How a Metal Stud Wall Is Made

Although generally more expensive than wood, steel framing systems offer several advantages over the wood kind, including structural stability, consistency in size and quality and ease of installation.

Parts of a Steel Stud

Like wood stud walls, metal stud walls consist of upright framing members joined at the top and bottom to horizontal framing members.Like wood stud walls, metal stud walls consist of upright framing members joined at the top and bottom to horizontal framing members.
Despite differences in price and other characteristics, the results of wood and metal stud wall construction are strikingly similar. However, metal stud walls have several unique components and installation procedures, particularly fastening requirements and header construction. Become familiar with the tools and techniques required to frame with metal studs and you can decide if steel framing is right for your project.

Unlike wood studs, which are solid blocks of material, steel studs consist of a relatively thin piece of metal formed into a three-sided shape. Viewed from profile, steel studs resemble the letter C. The short sides of a steel stud, called flanges, surround the longer center portion of the stud, called the web. The web of a steel stud corresponds to the face of a wood stud and the flange corresponds to a wood stud's edge. In other words, the flange takes the place of a 2 by 4 stud's 1 1/2-inch edge and the web takes the place of the 3 1/2-inch face. Adding to the resemblance of the letter C, metal studs' flanges curl inward to form a slight lip.

Common Steel Stud Sizes

To build a metal stud wall, builders use standard size metal studs. Metal studs are available in sizes that roughly correspond with standard wood studs, such as 1 5/8 by 3 1/2 inches, which corresponds to a 2 by 4 stud. Aside from the 2 by 4 metal stud, other common metal studs are a slightly larger width than their corresponding wood studs. For example, whereas a lumber 2 by 6 measures roughly 1 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches, the corresponding metal stud measures 1 5/8 inches by a full 6 inches.

Types of Metal Studs

The basic components of a metal framing system are metal studs, stud tracks, furring strips, U studs and metal headers. Stud tracks resemble metal studs, but their flanges lack a lip. Tracks form the horizontal portion of the stud wall, equivalent to a wood stud wall's top and bottom plates. Furring strips and U tracks fill several accessory roles, such as blocking and backing. Metal headers are specially designed, usually L-shaped beams that span and support loads across window and door openings.

Building Metal Stud Walls

The process of erecting metal stud walls resembles wood stud framing. Framers cut metal studs and track to length and assemble the studs and tracks into a rectangular wall unit. Unlike wood stud walls, metal stud wall components connect via sheet metal screws. Metal studs fit between the flanges of track and framers drive screws through the side of the track's flange and into the side of the stud's flange. Once assembled, framers lift the wall unit in place and screw, nail or bolt the wall unit to the structure's subfloor.

Stick Frame vs. Fabricated

The term stick framing refers to cutting and assembling both metal and wood stud walls on site; stick frame builders begin with large quantities of steel stud wall components and follow building plans to create wall units. Alternatively, steel framing materials manufacturers commonly offer prefabricated wall units built to specifications. Because of steel's durability and structural stability, it is possible to assemble and ship steel walls without great risk of damage. Prefabricated metal stud walls are lightweight and simply require lifting and anchoring to a structure's subfloor.

About the Author

Based in Hawaii, Shane Grey began writing professionally in 2004. He draws on his construction experience to write instructional home and garden articles. In addition to freelance work, Grey has held a position as an in-house copywriter for an online retailer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Humboldt State University.