What is an Ironworker?

Also known as: Reinforcing Ironworker, Structural Ironworker, Structural Steel Erector, Structural Iron and Steel Worker, Iron Worker.

Structural iron and steel workers install iron or steel beams, girders, and columns to form buildings, bridges, and other structures. 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 elements in 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 a tall structure, such as a skyscraper, ironworkers will arrange the steel frames, 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, and 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.

How to become 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.

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