English-Mexican Spanish Illustrated Glossary
of Building Terms -- Materials and Techniques
This page is under construction.  Last update 6 July 2005

This glossary was put together with the help of my friends in the building trades here in Lerdo, Durango; thus it reflects common usage in north-central Mexico.  Terminology may be different in other parts of the country.  If you know words that should be included or if you find errors or know of regional differences, I'd sure like to hear from you.  E-mail me at Rollybrook@hotmail.com 

Building Tools


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A.  common nail = clavo
B.  spiral nail = clavo de

C.  masonry nail = clavo
      de concreto

D.  tack = tachuela

screw = tornillo 
expansion screw = tornillo
     de tabique

A.  flat head = plano
B.  square head = cuadro
C.  Philips = pilips, de
molly (not shown) = molly
tabique, torníqueta
Screws may also be called chilillos or pijas

bolt = tornillo
nut, plain = tuerca
cap nut = 
wing nut = tuerca de

washers = guasas, rondana
A.   guasa plana
B.   guasa presión
C. & D.  guasa de seguro

A.  water heater = boiler
B.  water pump = bomba
C.  gas tank = tanque de
     gas, cilindro de gas

pipes = tubos 
A large roof-mounted gas tank = tanque de gas

floor tile = vitropiso
wall tile = azulejo
roof tile = teja
thin set = pasta, cemento
grout = pasta para

duct = ducto

air register = rajillo 

Polystyrene blocks used in roof and upper floor construction = casetón

Light-weight polystyrene wall panel = falso plafón
Being covered with (indoor) stucco = pasta
Look here for product information: 


The apprentice workers ayudantes are carrying bricks ladrillos to the work area.  Concrete blocks are called bloque de concreto.


Adobe (right) is little used today.

 A mason albañil is usually addressed as  maestro.  On the left Maestro Manolo is assembling the rebar frames esqueletos (or castillos) for the concrete columns columnas (or castillos) and beams viguetas (or vigas de concreto or dalas).  
He is positioning metal collars anillos (or estribos) around pieces of rebar varilla  which have been cut to the required length. 

Upper right:  He is forming a collar anillo (or estribo) from piece of wire rod alambron using a piece of pipe tubo and a jig guía which he has made.

Lower right:  He is using a hook tool A.  gancho to twist a piece of wire B. alambre to hold the collar C.  anillo (or estribo) in place.

Rebar varilla  comes in 12 meter lengths in the following diameters: 
1/8" = un octavo
3/8" = tres octavos
1/2" = media pulgada
5/8" = cinco octavos

Wire rod alambron and binding wire alambre come in large coils sold by the kilogram. 

Beams are called by various names in different parts of the country = viguetas, vigas de concreto, and dalas.  They also take on names denoting location or function.

The base beam atop the foundation = desplante

header beams = cerramiento

exposed beams =  vigas

Concrete concreto is a mixture of cement cemento, lime cal, sand arena (sometimes polvo), gravel grava and water agua.  The ratio of the five ingredients varies depending upon the application.

Concrete concreto is usually mixed by hand on the ground or in the street in front of a project.  

A cement mixer revolvedora de concreto is generally used only for pouring floors pisos and roofs tejados.

Maestro Iniz stands on scaffolding andamio as he applies exterior stucco enjarre.  Where stucco is used inside the house, it is usually called by slang term pasta.
Stucco enjarre is mixed with little or no gravel grava and a little more lime cal and less water agua  than for regular concrete

The mortar mescla used in laying bricks ladrillos uses a large amount of lime cal and no gravel grava.

Mortar mescla is often called by the slang term pasta.


Cal is known chemically as calcium hydroxide.  Other common names are builders' lime and slaked lime.  In addition to its uses in building, it is used in many industrial processes including the making of hominy and tortillas.  It is made from calcium oxide which is also sometimes called lime, but more commonly quicklime.  C. hydroxide is a fairly harmless while power (gloves are recommended, don't breath the dust), while C. oxide is a fairly dangerous crystalline rock-like material that must be handled with care (gloves are a must and eye protection).  With due care and certain adjustment to the process, quicklime can be used in place of builders' lime, but it rarely is.  The main exception is in the making of whitewash blanqueo.
Whitewash blanqueo  makes a good, inexpensive sealer and primer for preparing bricks, concrete and stucco for painting.  Sometimes it is used without a top coat of paint.  When used alone, whitewash has a limited useful life and must be re-done from time to time.  How often depends on the climate -- the more humid, the shorter its useful life.
Whitewash is made by combining lime, water, salt and a binder.  The binder commonly used in my part of Mexico is cactus paddles nopales.  The lime used can be either builders' lime or quicklime.  Quicklime has the advantage of making the nopales more efficient.  The process begins by course chopping the nopales and adding them along with salt to a barrel of water.  The lime is then added.  (Your maestro will know the correct proportions.)  Quicklime will react with the water releasing heat and a gas which should not be breathed.  The heat will help to extrude the juice from the cactus.  When the water has cooled, it is ready to be used.  When first applied, the whitewash will appear thin and weak on the wall, but as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, it will turn white and cover the wall.

The plaster contractor yesero is responsible for installing drop ceilings falso plafón and other enclosures (also called falsos plafones)  to hide plumbing tubería or ducts ductos.  These are made with hollow square steel tubing canaleta which supports a heavy iron mesh tela to which plaster yeso is applied.  Note that the drop ceiling falso plafón is attached to the walls pareds and not hung from above as is commonly done in the USA.

water tank = tanque de agua
roof mounted = tinaco
in the ground (cistern) = aljibe
on top of the ground and sometimes in the house = pila
Both the aljibe and pila are typically made with bricks and stucco.  Some-times a plastic tank (pictured) is used in which case it is often called a tinaco no matter where it is located.
In some areas a water tank is called a cistrerna no matter where it is located or how it is made.

air conditioner = acondicionor de aire

evaporative cooler = aire lavado

refrigeration AC = refrigeración

Electrical, plumbing and more coming soon.

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