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The meanings of common decorating terms and expressions

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Here is a list of common words and expressions used in the decoating and building trade. We have provided definitions here of these terms just in case any of them are new or unfamiliar to you. Let us know if you think we are missing any.

Acrylic Eggshell

What is Acrylic Eggshell?

Acrylic Eggshell is a tough water based silk finish paint, mostly used on walls in schools or bathrooms and kitchens where a higher performance is needed. Quite washable. Can be used on woodwork if solvent fumes are to be avoided, but not as tough as regular oil-based eggshell.


What is Anaglypta?

Anaglypta is embossed lining paper to be painted over.


What is Architrave?

Architrave is a lining or trim fixed to the wood-to-plaster join at a window or door (has a different meaning in classical Greek architecture).


What is Bargeboard?

Bargeboard is the plank (sometimes ornamental) on the two sloping roof edges of a gable end.

Casement Window

What is Casement Window?

Casement Window is a hinged (usually at the side) window.

Cherry Picker

What is Cherry Picker?

Cherry Picker is a powered cage on a telescopic arm. Can be good for access for short periods (otherwise very expensive).


What is Chipboard?

Chipboard is a coarse board (sheet) often thin melamine (plastic) covered, e.g. on kitchen units; appears like a huge muesli bar – sawdust glued together. The edges cannot be planed, special screws are needed, and it cannot be screwed in repeatedly. Easily damaged by water, only the green moisture resistant version should be used on floors.


What is Coping (stones)?

Coping (stones) are stone or concrete slabs laid on top of a wall or parapet to keep the wall dry. A damp-proof course is needed under the coping as concrete is not completely waterproof.


What is Cornice?

Cornice is, inside a building, the moulding between the wall and ceiling. Outside a building it is the moulding between a projection and the wall or at the edge of a feature e.g. balcony.


What is Coving?

Coving is a simple concave cornice.


What is Crossline?

Cover in plain smooth paper under wallpaper to give an absorbent surface that the wallpaper will adhere to well, and will not be able to shrink. Usually hung horizontally so the seams do not coincide with the wallpaper and self-strip.

Cut in

What is Cut in?

The action in painting of producing a clean, neat line at the edge of a painted item or surface, or at a change of colour. It is usually better done by a skilled painter, just with the brush, rather than by masking with tape – which often permits paint ‘creep’ beyond the line.

Dado Rail

What is Dado Rail?

The usually wood or plaster trim at about waist height running around a room, forming a separate panel below it.

Dado Panel

What is Dado Panel?

The panel created below a dado rail.

Damp Course

What is Damp Course – Damp Proof Course – DPC?

A completely impervious layer of metal, slate, plastic or bitumen impregnated felt, usually between layers of brick about 6” (150mm) up from the ground or under a coping to stop water penetration.

Dry Rot

What is Dry Rot?

A decay of timber caused by a sophisticated fungus that requires water, but can transport it through ‘threadlike’ tubes from a wet source to dry wood several feet away. Its eradication is a matter of urgency as it spreads behind plaster and contaminates all nearby timber.


What is Elastomeric?

Rubbery or rubber-like. Technically, that can return to its original size after being stretched and is a waterproof rubberlike membrane.

Expanded Metal Lathing

What is Expanded Metal Lathing (EML)?

A metal mesh fixed to studs or over a gap in brickwork as a base for plastering or rendering.

Fascia Board

What is Fascia Board?

a) The plank a gutter is fixed to. b) Name board of a shop over the window.


What is Filler?

A sticky, creamy paste used to fill holes. It can usually be rubbed down (sanded) and is applied with a spatula or knife.


What is Flashing?

Lead, metal, plastic or felt band or strip that covers the join between a wall or other vertical feature and a roof surface.

Flexible Filler

What is Flexible Filler (caulk)?

A partly flexible (when dry) filler than cannot be sanded and so is suitable for internal angle cracks but not flat surfaces.

Gable End

What is Gable End?

On outside of a building, a wall ending in a vertical upended triangle with roof slopes on each top edge.


What is Jamb?

The wooden vertical frame a door hangs on. Laths: Thin wooden slats used as a base for plastering on partition walls (fixed to the studs).


What is Line?

Cover in a plain, usually smooth paper. With modern paints no longer necessary except where hairline cracks are anticipated. For lining under wallpaper see ‘crossline’.

Lining Paper

What is Lining Paper?

The paper used in lining and cross lining.

Make Good

What is Make Good?

A rather vague term that means to bring back to an acceptable standard or as it should be but tempered by circumstances.


What is Masonry?

Exterior render or stonework.


What is Mastic?

A much more flexible filler than cannot be sanded. Suitable for internal angle cracks where much movement is expected.


What is MDF?

edium density fibreboard. A very smooth-faced composite board (sheet) that can be planed and sanded on the edges and where a screw can be screwed in several times in the same hole. Normally cardboard-coloured, the green version is moisture resistant to the extent that it can take a very occasional splashing; the brown cannot.


What is Metalwork?

