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Considering Steel Studs? A Few Things You Should Know

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Steel Studs

Steel Studs

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There was a time when the use of steel studs in residential building applications was considered very exotic. At the very least, it was limited only to professional builders or home renovators.

Now, go to any Home Depot and chances are good that you will find a stack of steel studs in the lumber section. But the very fact that steel studs are outnumbered 100-to-1 by good old-fashioned wood lumber should tell you something: It's not all as easy as it seems.

First, let's cover some of the good things about steel studs. By their very nature, metal studs are impervious to fire, termites, rot, splitting, and any other number of hazards which can befall lumber. Not only that, but steel studs can be cheaper than wood and are lighter to carry (steel studs are hollow inside).

In fact, for any DIY renovator who has dreamed of putting together a wall just like an Erector Set, steel studs seem like just the ticket.

But constructing walls with metal studs can be more of a pain than it appears at first.

  1. Cutting steel studs is more difficult than cutting lumber. You can use a chop saw or SkilSaw with a metal cutting blade, in conjunction with tin snips.
  2. The metal studs found at your local home improvement store will only come in the most popular dimensions. Unusual dimensions will need to be found at stores that cater to contractors. So, what you will find at your local Home Depot mainly are studs of the same dimension as wood 2x4's and in 25 gauge steel, ranging from 8 feet to 12 feet in length.
  3. Cutting metal studs is more hazardous than cutting wood. While many home renovators treat safety as an optional measure when cutting wood, it is certainly not optional when cutting metal. And we're not just talking about the sparks that are caused by the circular saw. Cutting metal studs by hand with tin snips is a good recipe for lacerating skin, and the sound produced by an electric saw on metal studs will produce a ringing in your ears for the next week, should you forget to wear hearing protection.
  4. Metal studs are not a "forgiving" material for the DIYer. The great thing about wood is that it is a very flexible, malleable, forgiving material. With metal, it's all or nothing.
  5. When driving a drywall screw into a wood stud, the wood practically seems to draw the screw into it. Tapping a drywall screw into a metal stud requires a bit more work and practice.
  6. You're still going to need some wood somewhere, namely when attaching electrical boxes between studs and door frames. And of course after the drywall up, you've still got the wood door trim and baseboards to deal with. So metal studs do not provide a purely nonflammable environment--they only reduce the amount of wood.

When you balance it out, I would have to say that putting up an interior wall with metal studs is just as much work as using conventional wood lumber.

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