Are you planning to finish your basement, renovate a room or two, or even build an addition or whole new home? If you are, you may be wondering what framing material to use, metal vs wood studs. The best way to make a decision is to compare the two and look at their differences.
Dimensional lumber is typically 50% to 70% less expensive than comparable-sized metal studs. The ease of installation depends on skill set and preference, but both are fairly easy to install. Wood studs are heavier and stronger than metal studs, and will support cabinets, shelving, and doors without extra materials. Metal studs, however, transfer less noise than wood studs and are resistant to insects and termites.
In this article, we’ll discuss what metal and wood studs are and the pros and cons of each. We’ll compare the two stud materials and explain the differences. Plus, look at whether you can mix them in a project and use steel studs for load-bearing walls. Additionally, we’ll explain how to tell if a finished wall has wood or metal studs. Our aim is to help you determine whether metal studs are better than wood studs for your project.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- Metal vs Wood Studs: Key Points
- Steel Studs
- Wood Studs
- What is the Difference Between Metal and Wood Studs?
- Can You Use Metal Studs for Load-Bearing Walls?
- Can You Mix Metal and Wood Studs?
- How to Tell What Type of Studs You Have?
- Are Metal Studs Better Than Wood Studs?
Metal vs Wood Studs: Key Points
There are two main framing materials currently used in North America, wood and metal studs. Some contractors prefer metal studs, and others prefer wood. So, if you’re hiring someone to do some remodeling or to finish your basement, or you’re a DIYer and plan to tackle the job yourself, it’s best to know the differences. The table below identifies the key differences between wood and metal studs.
|Metal Studs||Wood Studs|
|Sizes||250S162 (1-5/8”x2-1/2”), 350S162 (1-5/8”x3-1/2”), and the 550S162 (1-5/8”x5-1/2”).||2x3 (1-1/2”x2-1/2”,), 2x4 (1-1/2”x3-1/2”), and 2x6 (1-1/2”x5-1/2”).|
|Moisture Resistance||Good||Poor to better|
|Weight||350S162-25 weighs 3.2-pounds, and a 350S162-20 about 4-pounds||A 2x4x8 can weigh 2 to 5X that of an equivalent steel stud|
|Pest Resistance||Highly pest resistant||Isn’t pest resistant but can be treated to be pest resistant|
|Sound Transmission/Soundproofing||Better – STC of 35 without insulation, up to 49 with insulation||STC of 32 or 33 without insulation, up to 36 with insulation|
|Fire Resistance||45 minutes with 1/2" drywall to 60 minutes with 5/8” drywall||30 minutes with 1/2" drywall to 60 minutes with 5/8” drywall|
|Availability||Limited availability||Readily available|
|Cost||A 350S162-25 is $15.28 and a 350S162-20 is $14.75||A 2x4x8 is $3.98|
Steel studs are manufactured from strips of galvanized steel that are shaped into studs and tracks or channels by cold rolling machines. They are known as cold-formed steel (CFS) studs. Metal studs commonly have a C, I, or H-shaped cross-sectional view, and fit into a U-shaped track or channel. They are made of different gauge steel; the lower the gauge, the thicker and stronger the stud.
The gauge of steel is the thickness of the base metal of the stud and is often expressed in ‘Mils’, which are 1/1000 of an inch. The gauge of the metal determines whether the stud can be used for load or non-load-bearing wall construction.
A stud with a gauge of 25 (18Mils), 22 (27 Mils), or 20 (33Mils) is commonly used for non-load-bearing construction. However, 20 gauge is also the minimum thickness for a load-bearing stud. Many contractors prefer to use 20-gauge studs for both load and non-load-bearing construction to reduce suppliers and minimize the risk of a mix-up on a job site.
Steel studs have 3 main parts: the web, flange, and lip. The web determines the depth of the stud, its use, and wall thickness. Common web sizes are 1-5/8”, 2-1/2”, 3-1/2”, 3-5/8”, 4”, 5-1/2”, 6”, 8”, 10”, 12”, 14”, and 16” widths.
The flanges are the faces that drywall or other finishing material fastens to and are typically 1-1/4”, 1-3/8”, 1-5/8”, 2”, 2-1/2”, 3”, and 3-1/2” wide. The lip is the bend of metal at the end of each flange and helps to stiffen the stud and are usually 1/2″ or 3/4” wide. Different manufacturers may fabricate some or all of these sizes, plus other sizes.
The web and flanges are often identified in 1/100 of an inch, so a metal ‘2×4’ stud would be the 350S162-25. The 350 identifies the web as being 3.50”, the ‘S’ identifies it as a stud, and the 162 means the flanges are 1.62” or 1-5/8” wide.