Metal that is fixed to the inside or outside of a building e.g. metal drainpipes, radiators etc.

Mist Coat

What is Mist Coat?

A slightly watered down first coat of emulsion applied only to new plaster which ‘wet’and cut through any dry powder and adhere to the solid plaster. Used instead of and as a sealer.


What is Moulding (or Moulds)?

A continuing decorative projection or indentation to add character or as a decorative feature. Usually refers to running mouldings which have a constant unvarying cross section. ‘Enriched’, ‘Embellished’, or ‘Ornamental’ mouldings may have varying details along their length, such as blocks, flowers, bunches of grapes etc.

Party Wall

What is Party Wall?

A shared wall between two properties – what separates you from your neighbours!


What is Plaster?

A ground mineral mixed with water in to a mud and applied thinly with a trowel (what some mistakenly call a float). It covers walls and ceilings and produces a very smooth, flat surface but cracks with any movement and may not adhere easily.


What is Plywood?

A board (sheet) made of several or many layers of wood glued together. Can be much more moisture resistant than MDF so suitable for bath panels or exteriors providing it is protected.


What is Prime?

A first paint coat designed to seal and adhere.


What is Rail?

Horizontal frame members of a panelled door or window. Any horizontal wooden detail.


What is Render?

A mixture of sand and cement and/or lime. Similar to plaster but used on exteriors or as an undercoat on interior party or external walls under a special smooth plaster. It can be made waterproof with additives.


What is Return?

A (short) surface at right angles to the main surface.


What is Reveal?

The small return visible between the front face of a wall and an inset door or window.


What is Riser?

The vertical panel that joins one step to the next (not always present).

Rub Down

What is Rub Down?

Sand smooth with sand paper.


What is Sash?

The frame that holds a pane of glass.


What is Scaffold?

A system of steel poles locked together to give access. Can have netting or Monoflex (solid reinforced sheeting).


What is Sill (or cill)?

The wooden bottom rail of the whole wooden window assembly or an inserted wooden member under a metal window.


What is Skirting?

The trim at the bottom of a wall, closing the wall-to-floor joint. In the USA called a baseboard.

Sliding Sash Window

What is Sliding Sash Window?

A window where the frames that hold the glass slide up and down.


What is Soaker?

A special flashing that goes under rather than over the roof tiles, slates or covering.


What is Soffit?

The under surface of any feature e.g. stair arch or beam. Can include the ceiling (under surface of the next floor.


What is Spalled?

A decay of soft (especially soft red) bricks caused by soaking and freezing which breaks down the brick fabric.


What is Spandrel?

Any triangular wall surface e.g. under the outer stringer of stairs.

Spot Prime

What is Spot Prime?

Locally prime (not whole surface).

Stabilising Primer

What is Stabilising Primer?

A penetrating primer for use on bare or painted render (outside) that is still powdery to the hand despite washing down.


What is Stile?

Outer vertical frame members of a panelled door or window.

String Course

What is String Course?

A projecting band on a building, often joining window sills.


What is Stringer?

The ‘skirting’ on a stair that the treads and risers are cut into (wall or closed stringer) or fixed to at the outer edge (outer or cut stringer).


What is Stucco?

Render on outside of old buildings, usually painted.


What is Stud?

Vertical members in a framed partition, usually wood or metal.


What is Subsill (or subcill)?

A masonry sill further beneath the wooden sill.


What is Tower?

An aluminium scaffold suitable in tall spaces inside (not usually on stairs) or for 2 storey access outside, but only straight up and down.


What is Transome?

The top of a door frame (sometimes called a transome light or borrowed light panel or fanlight if so shaped).


What is Tread?

The horizontal part of a step one stands on.


What is Trim?

A piece (usually wood) used to neatly finish or edge something e.g. at a door frame or skirting.

Wet Rot

What is Wet Rot?

A decay of timber that requires a continual local source of wet wood.

White filler

What is White filler?

Interior quality filler (see filler). Not to be used outside, whatever the manufacturer says. (Exception: Toupret make one genuine cement based filler for repair of nouldings which is white.) ‘White filler’ use outside is a sackable offence in Bulger Wicks. It absorbs water and leads to rot. The temptation to some to use it is that it is easy to use and sand.


What is Woodwork?

The timber or wooden items in a room or on the inside or outside of a building. This includes wooden doors, frames, windows, skirting or wooden roof trims.

NOTE: The definitions given in this glossary give the meanings of words as used in the current building industry. There may be other meanings in other contexts.

Degrees of Shininess in Paint Finishes


Very shiny – used on woodwork.


Flat, not shiny – a ‘dull’ finish for walls and ceilings.


Half shiny – for woodwork.


The Dulux name for a woodwork paint between silk and gloss.


A slight sheen finished paint between gloss and matt for ceiling and walls.

Eggshell (a finish not a colour):

Similar to silk in appearance but used to describe paint for woodwork or a tougher, harder wearing version of silk.

Soft Sheen:

Dulux name for a finish between silk and matt for ceiling and walls.

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