Last year a group of steel makers charged Turkey and Mexico with dumping rebar on the U.S. market. The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) investigated, issued a report, and recently decided to impose duties on rebar from Mexico but not rebar from Turkey. Like most government documents, the USITC report on rebar is mind-numbingly boring. But hidden within it are some interesting facts about a material used in nearly every structure built in this country. I did some digging and here’s what I found out about rebar (the data is from 2012-2013):

1) The U.S. consumed 7.3 million tons of rebar in 2012. If that much steel was cast into a single block it would cover the area of a football field to a depth of 518 feet (my calculation—not the USITC’s).

2) Three companies control 70% of U.S. rebar production: CMC (Irving, TX), Gerdau (Brazil), and Nucor (Charlotte, NC). 50% of the rebar fabrication work in the U.S. is performed at plants owned by these companies.

3) In 2012 U.S. companies produced 6.3 million tons of rebar—valued at more than $4.1 billion in sales. That’s a lot of money, but a drop in the bucket compared to the sales figures for Home Depot and Lowes, which had receipts of $70.6 billion and $50.5 billion respectively in 2012.

4) 93% of the rebar consumed by the U.S. is made in the U.S. In 2012 we imported roughly 1 million tons of rebar; 64% of it came from Turkey and 30.3% from Mexico. China didn’t even make the list (more on them later).

5) Rebar used to be made from new material but starting in the 1960s it began to be made from scrap. Nowadays, domestically produced rebar contains 97% recycled material—from old cars, appliances, hot water heaters, and the like.

6) Most of the rebar produced in this country is made by melting scrap steel in an electric arc furnace and casting it into billets—which are then hot-rolled into bar. After rolling, straight rebar is cut to length and then sent to a cooling bed to be air-cooled. Coiled rebar is sent to a reforming tub, where it is spooled and cut to the desired weights and lengths. The video below shows how rebar is produced at one U.S. mill.

7) One of the more surprising components of rebar would be scrap railroad axles. Byer Steel, which is located in Cincinnati, makes something called axle grade rebar—which is produced by heating used axles in a furnace and re-rolling them into rebar. There’s no need to melt any scrap because the axle is already shaped like a billet.

8) The cost to transport rebar is high in relation to its value so U.S. companies produce it as close as possible to where it will be sold. Rebar is produced in 30 U.S. states and most is sold within 250 miles of where it was made. For a list of U.S. locations where rebar is made see Table III-1 below.

9) Rebar is available in sizes #3 through #18. Each unit corresponds to approximately 1/8 of an inch, so #3 bar is nominally 3/8” in diameter, #6 bar 3/4” in diameter, and so on (You probably already knew how rebar is sized; what’s interesting here is that it goes up to #18. That’s 2 1/4” diameter bar—wow!)

10) Three sizes of rebar (by weigh of material) account for over 60% of U.S. production: #4 (22.5%), #5 (23.1%), and #6 (16.0%). The entire list can be seen in Table IV-4 below.

11) Turkey is the world’s top exporter of rebar, followed by Ukraine, Spain, and Italy. The U.S. is number 13 and Mexico number 15. The complete list of exporters by volume can be found in Table VII-10 below.

12) China produces far more rebar than any other country (over 175 million metric tons in 2012)  and yet exports little. Why? Probably because they are using it at home; China is building at an incredible pace. To get a sense of how much construction is going on in China, see the video below—which was produced by Paul Akers of FastCap after a recent trip to that country.