Scaffolding is a temporary elevated structure designed to support workers and materials as they work, usually alongside a structure like a building. There are 17 different types of scaffolding made from different materials, but the most common materials are wood and steel. Even though it is more expensive, steel is the preferred material for scaffolding because of its durability and safety. Scaffolding made entirely from wood materials is referred to as wood pole scaffolding.
Scaffolding can either be a single frame or a double frame. A single frame means there is only one frame supporting one side of the scaffolding with the structure itself acting as another support. A double frame means the scaffolding is independent from the structure itself.
We’ve compiled a list of the most common types, plus two alternatives and safety tips below. But first, a quick overview of the components of scaffolding.
Before we can talk about the different types of scaffolding, here’s a quick rundown of some terminology:
- Standards: the vertical pieces that are anchored to the ground in some way
- Ledgers: the horizontal supports that run parallel to the structure the scaffolding surrounds
- Braces: the diagonal pieces that attach to the standards and the ledgers and provide stability
- Putlogs: the short pieces that connect the ledger to the structure itself in single-frame scaffolding
- Boardings or platforms: the wide, flat pieces workers walk on
- Guardrails: the pieces connecting the standards horizontally at about waist level to help prevent falls
- Toeboards: narrow pieces of wood that run horizontally just above the boardings or platforms to prevent falls
All scaffolding can be sorted into two main categories: suspended scaffolding or supported scaffolding. Suspended scaffolding consists of platforms that are suspended from above, usually a rooftop, by non-rigid materials like ropes or wires.
Suspended scaffolding is preferred for reaching the tops of tall buildings, for which supported scaffolding may be too expensive and time-consuming to construct. However, weight limits are a concern and horizontal reach may be limited. Suspended scaffolding can also be dangerous to use in high winds, as a swaying platform can snap the support lines.
1. Catenary Scaffolding
In catenary scaffolding, ropes or wires hang from a structure above. These vertical wires or ropes connect to two ropes or wires running horizontally and parallel to the structure. A platform rests on the horizontal ropes or wires.
Catenary scaffolding is not mobile, so it can’t be adjusted to a different height or easily moved to reach a new area.
2. Float Scaffolding
Fixed-length ropes or wires hanging from a support beam running parallel to the structure. The ropes or wires support the two ledgers that support the platform.
Like catenary scaffolding, float scaffolding is not mobile. It is also referred to as ship scaffolding.
3. Interior Hung Scaffolding
Interior hung scaffolding is exactly like float scaffolding, but the ropes or wires hang from two parallel support beams running parallel to the structure instead of one.
4. Two-Point (Swing Stage) Scaffolding
The most common type of suspended scaffolding, two-point (swing stage) scaffolding consists of a platform supported at either end by ropes or wires, which can be moved up and down.
When you see scaffolding hanging on the side of skyscrapers, this is usually two-point (swing stage) scaffolding.
5. Multilevel Scaffolding
Multilevel scaffolding is suspended from the structure by ropes or wires, each of which supports a ladder that faces perpendicular to the structure. A platform runs between the two ladders, resting on the rungs.
Unlike all other types of suspended scaffolding, if the ladders are long enough, multiple platforms can rest on them to create multiple layers.
6. Multipoint Adjustable Scaffolding
In multipoint adjustable scaffolding, a platform is suspended from overhead by four ropes, usually in each corner of the platform. However, unlike the other types of suspended scaffolding we’ve discussed so far, it can be raised or lowered to the desired height, making it more flexible than the others.
Due to its ability to change the height, this type of scaffolding is frequently used in stacks, tanks, silos and chimneys.
Needle Beam Scaffolding
Needle beam scaffolding gets its name from needle beams, which are attached perpendicularly to the structure itself using putlogs. The beams are supported on the outside edge by ropes or wires that hang from above. The platform then rests on top of the needle beams.
8. Cantilever Scaffolding
Cantilever scaffolding is used when the ground cannot support a scaffolding structure or when there isn’t room for the platforms at lower levels.
