Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Confusing woodworking terms: apron vs stretcher, batten vs cleat, groove vs dado

Recently I used the word batten and someone "corrected" me that I meant cleat. I was referring to a piece of wood attached horizontally to vertical boards for the purpose of holding them together. It got me thinking about woodworking terms and what they mean. Are cleat and batten different things or different words for the same thing? And what about other terms like apron and stretcher? Or groove vs dado? You sometimes see these words used interchangeably but woodworking like many professions has words for different things to facilitate communication. A channel cut parallel to the grain is a groove but one cut perpendicular to the grain is a dado. Saying dado is easier than saying you cut grooves perpendicular to the grain. But cut that groove on the edge and it becomes a rabbet regardless of grain direction. But what if you are cutting grooves, rabbets and dadoes in the same workpiece, can you refer to the collective as grooves?

Next one is easy, two things that look alike, act alike, are almost alike but aren't the same thing. An apron is a horizontal support piece that attaches to table legs AND tabletop, it ties three elements together. An apron opposes racking forces and secures a tabletop to the legs. A stretcher is similar except it does not attach to the top, it connects between two legs or stiles. But don't confuse it with a rail, which is a horizontal member that connects two stiles but is part of a frame! More on rails in a bit.

And at last the words that prompted this discussion, is it a batten or cleat? Some would say they are the same thing, others that they are completely different. Let's look at some examples.

A batten on a door holds the vertical boards together. A batten on a box connects opposite sides. Battens on a building straddle two pieces of siding, allowing them to expand or contract while keeping the edges down and covering the space between. A batten connects two or more things together.

A cleat on a dock keeps the boat from floating away. The cleat on a flagpole is for attaching the rope holding up the flag. A gangplank has cleats that hold the planks together but also help keep us from slipping. Sport shoes have cleats to help us keep our footing. So a cleat keeps things together but not the same way as a batten.

Things get messy quickly. A French cleat is used to hold a cabinet to the wall, makes sense with our understanding of a cleat but what about a ledger board which is a strip of wood used to support the weight of cabinets that are attached directly to the wall? Should it actually be called a cleat? Or is it an actual ledger?

Battens are horizontal pieces that hold something together like a door or a fence. No wait, that isn't right, the horizontal boards on a fence are called rails! It's the exact opposite of furniture where rails are part of panel! Argh! Shouldn't they be fence battens? What do you think?