Construction Terms 101: What Is the Difference Between Shuttering and Formwork?

Production of the concrete base under the house with use of a removable timbering.

For those new to the construction industry, learning all the terms can be a challenge. It’s important to get them down, though, since all members of the construction team need to be on the same page if they want to get the job done right. Read on to find out about shuttering, formwork, and the key differences between them.

What They Have in Common

Both shuttering and Formwork are terms used to describe the process of fabricating concrete molds. These molds are used to hold the concrete in place until it hardens. Some contractors use the two terms interchangeably, but in most cases, shuttering is thought of as a specific type of formwork.

Materials Used

Shuttering refers specifically to creating forms out of plywood. Formwork, on the other hand, can refer to molds created using just about any material. It’s relevant to note that contractors can’t just use any type of plywood to make shuttering. They need to use a special grade of material that is water-resistant and strong enough to hold significant amounts of concrete.

Other materials used to create formwork include wood and metal beams. These materials are more common in the construction of sidewalks and roads. When metal beams are used to construct formwork, they’re typically referred to as roadform. This specialized type of metal form can be pinned, stacked together to create taller structures, or attached end-to-end to make longer forms.

Falsework Support

All types of formwork, including shuttering, require falsework support. This refers to poles or other stabilizers used to keep the formwork in place. Most shuttering is temporary. Some types of formwork are designed to be left in place once the project is completed, though, in which case only the falsework supports will be removed.

Additional Concerns When Using Shuttering

In shuttering applications, and in some other formwork applications, contractors must apply oil to the molds prior to laying them. This step helps to release the material from the concrete once it has hardened. Failing to oil the shuttering can make removal much more difficult.

Why It Matters

Choosing the right material is important since it can impact the structural integrity of the concrete. Working with roadform can be extremely challenging for large-scale projects and creating taller structures since the materials required are quite heavy and bulky. On the other hand, plywood shuttering is light and easy to work with. However, it would make little sense to use shuttering to complete a project like a sidewalk or a slab foundation that is low to the ground.

Shuttering is typically used only when contractors plan to remove the formwork after the concrete has hardened. It’s rare to see plywood shuttering on finished structures. If the shuttering is assembled correctly and in a way that makes it possible to pour large amounts of concrete in one go, it can dramatically simplify many types of construction projects.

The Bottom Line

There is little difference between the terms shuttering and formwork, but it’s important for new contractors to understand industry terminology. When in doubt, ask the foreman for clarification. Some contractors do use the terms interchangeably, so things can get quite confusing if everyone on the job site is not on the same page about what materials to order and how to get the work done as efficiently as possible.

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