One of the more significant classes I’m taking this semester is Steel Design, CEE 262. It involves going through the proper calculations to determine the best member or connection to be used for each part of a steel-framed structure. As you can imagine, this would involve knowing a lot of information on the physical properties of steel members. Because there are hundreds of different sized and shaped elements, all of this info has to be tabulated somewhere, and that is the AISC Steel Manual.
Weighing in at about 6 pounds, this bible of steel is almost 2.5 inches thick and filled with endless tables and millions of numbers as well as long, technically detailed instructions with equations for computing the effects of any type of loading, axial, flexural, torsional, etc. The most useful section of the manual is the “Dim.” tab which gives you the dimensions and geometry of every prefabricated steel shape and size. For instance, in a problem you are told that a W14x82 (wide-flange I-beam) is being used as a beam with some loading. You can easily flip to the right page and find that the moment of inertia is I = 881 in^4 and go on to find the stress in the beam caused by bending and even determine if it will yield or break.
Other than the dimensions tab, the manual also includes tension and compression design sections. These have tables of the different capacities of each type of member under axial loading. An example would be if you had a truss bridge and knew that one WT15x54 (wide-flange T-shape) was going to be subjected to 800 kips of tension, you would find the yielding limit is 716 kips from the table. Without doing any calculations you can tell whether or not it is going to fail and what sized member you should use instead.
Of course there is a lot more to it than that, you have to account for the fact that the connections are usually the weakest part among other things. This is why every person you will see carrying around their manual has a bunch of colored tabs sticking out of it. They each provide quick access to heavily-used equations and charts which came in handy during our first exam in Steel Design this past Friday. Though there were only 3 problems, the test came down to the wire for everyone time-wise. The manual is an absolute necessity not just for the class but also for later in your professional career so it’s great getting familiar with it.