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What is Steel Detailing?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Steel detailing is the process of creating blueprints for structural steel design and construction. These drawings may show framing for homes, commercial buildings, or even outdoor structures like bridges. Typically, steel detailing is done by drafters or detailers, but it can also be completed by engineers and architects. Some detailing may also be completed by steel fabricators or erectors.

Many projects require steel detailing professionals to create two complete sets of plans. The first set is designed for steel fabricators, and instructs these workers on how to make each piece of steel required for the project. The second set is designed for the steel erectors. This set explains how the steel should be assembled or erected. Structural steel drawings may also include specification manuals and other supplementary texts or instructions.

The steel detailing process starts when structural engineers or architects design a new project. These professionals consult local building codes and plan how to best structure the building for safety, cost, and performance. The engineer then passes this information to the drafter or detailer so drawings can be completed. The drawings must be reviewed by the designer or local authorities before they can be distributed for fabrication and erection.

The requirements for steel detailing can vary by project and location. These drawings usually show the size of each steel component as well as the layout and interactions between each piece. They include quantities for each type of steel as well as information or welding and connectors. Finally, the drawings cover materials and finishes, as well as fire-proofing requirements.

Early steel detailing work was done by hand, using paper and pencils. Since the late 20th-century, the majority of detailing professionals have switched from manual drafting to computer-aided design (CAD). CAD software allows for quick and easy detailing and simple revisions, and work can be completed must faster than it can by hand. Advanced CAD programs also allow for 3-D modeling, which gives all project team members a clear picture of the design and erection process.

People interested in a career in steel detailing should study mathematics, science, engineering and drafting. Few colleges and universities offer specializations in drafting and detailing, but some technical schools may offer certificate programs and training. Work in architecture, engineering, and construction can also help with steel detailing. Those who plan to pursue a career in this field may find work with engineering firms, steel fabricators, or architectural design firms.

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