The ‘25’ specifies the gauge of metal used to fabricate the stud. The web of the stud is also commonly punched for electrical, plumbing, and other services, plus for mounting horizontal stiffeners.
Common metal stud sizes mimic the actual measurements of common wood studs, as well as other sizes available. The 250S is 1-5/8”x2-1/2” which is close to the actual size of a 2×3 (1-1/2”x2-1/2”), and a 350S is 1-5/8”x3-1/2” which is similar to a 2x4s dimensions. The actual size of a 2×6 is 1-1/2”x5-1/2” and a 550S is 1-5/8”x5-1/2”.
- Easy to install
- Lighter than wood
- Easy to transport or carry
- Resistant to insects and termites
- Won’t rot, split, warp, bow, or twist
- Mold, mildew, and moisture resistant
- Acoustically decoupling so decreases sound transfer
- Better resistance to natural disasters
- Easy to cut with tin snips
- Steel doesn’t burn
- Sharp edges
- Availability issue
- Fasteners are more expensive
- Moisture can cause fasteners to fail
- More expensive than wood equivalent
- Less energy efficient due to thermal bridging
- Conducts heat and can lose strength during fire
- Needs reinforcing if hanging cabinets, shelves, or other heavy items
- Wiring and PEX need protection from sharp edges
- Not environmentally friendly or biodegradable
- Interferes with wireless signals
Wood studs have evolved over centuries of use to the standard dimensional lumber we know today. Wood studs are nominally 2×3, 2×4, and 2×6, but have actual measurements of 1-1/2”x2-1/2”, 1-1/2”x3-1/2”, and 1-1/2”x5-1/2” respectively.
The nominal sizes reflect the rough-cut origins of the studs prior to being planed and sanded into our modern wood studs. Other dimensional lumber sizes are 2×8 (1-1/2”x7-1/4”), 2×10 (1-1/2”x9-1/4”), and 2×12 (1-1/2”x11-1/4”). They are sometimes used for wall studs, but more commonly are headers, joists, and rafters.
Wood stud lengths typically range from 8 to 16 feet, although longer and shorter lengths are available. Some manufacturers offer ‘stud’ lengths of 92-5/8” and 104-5/8” too. The ‘stud’ length reduces the number of cuts and allows for the addition of a bottom and double top plate to form an 8-foot (97-1/4”) wall.
Pre-cut studs of 104-5/8” are used to form 9-foot wall heights. Other pre-cut lengths, such as 93” and 92-1/4”, are available in different regions
Wood studs are commonly sorted into structural and appearance grades with the structural grades and wood species identifying their strengths and uses. Most building codes require #2 or better structural grades for load and non-load-bearing wall construction.
The moisture content of wood studs affects their weight and straightness. Studs are available with treatments to reduce moisture damage and increase fire protection. It should also be noted, interior non-load-bearing walls in some regions do not require a double top plate but check with your local Building Department first.
- Common sizes
- Readily available
- Renewable and reusable
- Easy cut, install and finish
- Fasteners easy to find and use
- Stronger than metal stud equivalents
- Environmentally friendly and sustainable
- Easy to maintain and repair design flexibility
- Will support cabinets, shelves, and other heavy items.
- Dampness can cause mold, mildew, and rot
- Expansion and contraction due to moisture
- Waste due to cuts and wood quality
- Not insect and termite resistant
- Can split, twist, bow, and warp
- More difficult to soundproof
- Heavier than steel studs
- May be some VOCs
What is the Difference Between Metal and Wood Studs?
When framing interior or exterior walls, some prefer to use traditional wood studs, and others have a preference for steel studs. Much depends on experiences, but also on durability, stability, strengths, ease of installation, availability, and other factors. Let’s take a look at different factors that can affect the choice between wood or metal studs.
Like anything, adherence to proper building practices, care, and maintenance affect durability. Wood studs used for framing have lasted centuries, so durability is proven. They have withstood hurricanes and earthquakes, as have steel stud framed structures.
Metal studs are resistant to insect and termite damage, while wood studs aren’t. Plus, steel studs are straight unless damaged, while wood can warp, twist, bow, or split. Both are durable, but wood has a long history to reflect upon.
Proper framing with walls braced and interlocking increases the stability of any construction. Both wood and steel should also have intermediate horizontal blocking between each stud pair. Wood is heavier and more rigid than steel studs, which are arguably seen as more flimsy, especially lighter gauge studs used for non-load-bearing walls.
The addition of sheathing improves stability and rigidity. However, screws fastening sheathing to metal studs should be centered on the flange face for best results. Screws into a wood stud, though, can be within the center 1” of the stud’s nailing face.
