A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Structural Steel Detailer

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Structural steel detailing is an intricate process that requires a specific set of skills and extensive knowledge. This article provides an in-depth look at the role of a structural steel detailer, the necessary training, the responsibilities involved, and the tools used in the field.

The Role of a Structural Steel Detailer

A structural steel detailer is an essential part of any construction project. They create detailed plans, drawings, and other documents necessary for the manufacture and erection of steel structures. These structures range from columns, beams, braces, trusses, stairs, handrails, joists, metal decking, and more, all used in the construction of buildings, bridges, industrial plans, and non-building structures.

Structural steel detailers work closely with architects, engineers, general contractors, and steel fabricators. They usually find employment with steel fabricators, engineering firms, or independent steel detailing companies, although some detailers opt for self-employment and subcontract primarily to steel fabricators and sometimes to general contractors and engineers.

The Necessary Training

Becoming a structural steel detailer requires a strong background in drafting and proficiency in industry software, such as AutoCAD, Tekla 3D Modeling and Detailing Software, or Revit. While completing a structural detailing certificate program from a vocational school or community college can equip you with the necessary skills, employers also consider candidates who demonstrate expertise in drafting and who have construction experience but lack formal training.

A structural steel detailer must have excellent drafting skills, an understanding of materials used in steel erection, and knowledge of industry regulations. They should also possess excellent mathematical skills, the ability to multitask, attention to detail, and strong communication skills.

The Process of Structural Steel Detailing

Structural steel detailing involves creating detailed drawings that contractors use during installation. These drawings play a crucial part in the construction process, requiring precise measurements. Structural steel detailers collaborate with other designers on the project; they examine the architect's frame designs and the engineer's safety measurements to determine the exact dimensions of each part used by the welders and installers.

Structural steel detailers work on both erection and shop drawings for different jobs, specifying the details of each component to be made by the steel fabricator and where they need to be placed by the installer.

Tools of the Trade

Traditionally, steel detailing was accomplished via manual drafting methods. However, today, manual drafting has been largely replaced by computer-aided drafting (CAD). A steel detailer using computer-aided methods creates drawings on a computer, using software specifically designed for the purpose, and printing out drawings on paper only when they are complete.

Many detailers classify those using 3-D Modeling applications specifically designed for steel detailing separately, as the process for the production of drawings using these applications is markedly different from a 2-D drafting approach. The detailer literally builds the project in 3D before producing detailed shop drawings from the model.

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Responsibilities of a Structural Steel Detailer

One of the primary responsibilities of a steel detailer is to prepare two types of drawings: erection drawings and shop drawings.

Erection drawings guide the steel erector on the construction site as to where and how to erect the fabricated steel members. These drawings usually show dimensioned plans to locate the steel members, and they often also show details with specific information and requirements, including all work that must be done in the field.

Shop drawings, also known as detail drawings, specify the exact detailing requirements for fabricating each individual member of a structure. These drawings are used by the steel fabricator to fabricate these members. Complete shop drawings show material specifications, member sizes, all required dimensions, welding, bolting, surface preparation and painting requirements, and any other information required to describe each completed member.

The detailer must comply with the requirements of the design drawings and with all industry standards and protocols, such as those established by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Welding Society (AWS).

Techniques Used by a Structural Steel Detailer

As technology advances, the techniques used by structural steel detailers have evolved. In the past, steel detailing was accomplished via manual drafting methods, using pencils, paper, and drafting tools such as a parallel bar or drafting machine, triangles, templates of circles and other useful shapes, and mathematical tables, such as tables of logarithms and other useful calculational aids.

Today, manual drafting has been largely replaced by computer-aided drafting (CAD). A steel detailer using computer-aided methods creates drawings on a computer, using software specifically designed for the purpose, and printing out drawings on paper only when they are complete.

List of Steel Detailing Software

Modern structural steel detailers use a variety of software to aid in their work. This software not only helps in creating detailed and accurate models but also aids in collaboration and communication among different members of the project team. Some of the most commonly used steel detailing software includes:

  • AutoCAD
  • Tekla Structures
  • Revit
  • Parabuild
  • SDS/2

The Importance of Communication in Steel Detailing

Communication plays a vital role in the job of a structural steel detailer. They must effectively communicate with architects, engineers, contractors, and fabricators to ensure that all the details of the project are accurately depicted in the drawings. This communication often involves writing RFIs (Requests for Information) to clarify any unclear information that could prevent the detailer from creating accurate drawings.

Career Opportunities for Structural Steel Detailers

Structural steel detailers can find employment opportunities in a variety of settings. They can work with steel fabricators, engineering firms, or independent steel detailing companies. Some detailers also choose to work as freelancers, subcontracting their services to steel fabricators, general contractors, and engineers.


Becoming a structural steel detailer requires a combination of education, experience, and expertise. However, with the right training and dedication, it can be a rewarding career that plays a crucial role in the construction industry. If you have a keen eye for detail, strong mathematical abilities, and a passion for construction, a career as a structural steel detailer could be an excellent fit for you.

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