What is an Ironworker?

Structural iron and steel workers install iron or steel beams, girders, and columns to form buildings, bridges, and other structures. They are often referred to as ironworkers. They perform physically demanding and dangerous work.

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What does an Ironworker do?

Ironworkers typically do the following:

  • Unload and stack prefabricated steel so that it can be lifted easily with slings
  • Use a crane to lift steel beams, girders, and columns into place
  • Stand on beams or girders to help position steel pieces that are being lifted
  • Signal crane operators for positioning of the structural steel
  • Align beams and girders into position
  • Verify vertical and horizontal alignment of the structural steel
  • Connect columns, beams, and girders with bolts or by welding them into place
  • Use metal shears, torches, and welding equipment to cut, bend, and weld the steel.

Iron and steel are important parts of buildings, bridges, and other structures. Even though the primary metal involved in this work is steel, these workers often are known as ironworkers or erectors. When building tall structures such as a skyscraper, ironworkers erect steel frames and assemble the cranes and derricks that move structural steel, reinforcing bars, buckets of concrete, lumber, and other materials and equipment around the construction site. Once this job has been completed, workers begin to connect steel columns, beams, and girders according to blueprints and instructions from construction supervisors.

As they work, they use a variety of tools. They use rope (called a tag line) to guide the steel while it is being lifted; they use spud wrenches (long wrenches with a pointed handle) to put the steel in place; and they use driftpins or the handle of the spud wrench to line up the holes in the steel with the holes in the framework. To check the alignment, they may use plumb bobs, laser equipment, or levels.

Structural steel generally comes to the construction site ready to be put up—cut to the proper size, with holes drilled for bolts and numbered for assembly.

Some ironworkers make structural metal in fabricating shops, which are usually located away from the construction site.

What does it take to be an Ironworker?

Most ironworkers learn their trade through a three-or-four-year apprenticeship. A high school diploma is generally required to begin such an apprenticeship. High school courses in math, shop, blueprint reading, and welding are useful.

Nearly all apprenticeship programs teach both reinforcing and structural ironworking. On the job, apprentices learn to use the tools and equipment of the trade; handle, measure, cut, and lay rebar; and construct metal frameworks.

In technical training, they are taught techniques for reinforcing and installing metals, as well as basic mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid. After completing an apprenticeship program, they are considered journey workers who do tasks with less guidance.

What is the workplace of an Ironworker like?

Ironworkers perform physically demanding and dangerous work. They usually work outside in all types of weather, and some must work at great heights. As a result, workers must wear safety devices, such as harnesses, to reduce the risk of falling. Nearly all ironworkers work full time. Those who work at great heights do not work during wet, icy, or extremely windy conditions. Ironworkers have one of the highest rates of injuries of all occupations.

How much does an Ironworker earn?

The median annual wage of structural iron and steel workers was $44,540 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $26,330, and the top 10% earned more than $80,030.

The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 30% and 50% of what fully trained ironworkers make. They get pay increases as they become more skilled.

Learn more about being an Ironworker