Wood studs are available in various widths and lengths, as are steel studs. However, #2 grade or better wood studs are acceptable for load and non-load-bearing walls, while steel studs for load-bearing purposes must be 20 gauge or thicker. Nominal 2×3, 2×4, and 2×6 wood studs are actually 1-1/2”x2-1/2”, 1-1/2”x3-1/2”, and 1-1/2”x5-1/2” respectively.
Comparable steel studs are the 250S162 (1-5/8”x2-1/2”), 350S162 (1-5/8”x3-1/2”), and the 550S162 (1-5/8”x5-1/2”). Other sizes of wood and steel are available, but these are the most common. Wood is easily cut with a hand or power saw, and steel studs can be cut with tin snips or a power metal saw.
Wood absorbs and releases moisture and is thus susceptible to mold and mildew, so wood used in damp locations should have moisture protection. Moisture can cause wood to swell, twist, split, bow, or warp, and screws to pop. Metal studs are commonly made of galvanized steel, so more resistant to moisture.
Unfortunately, any cuts or screws into the stud expose the base metal, which can result in corrosion. Corrosion around the screws can cause them to corrode too or enlarge the hole minimizing their grip. As to which is better for use in damp basements or bathrooms, consider blue wood or pressure-treated lumber. They are more moisture and rot-resistant than untreated wood studs or galvanized steel studs.
Wood studs are stronger than metal studs as they are solid and not hollow. Wood studs of #2 grade or better can be used for both load and non-load-bearing construction. Different gauges of metal studs can be used for load-bearing walls and lighter gauges only for non-load-bearing purposes.
Many contractors prefer to use only load-bearing metal studs on a job site to prevent confusion and mistakes. Wood studs can easily support shelves and cabinets, but common metal studs can’t. However, there are special metal studs available for mounting TVs, cabinets, and shelves, but they may be difficult to find.
Wood studs are solid while metal studs are hollow, making them lighter. An 8-foot non-load-bearing 350S162-25 metal stud weighs about 3.2-pounds and a 350S162-20 around 4-pounds. The wood species and amount of moisture in an 8-foot 2×4 wood stud affect its weight, as does whether it’s kiln or air-dried.
The weight of a kiln-dried stud is commonly between 11 and 15-pounds. Wood studs that have been air dried and stored inside can weigh as little as 8 to 10-pounds.
The ease of installation typically depends on skill set, tool chest depth, familiarity, and experience. A typical DIYer is familiar with a hammer, saw, drill, nails, and screws – all tools necessary for wood construction. Wood studs tend to be easier for a DIYer due to familiarity and availability of materials.
Metal stud framing requires a few different tools, such as a hammer drill, metal cut-off saw or quality tin snips, clamps, screw gun, and self-tapping metal screws. Cut-resistant safety work gloves or a box of bandaids are also recommended when working with metal studs. Installation difficulty is similar to wood, but may be a bit of a learning curve. Metal studs flex when driving screws to connect studs to the top and bottom channels.
Additional tools for framing either type of wall are a chalk line, plumb bob, and level. If fastening into concrete floors, ceilings, or walls, predrill holes and drive TAPCON screws in, or use masonry nails and a nail gun. A roll of moisture barrier or membrane is also necessary when installing in some locations.
The greatest difference when building a wood vs metal stud wall is when fastening drywall or another panel finish to it. Wood is much more solid, so driving screws or nails into it is easier. Metal stud flanges tend to flex, so require more patience when driving fasteners. It is also easier to drive in the center of the flange than the outer edge, especially when attaching abutting panels.
Metal studs are made of inorganic material, so they are pest resistant. Wood is an organic material and thus susceptible to insects and termites. However, there are preservatives that can be applied to the wood, or studs can be purchased pretreated to improve pest resistance.
The fire rating of a wall assembly typically refers to how many minutes or hours it takes fire and heat to pass through under specific conditions and materials. Different scenarios and materials have been tested and results used in various building codes and publications. Interior or partition walls must have an equal fire rating from either side, however, if only one side is finished then the weakest side is evaluated for fire resistance.
Wood stud walls are identified as load-bearing for fire rating purposes. The moisture content of the wood affects the fire resistance, plus the use of fire-retardant-treated studs further improves the fire rating.
Red-treated or fire-retardant studs commonly have a higher moisture rating than untreated studs. Wood tends to char, which slows the burn rate and maintains the grip of fasteners, thus slowing its collapse rate, making it better than comparable steel stud walls.
Metal studs are identified as more fire resistant than wood as it doesn’t burn like wood. However, metal transmits heat better than wood, which can allow fire to move through walls more quickly. Plus, the thin metal has a tendency to fail under the combined heat of a fire and the weight of drywall. So, while metal doesn’t burn, it will collapse sooner than wood stud assemblies.
A metal stud framework with 1/2″ drywall on both sides has an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) fire rating of 45-minutes. Increasing the drywall thickness on both sides to 5/8” also increases the fire rating to 1 hour.
