Reading Structural Steel Drawings

Dec 22, 2021 | Structural services | 0 comments

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If you are someone involved in engineering, then there are certain skills that you need to possess. One of these skills is the ability to read structural steel drawings. This ensures accuracy and precision in any project.

As a homeowner, learning how to read structural drawings can definitely be handy.

However, if you are unsure how to read structural steel fabrication drawings, then we will give you a mini-crash course here.

Structural Steel

Before we delve into how to read structural steel fabrication drawings, we need to understand some more of the basic concepts.

Steel is the primary material used for building. It is preferred over wood or concrete because of its durability and consistency. It is also relatively easy to create other building parts using steel, because you can reshape steel into the desired final product. Keeping all of these factors in mind, you can clearly see why steel is commonly used in structural engineering and construction. You can seldom find any building without it!

Structural steel simply means steel shaped for construction. It is made from steel that is formatted at a specific cross-section.

Typical structural steel is made of carbon and iron. These two elements are responsible for the strength of structural steel. This also means that increasing them would further strengthen the material.

Structural steel comes in various different shapes. Some of the most popular are L-shape, Z-shape, structural channel, and many others.

Structural Steel Drawings

A structural steel drawing is an engineering plan that spells out how the building will be erected. Think of it like a road map, providing guidance while you go through the construction. An architectural drawing typically precedes the structural drawing. However, in some cases, the structural steel drawing is based on the architectural drawing.

Structural steel drawings shows the connections of the steel materials used in construction. This guides contractors while they pick out materials for the building. Basically, a structural steel drawing will show the position of each structural steel material used in the building.


Structural steel drawings contain several components. The first component is the structure’s elevations. This component will show the external walls of the building.

Another component is the structural plan. The structural plan will show the positioning of the floors, foundations, and roofs of the building. It could also indicate where the structural steel elements are found.

An additional, important component is the sections part of the drawing. The sections part provides clarity, identifying certain innovations that the contractor may not immediately be aware of. Thus, it covers innovative ideas such as a cut-through in the building.

How to Read Structural Steel Drawings

The structural steel drawing is commonly the result of the structural engineer and the architect working together while designing the structural steel drawing. This collaborative effort is to ensure that the intentions of the architect are achieved.

Understand The Scale

The scale is a ratio on the drawing that translates to the actual dimension of the building. Thus every unit of measurement on the drawing translates to something bigger in real life.

This same scale tells you how large or small certain components in the structure will be. Generally, most people use inches per foot in determining the dimension of the scales they use. However, its important to note this this is commonly used in small buildings.

Scales can actually vary, and they can be especially confusing for someone new to reading structural steel drawings. There could be several scales within one drawing, too, so it is important to be careful when interpreting scales correctly.

The most important step in understanding the scale is getting the scales correctly. This is usually listed in the beginning of the document. If it isn’t, then it is important to consult a structural engineer directly to avoid any confusion.

Learn the Meaning of Symbols

When reading structural steel drawings, you will encounter tons of symbols. This is due to structural engineers being comfortable and familiar with numbers and symbols. Therefore, they combine it with their drawings to demonstrate their knowledge. Furthermore, symbols save time for engineers, especially if they have to be repeated several times within the same work. For example, a symbol that stands for elevation could be used multiple times, so inserting that same symbol saves time compared with writing the full word.

Most symbols are shared across various fields of engineering. Therefore, they have preset explanations and once you become good at deciphering those symbols, you only need to learn their interpretations.

Callout Symbols

Callout symbols are a special type of symbol. Callout symbols draw your attention to other parts of the drawing. They are icons, and you’ll find them sometimes on the margins of the drawing.

When they draw your attention to specific parts of the drawing, it is to give more information regarding the construction. For instance, you can use a callout symbol to indicate where two steel materials should meet.

Circled Numbers

Circled numbers flag the information on the page in question. It merely informs you that there are further details discussed in a separate part of the drawings. The scales used in drawing are usually so small that details cannot be explained within the pages of the drawing. Hence, it makes sense for any detailed explanation to be done somewhere different. A circled number draws your attention to this.


Another aspect that is in abundance in structural steel drawings are abbreviations. Structural engineers use abbreviations much for the same reasons as using symbols.

It’s almost impossible to learn all of the abbreviations and what they mean. Therefore, you should generally consult a structural engineer for guidance.


Although this article may seem overwhelming, you need to keep in mind that these tips will help you get a chance to better understand structural steel drawings. However, if you really want to understand them to the best of your ability, then you should consult a structural engineer to explain things as best as possible.

Are you trying to read structural steel drawings? Running into trouble understanding and interpreting your structural steel drawings? Contact Sabio Engineering Services!

Contact us at (929) 381-0030 or visit our website

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