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What Is The Purpose Of Formwork?

Skilled workers doing construction works

What Exactly is Formwork?

Formwork, literally a "mold," shapes poured concrete into desired architectural features. This temporary system supports the concrete until it cures, ensuring the structure's strength and precise dimensions.

A mold by function, formwork (or shuttering) is made from various materials like wood, steel, or plastic to shape concrete elements in different sizes and designs. It needs to bear its own weight (dead load) and external forces (live load) during pouring, curing, and even beyond to ensure the concrete hardens properly and achieves its intended strength.

Two skilled worker doing construction works

Key Components for Quality Formwork

  • Strong and Stable: Withstand dead and live loads.

  • Leakproof: Prevent water absorption and grout leakage with tight joints.

  • Rigid Construction: Maintain formwork shape using proper bracing.

  • Minimal Movement: Reduce deflection and shrinkage.

  • Easy Removal: Modular design for disassembly without concrete damage.

  • Cost-Effective: Use affordable, readily available, and reusable materials.

  • Precise Placement: Ensure accurate level and alignment for desired shape.

  • Lightweight: Easy to transport and assemble.

  • Durable: Withstand weather conditions without warping.

Three workers moving formwork panels

Exploring Formwork Types by Material

Timber formwork

Timber, a popular choice for formwork, is easy to work with on-site but can be time-consuming to construct. While lightweight and readily available in good quality, its use for complex curves is limited due to cost. Here's what good timber shutters should be: light, strong, termite-free, and easy to assemble.

Plywood Formwork

Plywood excels in concrete formwork. This engineered wood, available in various sizes and thicknesses, offers both strength and durability while remaining lightweight for easy transport. The real advantage? Plywood leaves behind a smooth concrete finish, reducing the need for additional surface treatment.

Steel Formwork

Steel formwork's reusability makes it a rising star. Though pricier than other options, its strength allows for multiple uses across projects. Like plywood, steel leaves a smooth concrete finish, ideal for applications like tanks, chimneys, and curved structures. The upfront cost is balanced by the long-term savings and high-quality finish.

Aluminum Formwork

While steel reigns supreme in durability, aluminum often takes the crown for its lightweight advantage. The lower density of aluminum formwork makes it significantly easier to transport compared to steel. Like steel, reusability is key to maximizing its cost-effectiveness. However, unlike steel, aluminum formwork offers limited on-site modification after construction.

Plastic Formwork

Lightweight and interlocking, plastic formwork shines in portability and reusability. This makes it ideal for projects with repetitive shapes, allowing for quick setup and efficient construction.

Coffor Formwork

Coffor, a unique formwork system, acts as permanent shuttering for concrete structures. Made from two interlocking grids with sturdy ribs, Coffor allows concrete to be poured between them. Excess water conveniently drains through the grids due to gravity, simplifying the process.

Fabric Formwork

Fabric formwork takes concrete shaping to new heights. Unlike traditional molds, fabric can conform to complex curves and unique designs, offering architects and engineers greater freedom to create functional and visually striking structures.

A residential house being constructed

Exploring Formwork Types Through Structural Elements

Beam formwork

Prefabricated beam formwork utilizes pre-cut sheetings for quick assembly. Side panels and bases are formed by connecting these sheets with cover straps. The size of the project dictates the dimensions needed for cover straps and sheeting bases. To ensure stability, the formwork is secured using wires and a whaler (top horizontal member). Diagonal braces provide additional support for the whaler and entire structure.

Column Formwork

Column formwork is all about precision. Pre-fabricated sheets ensure accurate dimensions for the concrete column. Steel bolts securely fasten these sheets to the base. Vertical timbers, strong enough to handle the cover straps' weight, are positioned for support. Lastly, horizontal braces act as lateral ties to maintain the column's shape within the formwork.

Wall Formwork

Wall formwork keeps things upright. Vertical bearers support the concrete pour, with sheeting boards directly against the concrete side. Diagonal braces on the uprights add stability. For additional strength, opposing whalers (horizontal members) are tied together at specific intervals. Don't forget to include cleanout holes at the base for easy removal of debris after the concrete cures.

Foundation Formwork

One size doesn't fit all for foundation formwork. Unlike walls, isolated foundations and strip foundations (continuous foundations for walls) have different needs. The key factors influencing design are the foundation's size and depth. Typically, foundation formwork utilizes pre-cut sheeting panels and support beams, secured with fasteners like tie wires and metal screws.

Slab Formwork

Slab formwork, also known as ceiling shuttering, excels in ease of use. This system allows for quick setup, dismantling, and material movement. Steel supports and wooden beams work together to provide a stable platform for concrete pours, making slab formwork a fast and efficient solution.

Formwork on concrete beams

The Technical Essentials for Effective Formwork

  • Precise Dimensions: Formwork must be meticulously sized and shaped for a perfect fit.

  • Surface Finish: Material selection depends on the desired concrete finish.

  • Strength and Rigidity: Formwork must withstand fresh concrete weight, worker loads, and resist warping or movement.

  • Load Capacity: It needs to support all vertical, horizontal, and unexpected construction loads.

  • Easy Removal: Disassembly shouldn't damage the structure or concrete finish.

  • Leak-Proof Joints: Tight seams prevent grout leakage.

Two people wearing white safety hats in a construction site


Meeting the Functional Demands of Formwork Systems

  • Manageable Size: For easy transport, storage, and reuse, formwork pieces should be reasonably sized.

  • Quick Assembly/Disassembly: Easy disassembly and reassembly saves time on construction projects.

  • Versatile Design: Use symmetrical formwork sections for multiple configurations.

  • Simple Formwork Creation: Straightforward form creation minimizes construction complexity.

  • Lightweight Strength: Formwork should be lightweight for handling but strong enough to bear weight and pressure.

  • Worker Safety: Formwork design must prioritize worker safety.



Formwork plays an essential role in modern construction, shaping and supporting concrete until it achieves the desired strength and form. The various types of formwork materials, from traditional timber and plywood to advanced steel, aluminum, and plastic, each offer unique benefits tailored to different construction needs. Timber is praised for its ease of use, plywood for its smooth finish, steel for its durability and reusability, and aluminum for its lightweight yet robust nature. Innovative systems like Coffor and fabric formwork further expand the possibilities, allowing for intricate and creative architectural designs.

Understanding the requirements of good formwork is crucial for successful construction. Strong, stable, and leakproof formwork ensures the integrity of the structure, while ease of removal and cost-effectiveness contribute to overall project efficiency. The precise placement, minimal movement, and durability of the formwork materials are vital to maintaining the desired shape and structural integrity of the concrete. Ensuring that the formwork is lightweight yet strong enough to bear the necessary loads is a key factor in efficient construction practices.

Different structural units like beam, column, wall, foundation, and slab formwork each have their specific design needs and technical requirements. For instance, beam formwork requires stability through wires and braces, while column formwork focuses on accurate dimensions and strong support through bolts and braces. Wall formwork emphasizes vertical support and stability, and foundation formwork adapts to various foundation types with pre-cut panels and secure fasteners. Slab formwork stands out for its ease of use and quick setup, enhancing construction speed and efficiency.

At Straight 2 Site, we understand the critical role of high-quality formwork in construction. That's why we offer a wide range of construction accessories to meet all your project needs. Whether you're working on a small residential project or a large commercial building, our products are designed to ensure safety, efficiency, and durability. Explore our offerings and let us help you achieve the best results in your construction endeavors. Visit Straight 2 Site today for top-notch construction accessories that make your work easier and more effective!

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