Steel Studs vs. Wood Studs for Wall Framing

Steel beams at construction site

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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. They're durable, but only as long as you keep them perfectly dry. Steel studs take care of many of these concerns. But, are they right for your home? Should you tackle using steel if you're doing it yourself? The following briefing on steel studs can help you decide.

Steel Stud Basics

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.

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Standard Sizes of Steel Studs

Local big-box retailers will usually stock the steel studs in dimensions matching 2x4 wood studs and in lengths ranging from 8 feet to 12 feet. Standard steel studs available at home centers use 25-gauge steel. Here's more sizing information:

  • Standard sizes range from 2 1/2 inches to 14 inches.
  • Flanges (the side sections) range from 1 3/8 inch to 3 inches.
  • Studs come with knockouts in place for electrical cables.
  • Knockouts range from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch diameter.
Steel Studs
  • Predictable quality

  • Does not bow or warp

  • Will not rot

  • Difficult to cut

  • Hard to find

Wood Studs
  • Standard sizes

  • Found in every home center and lumber yard

  • Inexpensive

  • Easy to cut

  • Can rot, especially around the bottom of walls

pros and cons of steel studs illustration

Illustration: The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

Pros and Cons of Using Steel Studs

All factors considered, most do-it-yourselfers will find that there is little advantage to using metal studs over traditional wood studs. For first-timers, using steel studs requires a learning curve that makes installation a little slower than with wood studs, plus 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.

Tip

Steel studs that are in contact with a conditioned area on one face (such as a heated basement) and a cold outdoor area on the other face (masonry foundation walls), will allow considerably more heat loss than do wood studs. This is because metal is a much better thermal conductor. Avoid this by constructing walls with a thermal break or gap. 

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: It's more difficult to cut steel studs than it is to cut lumber. Steel requires a miter saw or circular saw equipped with a metal-cutting blade in conjunction with tin snips. 
  • Limited availability: Metal studs found at your local home improvement store usually only come in the most popular dimensions.
  • 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.

Warning

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.
FAQ
  • Is steel framing better than wood framing?

    It depends on what you're building, where, and your budget. Metal framing is stronger and has become 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?

    Wood can support more weight. Unlike steel studs, you can use wooden studs for load-bearing walls, new cabinets, doorways, and frames. Its biggest fault is it is 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 they're hollow. Choose from three fastener types for the job: a toggle bolt, self-drilling toggle anchor, or snap toggle.