What are Steel Beams?


Notice that new building or bridge under construction down the street? Chances are the skeletal structure is comprised of different types of steel beams.

Owing to their inherent strength and versatility, the steel beam is an integral part of the construction industry. It serves a variety of different critical functions, primarily due to their ability to provide support to structures.

Used either vertically or horizontally, a steel beam can handle immense load bearing forces, meaning they typically form the ‘skeleton’ of the structure being built.

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What are the different types of steel beams?

There are two main types of steel beam used:

  • Standard (also known as I-Beams)
  • Wide Flange (also known as H-Beams)

I beam

Standard or I-Beams have two horizontal plates, called flanges, that are connected by a vertical plate called the web. The height of the web is higher than the width of the flanges, so when viewed in cross section it resembles a capital I. Standard or I-Beams also have tapered edges.

H beam

Wide Flange or H Beams have the same arrangement of flanges and web, however, the flanges are longer than the web. This makes the cross section resemble a capital H. Unlike Standard or I-Beams, Wide Flange or H Beams have square edges and the flanges and web are typically thicker.

Production process

Both types of steel beams are usually produced through a process called rolling. This involves heating up the base steel to be formed before passing it through forming rolls to give the overall shape. The roughly shaped beam is then fine tuned through a secondary mill before being cut to length.

Additionally, Wide Flange or H Beams can be manufactured by welding the steel plates that make the flanges to the steel plate that makes the web. The benefit of this is that an H beam doesn’t have to be limited by the size of the rolling or forming machines.

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Steel beam applications

Steel beams are most often used as supports in structures, ensuring their safety and stability, while using the least amount of material. As such, they are one of the most cost-effective construction methods.

Both types of beams can be used for multiple supporting roles. However, all of the different shapes and sizes are designed to cater to specific use cases.

An I Beam has the tapered edges because this is the most efficient way to transfer heavy loads. This means when used horizontally, Standard Beams can take a higher load than the same sized Wide Flange Beam. For this reason Standard Beams are typically used as horizontal load members.

As Wide Flange or H-Beams are generally made to have thicker flanges and webs they can be made into wider and longer beams that carry greater loads. The square edges also allow for easier welding to other steel beams or plates at either end. For this reason, Wide Flange Beams are typically used as vertical load members.

Steel beams can be found in almost any structure as support columns. Typical applications include building construction (both commercial and residential), bridges, stadiums, warehouses and hangers.

Buy steel beams at Metal Supermarkets

If you’re a construction professional looking for a steel beam product, browse our selection online or visit your closest Metal Supermarkets location. No matter the metal type, we can cut it to your exact specifications!


Metal Supermarkets

Metal Supermarkets is the world’s largest small-quantity metal supplier with over 100 brick-and-mortar stores across the US, Canada, and United Kingdom. We are metal experts and have been providing quality customer service and products since 1985.

At Metal Supermarkets, we supply a wide range of metals for a variety of applications. Our stock includes: mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, tool steel, alloy steel, brass, bronze and copper.

We stock a wide range of shapes including: bars, tubes, sheets, plates and more. And we can cut metal to your exact specifications.

Visit one of our 100+ locations across North America today.

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