The annual STUD U, a program that commences just before the METALCON trade show opens each year, began Saturday, Sept. 30., in Tampa. Assembled in various conference rooms within the convention center, the Steel Framing Alliance’s Marybeth Ruzzito and Nadir Elhajj welcomed the class of 31 individuals who came to learn more about cold-formed steel. Some from as far as Brazil to New Zealand to Fiji hadn’t worked with metal framing and came to understand more about the system and its functions. The SFA (who help produce the event each year) was there to introduce or help brush up the various attendees’ knowledge and skills of working with steel framing. As STUD U’s official publication sponsor,Walls & Ceilingswas given access to document the program.

The program is divided into two levels: STUD U 101 and 201, respectively. The former, called “Exploration of Cold-Formed Steel,” is a session devoted to those newcomers who are not familiar with the properties and techniques of using steel framing. Its curriculum includes common uses, field application, nomenclature, building codes and green attributes. Additionally, a review of the tools (from hand tools to various fasteners to protective gear) used with cold-formed steel construction was reviewed. The course is intended for those that have little construction experience.

The 201 course, called “Refining Your Construction Techniques Using Cold-Formed Steel,” is a more advanced program designed for professionals with construction and steel experience. It is designed to help builders, carpenters and various tradesmen, keep up with the latest in products and steel framing building techniques. Many people in the course were framing carpenters, wall and ceiling subcontractors, as well as roofing contractors, making the transition from wood to metal framing in their respective businesses. This course helped hone their skills to a greater level.

Day one: introduction time

The first day of STUD U was an overview of the agenda. After introductions from Ruzzito and Elhajj were made, we began reviewing what the program was about and how we would be building a home in two days.

One point Rizzuto wanted to make was that the association no longer uses the phrase “light gauge” but prefers “cold formed.” In addition, they emphasized that “gauge” is now referred to as “mil.”

Discussing the benefits of steel, Rizzuto outlined how it is the most versatile material to recycle. Annually, steelmakers recycle approximately 500 million tons of steel throughout the world. It takes at least 60 percent less energy to produce steel from scrap than it does iron ore. As a non-combustible material, it is dimensionally stable in any climate and will not rot.

The SFA team then reviewed the tools that most metal framers use and what we would be using to build the home on the trade show floor. Generally speaking, the tools needed are collated screw guns, tin snips, fasteners and drives, chop saws and clamps (“9-DR”). An expensive investment but excellent tool also is the plasma cutter, which allows clean cuts for heavier gauge steel. The instructors do not advise hole punches, as they’ve seen how these can complicate jobs. In regards to fasteners, the SFA emphasized how there needs to be a minimum of three threads showing through both pieces of steel.

After classroom time, the METALCON staff welcomed us with an evening BBQ. This was a great opportunity for the fellow students to be introduced to everyone over a casual setting and excellent food.

Day two: the build begins

Because of demand and the increased number of participants, the class was divided into groups of three and split between classroom and build time. Ten students would build for a third of the day while the other students were in class. Instructors Feazall and brother Tim, of Premium Steel Building Systems, in Roanoke, Va., began with the basics of assembling the steel studs. A briefing of lay off and in-line framing were shown to the class. In addition, the instructors reviewed how the code allowed a 3/4-inch offset of the center line from the load bearing members.

Beginning with the back outside wall of the home, the studs were laid out ready to assemble. A good point the instructors showed the class was to make sure the direction of the studs were lined up for wiring and plumbing, otherwise the holes would be staggered making it not desirable for the specialty trades to work with. Collated screw guns were given to the students, each taking turns assembling the studs to one another. Since many of the students had not worked with metal framing or the tool, they were holding the guns as one would hold a drill. The instructors stressed that the gun should be “like an extension of your hand,” meaning parallel to the arm. This is an ergonomic tip for the installer, who would suffer from extreme fatigue in the hand if holding the gun the wrong way.

One thing the instructors made sure of was that everyone got a chance to be involved.

“The students with more experience will want to continue working the whole time while those with less experience may feel sidelined,” says Danny Feazall.

After three hours, the next group of students came and went through the introduction process of assembling the studs and practicing some tool time. Then again the rotation of the next group until all were introduced and got to work with the materials. By the end of the day, all of the outside walls were erected and set in place.