A 2×4 wood stud wall with 1/2” drywall has a fire rating of 30-minutes, and one with 5/8” drywall on both sides has a fire rating of 1 hour. The addition of insulation can improve the fire rating of both, as can additional layerings of drywall.
Metal studs are better at decoupling wall surfaces than wood, so they decrease sound transmission better than wood. A 2×4 wood stud wall with drywall on both sides has an STC (Sound Transmission Coefficient) of 32.
The addition of insulation between stud cavities can improve that to 34 or 36 depending on the type of insulation. A similar metal stud wall has an STC of 35 or 36 without insulation and an STC of 45 to 49 with insulation.
Most home improvement stores and building supply stores carry 2×3, 2×4, and 2×6 lumber in various lengths and grades. Plus, they commonly carry other dimensional lumber too. The availability of metal studs is more limited to steel suppliers or select building suppliers. However, many other home improvement suppliers do carry non-load-bearing 350S162-25 studs, with some offering to special order other sizes and
The cost of metal studs is more expensive than wood studs of similar dimensions. During the pandemic, wood prices soared and a wood stud was about 50% less expensive. However, with the lightening of pandemic restrictions wood prices have dropped.
A quick canvass of prices in my 3 local building supply stores gives an average cost for a 2x4x8 of $3.98. While a 350S162-25 is $15.28 and a 350S162-20 is $14.75.
Can You Use Metal Studs for Load-Bearing Walls?
Metal studs can be used for load-bearing walls but need to be of heavier gauge steel than non-load-bearing studs. The studs and tracks must have a tensile strength of 33 KSI (Kilo-pounds per Square Inch), 50 KSI, or greater. The metal thickness needs to be 20 gauge or 33 Mil (33/1000”) to 10 gauge or 118 Mil. Adherence to the structural requirements of steel frame construction in the building code also has to be followed.
Can You Mix Metal and Wood Studs?
There are many situations where a structure may include both metal stud walls and wood framed walls, which is totally acceptable. The wall segments may be either load or non-load-bearing, but the materials aren’t mixed, they are independent of each other. The use of both wood and metal together in the same wall segment, though, isn’t recommended.
Using metal tracks for the top and bottom plates for wood studs, with or without metal studs intermixed, can cause structural issues, especially in load-bearing walls. Metal studs and tracks are 1/8” wider than the actual dimensions of 2x4s.
Wood expands and contracts with temperature and humidity levels. This can cause further dimensional and structural issues and screws to pop. Plus, the moisture absorption and evaporation from the wood inside the stud chambers can cause the metal to deteriorate around screw holes and cuts. The deterioration can cause fasteners to fail and other issues.
Metal is much flimsier and lighter than wood. Expecting the 3/4″ to 1” flange of the metal track to secure and hold wood studs is asking for problems. It should also be noted that steel tracks are more expensive than the combined 2×4 top and bottom plates. So, use wood plates with wood studs and metal tracks with metal studs, don’t intermix the two materials.
How to Tell What Type of Studs You Have?
To determine if the studs of a finished wall are wood or metal by using a magnet. The magnet should stick to the screw heads through the plaster. Once you find a screw head, you’ve probably located a stud, move the magnet vertically up or down the stud. If the stud is metal, you will feel a pull, but the magnet won’t stick. If the stud is wood; it will be the same feeling as over the cavity.
If you have a pile of metal studs or tracks and you’re trying to determine their gauge, check the color at the ends. Metal studs and tracks are all color-coded to make identification easier. The table identifies the metal thickness and its typical color coding.
|Metal Stud and Track Gauge Color Coding|
|25||Clear/No paint||33||18 Mils|
|20 (interior use only)||Pink||33||30 Mils|
* Please Note: Some manufacturers use different colors or stripes of color to denote studs of different strengths or galvanized thicknesses.
Are Metal Studs Better Than Wood Studs?
The choice between metal studs and wood studs depends on personal preference, individual skill set, and budget. Metal studs are lighter, more expensive, and resistant to insects and termites. They also transmit less sound through partition walls. Wood studs are heavier and stronger, and you can buy 3 or 4 for the price of one metal stud. The cost savings could go into purchasing 5/8” drywall to make the wood-framed wall as fire resistant as a steel-framed wall.
Wood studs will support cabinetry, shelves, doors, and televisions with ease, while steel framing requires reinforcing or additional materials, which requires planning in advance. Wood is a renewable and sustainable resource, while steel isn’t. Both materials can be reused and recycled, but wood is still more environmentally friendly than steel. Additionally, wood and steel are both susceptible in different ways to moisture. Hopefully, you have a better awareness of the differences between metal and wood studs and are better prepared for your next project.