Ironworkers are machines used to notch, shear or punch holes into steel plates. They are powered by electric motors and rated according to the amount of force generated. Most machines use hydraulic rams and carbon-steel blades and dies. Ironworkers that generate force with mechanical leverage are also available. With hydraulic ironworkers, force is applied to a moving center that travels along a vertical path. This allows the operator to perform multiple tasks with only a minimum amount of re-tooling. To speed operations, ironworkers may be fitted with accessories such as back gauges, brakes, reducing plates, die tables, strippers, punch stations, angle notchers, pipe notchers, rod shears and multi-shears. Electric stroke control may also be available.

Force or rated capacity is the most important specification to consider when selecting ironworkers. Typically, this parameter is measured in tons. Choices include 25, 50, 55, 60, 65, 75, 100 and 120-ton equipment. Product specifications for ironworkers also include throat size, open height, shut height, stroke, cycle time, dimensions, and shipping weight. With hydraulic ironworkers, parameters such as pump size, reservoir size, and cylinder size must also be considered. Ironworker motors carry specifications such as horsepower (hp), number of phases, voltage, revolutions per minute (rpm) and amps. Single-phase motors are used in 25-ton equipment while three-phase motors are used with machines that generate 50 or more tons of force.

Ironworkers are used to punch holes in round, square, rectangular, hexagonal, and custom metal shapes. They are also used with notchers or nibblers, tools for notching metal plates, metal bar stock, and metal angles. Typically, quick-change notching accessories are used with one-off or custom work. V-notch tooling is used to make a V-shaped notch from the bottom leg of an angle. The uncut top-leg is then used to create a 90-degree bend for an angle-iron frame. Ironworkers are also used with accessories such as bar shears, angle shears, and breaks. Bar shears and angle shears differ in terms of shearing capabilities, and are used to hear metal rods, squares, angles and bar stock. Brake tooling includes a punch and four-way die for producing 90-degree angles. Ironworkers that use specialized or proprietary accessories are also available.