"Steel is steel". except for the fact that it isn't. Compare an integrated producer like POSCO (NYSE:PKX) to more specialty-oriented producers like Chaparral (NASDAQ:CHAP) or Steel Dynamics (NASDAQ:STLD), tubular product makers like Tenaris (NYSE:TS), or large-scale mini-mill operators like Nucor (NYSE:NUE), and you're really no longer talking about the same thing(s).

In the case of Chaparral, structural steel products are the name of the game. Instead of producing sheets of steel for Ford's (NYSE:F) latest models or General Electric's (NYSE:GE) stoves, Chaparral gets most of its business from non-residential building construction and civil engineering projects like roads and bridges. And with activity apparently picking up in both of those markets, that's not a bad place to specialize right now.

With demand (and pricing) of steel jumping all over the place, to say nothing of the cost of inputs like scrap metal and electricity/natural gas, earnings performance continues to be volatile. Revenue this quarter was up nearly 28% over last year and up about 8% from the last quarter, while operating income rose about 180% and 15%, respectively, over those time periods.

If we really are seeing a revival in non-residential construction (something I've been talking about for at least a year now), Chaparral isn't the only way to play it. Companies like Lamson& Sessions (NYSE:LMS) and Acuity Brands (NYSE:AYI) should also benefit. Then again, if we're in for another rally in steel (as pricing does seem to be better), Chaparral could well go along for that ride, too.

For this Fool, Chaparral is another reminder of the virtues of keeping a little dry powder on hand in the form of extra cash to invest. I would have loved to have snapped up these shares about a month or so ago, but I didn't want to sell a holding to pay for it. Now, though, the stock has recovered and isn't enough of a bargain to really entice me. Nevertheless, with the way these stocks are trading nowadays, another second chance may be only a week or two away.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).