door and the wall. Other places you can find a jamb: window frame, fireplace.

Joist-Joists are pieces of dimensional lumber that are laid horizontally to become the structural framing for a floor or ceiling.  The photo below shows carpenters using dimensional lumber for studs, and joists.  They also used an I-joist for the some of the framing.  It needed to be strong enough to span the length of the building.

An I-joist is a joist made from engineered lumber.  Wooden particles and strips are bonded together in a resin and formed into the size of joist that is needed.  They are stronger and can be made longer than joists using dimensional lumber.  I-joists are more resistant to shrinkage and make better use of lumber resources.

LED Light – LED light is not the light above your Led Zeppelin poster. That is a black light. LED stands for “light emitting diode.” An LED light bulb is the next generation light bulb. It has a lifespan and electrical efficiency that is many times better than incandescent lamps, and significantly better than fluorescent lamps. LED light was initially branded with some shortcomings (like unnatural colors, a constant flicker, and a much higher cost). The light was cold and bluish. But in a few short years, the technology has been refined, primarily led by Cree and Philips, and in many ways the versatility of the light has surpassed older technologies. The initial cost of the lights is a little more. But the tremendous efficiency (a small fraction of the power consumption of incandescent lights) and long life (30,000+ hours!) easily make the investment worthwhile. They generate way less heat. 

Newel or Newel Post – a newel, or newel post, the post at the bottom of a flight of stairs that supports the handrail. It’s usually larger and more detailed than the other posts (balusters) that make up the handrail support system. The newel post is the handrail starts when you’re heading up the stairs – or it’s where the handrail ends if you’re coming down. The overall style of a newel post can emphasize the overall architectural style of the house. Or it demonstrate an interest or occupation of the homeowner. Or it can just look like the right way to anchor the staircase. In the case of a spiral staircase, the center pole that the stairs wrap around is also called the newel.

Ogee – Ogee, pronounced like saying the letters O.G., refers to a shape seen often in architecture and woodworking. An ogee shape is a curved shape that resembles an “s” shape (on its side). It has two opposing curves that make up its length. The shape often seen on molding (crowned or otherwise) and baseboard caps is ogee. Also gothic archways utilize the ogee pattern – ogee up one side and mirrored down the other makes an ogee archway. Identifying a shape as ogee, instead of calling it curved or “s” shaped is an easy way to distinguish yourself from the normal layperson.

Soffit, Exterior and Interior – simply put, a soffit (exterior) is the space or ceiling between the side of the building and the overhang of the roof. It’s the visible part of the underside of the roof. In architecture terms, the soffit is the exposed underside of any number of things – an archway, a flight of stairs, or the underside of a ceiling to fill the space above the kitchen cabinets.

Stop – As the name implies, a stop is where the door or window stops closing. It is the moulding or trim on the inside face of a door or window frame against which the door or window closes.

Strike – ‘Strike’ is a word that can be used in many different ways and situations. In the language of construction and architecture, a strike is the hole in a doorjamb that the lock’s bolt or latch goes into. Also called the strike plate, it’s the metal piece that’s set in the doorway with a recessed spot to receive the bolt when you lock the door. Other definition of ‘strike’ – if I quit working in the middle of writing thi….

Threshold – When a groom carries his bride over the threshold, he’s bringing her symbolically into his house and starting their partnership. Literally he has carried her over a strip wood or metal fastened to the floor beneath a door. The threshold covers the joint where two different types of floor material meet. The threshold of an exterior door is also used for protection from the weather.

Wainscot – Properly pronounced “wainscoat” – Wainscot is not the jacket belonging to a guy named Wayne. But that is how it’s pronounced. It refers to any type of wall paneling put on the walls of a room. It’s usually hung from the baseboard to a midway point up the wall. It’s often made of wood in tongue-and-groove construction. There were practical reasons for the installation of wainscoting in the past. But it’s mainly a decorative feature today. Often it’s made of bead-board.