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Do You Know the Quirky British Term for These 15 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.

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wrenchesAfrica 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). And to keep your wrenches (or spanners) safely and tidily stowed when not in use, why not build this wrench organizer.

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Family Handyman

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. Choosing the right cleaner for your brushes is important, so read our handy guide before you get started and protect your brushes from damage.

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blue painters 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. But whatever you call it, knowing how to use it properly when painting is essential, so check out our guide.

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drywall Studiovin/Shutterstock


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. Follow our instructions if you want to know how to hang drywall like a pro!

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cinder or cement 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. If you have a cinder block basement wall, here’s how to finish it.

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caulk around tubKuchina/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. Here are our handy hints for recaulking a shower or bathtub.

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putty pastevandame/Shutterstock


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. If you want to know how to repair a glazed window, follow our step-by-step instructions.

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steel 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.

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pipe 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. These 16 weird tools and their use might surprise you.

The pipe wrench is ideal for working with metal pipes and you can use an internal pipe wrench for those hard-to-reach places.

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door measurements tape measure

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. You might think using a tape measure is elementary, but it’s worth your time to check out our guide to tape measure best practices.

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spackle knife or a spatulamihalic/Shutterstock


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. And here’s how you use one when you tape drywall.

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nail puller cat's paw hammerasadykov/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. And here’s how to use one to remove stuck nails.

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upholstery hammer Steve 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. Follow our advice when you’re shopping for the best hammer for the job.

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box cutter or utility 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. Here is one of the many home improvement ways to use one of these handy knives.

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allen wrenchsbko/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.

And speaking of drills, take a look these other must-have drill attachments.