Before we left, Feazall called the whole class up for a review of the next day’s build and to introduce them to a system they would be installing. The Premium Wall Panel System is a double steel frame with modified EPS bonded and sandwiched between steel frames for a panel that is structural and thermally broken. The idea behind this product is that it turns four steps into one when the panels are all set: structural framing, insulation, sheathing and a vapor barrier. Interior and exterior finishes can be applied directly to the panel.

Day three: continue build and wrap up

Again rotating the students, the first set arrived early to begin working on fitting the trusses. All the measurements were reviewed again and the team began handing up the pre-fabricated pieces one at a time. Working from one end to the other, Feazall operated a cherry picker, maneuvering each piece into place. Once in place, students on both sides of the home fastened them in, with the next truss already on its way up.

The next and final stage of the project was putting in the interior walls. As the crew began assembling each room, STUD U donor Gary Nelson Jr., of Trakloc Southeast, was helping the students with headers, a difficult process within framing. His company’s product (Trakloc) allows the stud to lock into the track by its twist-and-lock feature. Additionally, the system has a telescopic stud which allows for varying wall heights (helping to minimize cutting). It is to be used on non-load bearing walls only and is an innovative system.

I served as a photographer for the project, along with Lisa Beally of Aerosmith Fastening. The company’s fasteners were installed on the home and Aerosmith’s VersaPIN Fastening System nailers were donated to each of the students. Each hour showed the house as a whole coming together rapidly. As a testament to metal framing, one of the obvious benefits of using the system is how quickly it can be installed.

By the end of the day, the home was complete and ready for its new owner.

Marek with the STUD U gang.

Day four: donation time

Everyone feel silent as the National Anthem blared throughout the whole of the Tampa Bay Convention Center. Typically, a trade show doesn’t introduce its floor hours with such a dramatic flair, however there was good reason for our anthem to be playing. The University of Tampa U.S. Army ROTC honor guard were in attendance for the dedication of U.S. Army’s SSG Paul Russell “Russ” Marek’s new steel-framed home. In the heart of the convention’s exhibition floor stood the proud homeowner with his parents and relatives. On the dedication platform was also the STUD U graduates, instructors and organizers.

The Homes for Our Troops program, ran by founder John Gonsalves and director of projects Kirt Rebello, is a non-profit organization that builds new or adapts existing structures for injured military personnel. This is the organization that teams with METALCON each year to present a disabled veteran with a steel-framed home.

For the graduates, the experience was both educational and personally rewarding.

“I really enjoyed learning prescriptive method. A lot was focused on wind loads but hopefully next time there is more talk on seismic-I’m from California and earthquakes are our thing,” says Oscar Taracena, structural engineer and project manager for the Taracena Group in California.

Taracena was so impressed with the event, his company will be donating ADA compliant equipment to a project for a veteran in the Los Angeles area.

After the trade show ended, several graduates and volunteers stuck around to disassemble the home and took great care to label all the components numerically for easy installation when the contractors in Melbourne, Fla., reconstructed it.

Marek served his country proudly and unfortunately was badly injured through a series of events. The cost of what he endured cannot be measured. Because of this atrocity, a community of men and women, contractors and associations, manufacturers and distributors, came together to help him adjust, to make his life that much easier for what he has experienced. Marek knows this and without doubt will think of these people as he enjoys his new castle.

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Sidebar: movers and shakers:

Many manufacturers, associations and companies donated materials and equipment, as well as time, for the steel structure and STUD U program. The following is a list of those companies:
  • Aegis Metal Framing LLC
  • Aerosmith Fastening Systems
  • American Iron and Steel Institute
  • Dietrich Industries Inc.
  • ET&F Fastening Systems Inc.
  • Fast Arch of Florida Inc.
  • Flex-Ability Concepts
  • Grabber Construction Products
  • Integrity Gasket
  • Irwin Industrial Tools
  • METALCON International
  • Metwood Building Solutions Inc.
  • Mid-Atlantic Steel Framing Alliance
  • Premium Steel Building Systems Inc.
  • Quik Drive, Simpson Strong-Tie Comp.
  • Simpson Strong-Tie
  • Steel-Con Trusses, Steel Construction Systems
  • Steel Framing Alliance
  • Steel Stud Manufacturers Association
  • Structeavent LLC, subsidiary of Metal-Era Inc.
  • Trakloc Southeast
  • Walls & Ceilings magazine