Sweating a Joint? Space Balls? Home Improvement Terms for DIYers

Sweating a Joint? Space Balls? Home Improvement Terms for DIYers

All home improvement DIYers have an arsenal of gadgets and tricks in their toolkit for whatever comes their way. But how many of us are actually up on the lingo that comes with these types of projects?

Believe it or not, having a robust vocabulary of construction terms will pay off in the long run.

“Before you start a DIY project, take time to learn any terms and processes that are related to your project,” says Bailey Carson, home care expert at Angi. “This will help you understand the full complexity and scope of the project, which can help you decide whether or not you can complete the project on your own.”

Being familiar with construction terms will also help you communicate better with any contractors you end up hiring for larger home improvement projects.

We’ve all heard of “blueprint” and “HVAC,” but we invite you to test yourself on the following odd-sounding renovation terms.

1. Birdsmouth

“If you’re encountering a birdsmouth cut, this is an extremely advanced project you’ve gotten yourself into,” says David Steckel, a home expert with Thumbtack.

When building a roof, a birdsmouth cut is a type of cut made into a wooden beam or rafter. Making this cut in the bottom of a rafter allows the beam to rest solidly on the wall’s top plate.

“It looks like a bird’s open beak, hence the name,” says Steckel.

2. Chalk line

A chalk line is a thick piece of string run through chalk that is used to create a line to make a long cut.

It is stretched taut over a surface and snapped down onto that surface, leaving “chalk residue for you to use as your guide to make a cut,” says Steckel.

3. Flux

Used in soldering copper joints together, flux is a paste that removes oxide film from the surface of the metals being soldered. Flux allows the solder to flow more freely around the joint.

Flux costs about $5 for an 8-ounce jar and can be found at your local hardware store.

4. PEX

PEX is the common abbreviation for cross-linked polyethylene, a common material used in residential pipes.

“PEX has become a standard option for residential plumbing alongside the more traditional copper pipes,” says Steckel.

Plumbers like PEX piping due to its “flexibility, length, and connection system that does not require soldering. PEX also flexes a bit, so it is slightly less likely to burst due to a light freeze,” says Steckel.

5. Ripping a board

Ripping a board is the process of cutting wood parallel to the grain.

“You can do this with a variety of saw options, but there are some risks to the process, so be sure you’re comfortable with the tools and the process before trying it on your own,” says Carson.

6. Space balls

Space balls
Space balls


No, we’re not talking about the Mel Brooks film from the 1980s!

Space balls are rubber balls found in cabinet doors to help eliminate rattling and splitting in the panels. They expand and contract with the wood during the seasons.

7. Speed square

Speed square tool
Speed square tool


Fun fact: A speed square is actually a triangular measuring tool. Its shape helps the user easily find and mark angles and lines.

8. Sweating a joint

Sweating (or soldering) a joint is the process of joining two or more pieces of copper pipe together. Sweating a joint is commonly used in plumbing to mend a crack or fault or to seal a new joint.

“This is a more advanced and potentially dangerous process that is usually best left to the pros,” says Carson.

9. Tack cloth

A tack cloth is a specialty rag designed to pick up loose dust and debris before painting or staining a surface. Tack cloths are made from sheets of cheesecloth or gauze that are treated with a tacky material.

10. Teflon tape

teflon tape
Teflon tape

(Shell Lumber and Hardware)

Teflon tape is used around the ends of a pipe to prevent leaking and create a watertight seal.

But don’t let the “tape” part fool you. Chris Sikes, owner of Handyman Connection of Wilmington in North Carolina, says this tape won’t stick or hold anything together.

Teflon tape has its limits and should not be used to fix cracked or damaged pipes, Carson says.

“When in doubt, call in a local plumber for their expertise,” he advises.

11. Torpedo level

torpedo level
Torpedo level


A torpedo level is a leveling tool that is commonly used in small, cramped spaces—usually to make sure a picture frame or pipe is perfectly straight.

“You can identify a torpedo level by its distinguished tapered edges,” says Carson.

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