Cantilever scaffolding is similar to needle beam scaffolding in that needle beams are inserted into the structure itself and usually anchored to the floor inside the building. However, instead of running perpendicularly to the structure like in needle beam scaffolding, they run at an angle to support the standards that run vertically and parallel to the structure.
9. Single-point Adjustable Scaffolding
If you’ve seen a solo window washer cleaning a skyscraper, you’ve probably seen them in single-point adjustable scaffolding. This type of scaffolding is similar to multipoint adjustable scaffolding except it is suspended by one rope or wire instead of multiple.
This type of scaffolding is also referred to as boatswain scaffolding, in reference to the suspended chair a boatswain uses to inspect the side of the ship.
The second category of scaffolding is support scaffolding, which consists of platforms that are supported by standards anchored to the ground in some way. In other words, they are built up from the ground.
Supported scaffolding is sturdy, and some types have no limit to the number of layers you can create. However, they can be challenging to use in instances where the ground is uneven or if the footprint at the base is limited due to a roadway.
10. Frame Scaffolding
Frame scaffolding, also known as fabricated scaffolding, is the most common type of supported scaffolding because it is economical, easy to set up and tear down, and the most versatile.
In this scaffolding type, modular pieces are used to build the scaffolding from the ground up. It is generally built to one or two tiers, but it can be tricky since the base must be perfectly level.
Residential contractors and painters favor frame scaffolding.
11. Ladder Jack Scaffolding
One of the simplest types of scaffolding available, a ladder jack scaffold uses two or more leaning ladders, which are placed against a structure at an angle. Brackets are attached to the ladder to reach perpendicularly to the structure. A platform (or sometimes just another ladder) rests on top of the brackets parallel to the structure.
Only light loads should be carried on ladder jack scaffolding.
12. Mast Climber Scaffolding
If you have a heavy load, a mast climber scaffold is best. A vertical structure that looks like a ship’s mast is anchored to the ground and a large power-operated platform moves up and down the mast. For larger platforms, two masts may be used.
13. Mobile (Manual or Propelled) Scaffolding
This is the only type of scaffolding that is easily moved on the ground rather than up and down. Four standards are connected with ledgers and guardrails, and a platform rests about halfway up the standards. Each standard has a wheel with locks on it — the scaffold should only be used when the wheels are locked to prevent injury. The scaffolding can be moved manually from the ground or may have a motor to move it from the platform.
14. Pole/Wood Pole Scaffolding
Pole scaffolding refers to any scaffolding design that utilizes wood for every structural component. With the exception of bamboo scaffolding, which is used predominantly in Asia, steel scaffolding has replaced pole scaffolding because it is safer, reusable, and stronger.
15. Trestle Scaffolding
Instead of using standards as support, step ladders or tripods provide the support for a platform to create trestle scaffolding. Unlike other supported scaffolds, trestle scaffolding can only have one level.
16. Tube and Coupler Scaffolding
Tube and coupler scaffolding, also known as patented scaffolding or systems scaffolding, consists of a set of prefabricated pieces that are easily held together with couplers. Popular systems include Kwikstage and HAKI.
If you need to gain height but are wary of scaffolding or don’t have the space for it, consider the following scaffolding alternatives.
Scissor lifts are a type of mobile support scaffolding that consists of a motorized base on wheels and a platform that moves vertically on a series of crossbeams that resemble a pair of scissors.
Some scissor lifts can be driven from the platform while it is raised, while others can only be moved when the platform is lowered. In most cases, the controls to raise the platform are on the platform itself, so the person on the scaffold can control its location without the need for an additional person.
Aerial lifts are also supported scaffolding and consist of any lift type that does not use the scissors beam structure. They are often referred to as bucket, boom, tower or vertical lifts. Like scissor lifts, they are on wheels and the control panel is on the platform so it can be operated by one person.
It is important to note that scissor lifts and aerial lifts have their own set of safety guidelines that should be followed at all times.
Scaffolding is a key component of building construction and has been used in some form as long as humans have been building taller structures. Over the years, wood scaffolding has largely given way to steel, and some jobs that used to require scaffolding are now completed with scissor or aerial lifts. No doubt, scaffolding will continue to evolve as humans strive to build taller structures.