When framing a wall, strength, quality, durability, and ease of use are chief concerns. Wood studs are strong and easy to install, but quality can sometimes be spotty. Anyone who has purchased wood two-by-fours is familiar with the process of culling out warped or bent boards. Wood studs are durable, but only as long as they are kept dry.
Steel studs appear to negate many of these concerns: waterproof, straight and true, and lightweight. But are steel studs right for your project? Should you tackle steel studs if you're doing it yourself? Learn many of the basics of steel studs vs. wood studs and how to work with them.
What Steel Studs Are
Steel studs are roll-formed, U-shaped, high-strength steel building materials mostly used with drywall. Ideal for basement, attic, and garage remodels, steel studs are embossed to create additional stiffness. Flange grooves help with drywall sheet alignment.
Not long ago, it was rare to see steel studs in residential buildings. Builders or home remodeling professionals purchased them from specialty building supply outlets. Now steel studs are found more often at home improvement centers, though wood studs remain more popular.
Watch Now: Steel Studs vs. Wood Studs for Wall Framing
Standard Sizes of Steel Studs
Home centers and local lumberyards will usually stock the steel studs in dimensions matching two-by-four wood studs and in lengths ranging from 8 feet to 14 feet. Standard steel studs available at home centers use 25-gauge steel.
- Lengths: Standard lengths include 8-foot, 10-foot, 11-foot, 12-foot, 13-foot, and 14-foot.
- Widths: Web widths include 1-5/8-inch, 2-1/2-inch, 3-1/2-inch, 3-5/8-inch, 4-inch, 5-1/2-inch, and 6-inch.
- Knockouts: Studs come with knockouts in place for electrical cables. Knockouts range from 3/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch diameter, with all knockouts requiring bushings.
Will not rot
Not bowed or warped
Difficult to cut
More difficult to find
Will rot unless pressure treated
Possibly bowed or warped
Easy to cut
Easy to find
Pros and Cons of Using Steel Studs
Straight and true
Difficult to cut
Possibility of rust
All factors considered, most do-it-yourselfers will find few compelling reasons to use metal studs over traditional wood studs. For first-timers especially, using steel studs requires a learning curve that makes installation go slower than with wood studs. Not only that but working with steel comes with additional safety hazards.
There may be locations where you still prefer to use wood as well as metal studs, such as when attaching electrical boxes between studs and door frames. You may also find it easier to attach trim moldings around doors and windows if they have been framed with wood rather than steel.
If wood rot is a concern, pressure-treated can—and should be—used when the wood is in direct contact with concrete.
Pros of Steel Studs
- Predictable: Unlike wood, which can be delivered even if the boards are warped, twisted, or bent, steel studs (unless damaged) always arrive perfectly straight.
- Durable: Metal studs are impervious to fire, termites, rot, splitting, and any other number of hazards which can affect organic-based building materials such as wood.
- Cost-effective: While never as cheap as wood, steel studs are now only about 40-percent more expensive than wood studs.
- Lightweight: Steel studs are lighter to carry and store than wood because they are hollow. Studs can nest into each other to some degree.
- Good for problem areas: Steel studs work well in bathrooms, basements, and other water-prone areas since they are impervious to moisture.
Cons of Steel Studs
- Difficult to cut: Steel studs are more difficult to cut than wood studs. Steel requires a miter saw or a circular saw equipped with a metal-cutting blade in conjunction with tin snips. Wood studs can be cut with any of those methods (except for tin snips), plus a full range of hand saws and multi-tools.
- Limited availability: Metal studs found at your local home improvement store usually come in the most popular dimensions, such as 25-3-5/8-inch width by 10 feet long (25 gauge metal).
- Limited creativity: Metal is not a forgiving material, which can be more frustrating for a DIYer than working with a flexible and malleable material such as wood.
- Drywall installation is tricky: Tapping a drywall screw into a metal stud requires more work and practice than driving a drywall screw into a wood stud (the wood helps to draw the screw into it).
- Risk of rust: Steel studs can decay from rust in areas prone to moisture. Many are galvanized to reduce rusting, but some can still completely rust at the base.
- Extra installation requirements: Each knock-out in a steel stud requires the addition of a plastic grommet or bushing to protect the electrical wire from damage.
Cutting metal studs can be more hazardous than cutting wood, though both require using power tools that can be dangerous if used improperly. Other risks involved with using metal studs include:
- Cutting metal studs by hand with tin snips may lacerate the skin.
- The sound produced by an electric saw on metal studs will damage hearing unless you wear hearing protection.
- Cut edges can be quite sharp, so make sure to wear heavy work gloves and long sleeves.
Is steel framing better than wood framing?
Whether steel framing is better than wood framing depends on the project, where it's being built, local codes, and the budget. Metal framing is stronger and is lighter in weight. While wood framing is flammable, steel is fire-resistant. Steel will not shrink, warp, split, or mold. Wood is less expensive, safer to work with, faster to install, and will never rust.
Are metal studs as strong as wood studs?
Metal studs are not as strong as wood studs. Wood can support more weight than metal studs. Wood studs can be used for load-bearing walls, new cabinets, doorways, and frames. Wood studs' biggest fault is that they are susceptible to rot and warping, which can compromise a building's integrity.
Can you hang a TV on metal studs?
It's possible to mount a TV into metal studs, but you will need some additional tools and equipment like special fasteners since steel studs are hollow. Choose from three fastener types for the job: a toggle bolt, self-drilling toggle anchor, or snap toggle. Electrical wires that feed through knock-outs in steel studs must be run through plastic grommets or bushings.