Share on Facebook

A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

15 Quirky British Terms for Common Home Improvement Items

Have you ever built a breeze block wall or used a Stillson's wrench? Check out what British DIYers call their often-used tools and materials.

1 / 15
spannerAfrica Studio/Shutterstock


The Brits call it a spanner, the Americans call it a wrench. But whichever you prefer, it’s also interchangeable with other similar tools, such as the box-end wrench (ring spanner) and the flare-nut or tube wrench (crow’s foot spanner).

Don’t miss these other common British slang terms you didn’t realize you knew.

2 / 15
mineral spiritsvia

White Spirit

When you’re done painting with oil-based paint, you’ll want to keep your brushes in top condition by cleaning them thoroughly. In the UK, you would reach for the white spirit, but in the U.S., it’s known as mineral spirits.

3 / 15
masking tapeSerenethos/Shutterstock

Masking Tape

You know that sticky tape you use to mask off areas when you’re painting to get a crisp, straight line? Well, you may know it as painter’s tape (which makes perfect sense) but the Brits call it masking tape. Here are some other British phrases everyone should know.

4 / 15


Many home improvement renovations require the use of plasterboard, but you probably know it better as drywall. This versatile material can be used on walls and ceilings. If your house has damp walls, this is likely what went wrong.

5 / 15
breeze blocksGearstd/Shutterstock

Breeze Blocks

Nope, these blocks have nothing to do with wind! You’ll know them as cinder or cement blocks, often used as a foundation or for building walls. But in the UK, they’re known as breeze blocks, although it’s not exactly clear why.

6 / 15
silicone sealantKuchina/Shutterstock

Silicone Sealant

When you’re finishing up a tile job you use caulk to seal around the tub and shower. But, if you’re British, you call it silicone sealant instead. These are some other DIY home improvement projects you can definitely do yourself.

7 / 15


Ask for glazing compound in a British home improvement store and all you’ll get is a glazed look! The British prefer the term putty to describe the paste that keeps window glass in place.

8 / 15
wire woolakkara KS/Shutterstock

Wire Wool

No DIY kit is complete without steel wool. It’s used for a multitude of home improvement purposes. Although the British name is similar, it’s not exactly the same. In the UK, steel wool is called wire wool.

9 / 15
stillson's wrenchChromakey/Shutterstock

Stillson’s Wrench

But just to confuse things, the British do have a tool they call a wrench. In the U.S., they’ve long since forgotten who invented a pipe wrench (the tool used to tighten cylindrical pipes and such). But the British like to remember these things, so they call this tool a Stillson’s wrench, after its inventor.

Here are some DIY projects you should NEVER try yourself.

10 / 15
tape measure isolated on white backgroundSeregam/Shutterstock

Steel Rule

In Britain, a tape measure or measuring tape is that floppy, plastic-coated thing you use when doing sewing projects. For DIY, you need a steel rule, which is more rigid and can be retracted easily into its case.

11 / 15


Call it a putty knife, a spackle knife, or a spatula—everyone knows the name for this tool that’s used to smooth out putty, don’t they? Well, the British are much more down-to-earth about it. In the UK, this tool is simply known as a scraper.

12 / 15
nail pullerasadykov/Shutterstock

Nail Puller

What could be more imaginative than calling a tool used for pulling nails, a cat’s paw? It conjures up a funny picture in your mind, right? But no, the Brits stick to the functional basics and call it a nail puller, which after all, is what it really is.

13 / 15
tack hammerSteve Cukrov/Shutterstock

Tack Hammer

There are large and small hammers, but when you’re looking for a light touch to pound in a few tacks or tiny nails, a tack hammer is perfect for the home improvement job. And it will do a good job on upholstery tacks as well, so the U.S. name upholstery hammer also makes sense. These home improvement fails will make you cringe.

14 / 15
stanley knifeMyImages – Micha/Shutterstock

Stanley Knife

You’ve already seen how the British like to remember who invented a tool by naming it after them, and here’s another example. Known to Americans as a box cutter or utility knife, in the UK it’s called a Stanley knife. William Stanley was a British inventor and philanthropist, and although technically a Stanley knife is a specific brand, like Hoover and Kleenex, the name is now used generally in the UK.

15 / 15
allen keyssbko/Shutterstock

Allen Keys

Yes, yet another example of how the Brits like to remember the inventor! In around 1910, William G. Allen patented his hexagonal keys and they’ve become an essential part of any DIY toolbox or flat-pack furniture kit. Of course, a hex key also describes the key’s hexagonal shape perfectly, and now you can get hex key drill bits, as well.

Don’t miss these home improvements that will double the value of your home.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman