Different Types of Structural Steel Shapes

July 9, 2021 | Categorised in:

structural steel shapes


In 1884, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago became the first skyscraper to use steel in its construction. Since then, countless iconic buildings and structures have been built using structural steel, including the Eiffel Tower (Paris), Burj Khalifa (Dubai), Empire State Building and Chrysler Building (New York City), and Willis Tower (Chicago). Because of its popularity, many people are surrounded by structural steel today, but don’t necessarily recognize the different shapes and applications it can be used for.

What is structural steel?

Broadly, structural steel is steel that is used in construction and architecture that usually comes in the form of elongated beams, piping, or channels. These shapes can either be to support the weight of a structure, or go into the ground to provide stability. Structural steel is usually made from rolled steel, but because different applications have different requirements, can be either hot-rolled or cold-rolled.

Benefits of structural steel

One of the biggest benefits is its load-bearing capacity, due to most shapes having a high second moment of area and being stiff, preventing sagging under high weights. In addition to strength, structural steel is also less costly than other building materials such as concrete, which also typically use steel rebar as reinforcement. Beyond practicality, structural steel also has a certain aesthetic appeal with its silver color and transparency of frame.

In terms of the modern era, where sustainability is often a topic of discussion, structural steel is also the most recycled material on the planet. Incredibly, structural steel can be fully recycled after use and usually contains around 90% recycled material on average. Like with other building components, reliability and predictability are highly valued characteristics for not only safety but planning and budgeting as well. Steel again scores highly in this category, making it not only one of the strongest building materials, but also one of the cheapest, best-looking, environmentally-friendly, and safest ways to make structures.

Structural steel shapes

Broken down into general categories, structural steel usually comes in beams, channels, angles, and tubing (or Hollow Structural Sections). Each of those groupings can be further divided by measurements, minor differences in shape, and use.

Steel Beams

Beams’ primary function is to support heavy loads in construction, such as support trusses or frames in buildings. This strength isn’t limited to one direction either, as beams can resist tension or support weights in various directions and orientations.

Standard I-Beams/S-beams

The most common form of steel beam is the standard I-beam (or S-beam for standard), named that way because a cross-section of it resembles an uppercase I. Two flanges, or horizontal pieces, are connected in the middle by a web, the central piece.

Depending on who you ask (or how it’s rotated), they might also be called H-beams, but there are small differences. I-beams have tapered edges on the flanges and the web is taller than the flanges’ width.

Tee Beams

A tee beam is essentially half of an I-beam cut through the web where the cross-section looks like an uppercase T. Tee beams are used when weight and height might take priority over strength. Because of this, it’s also easier to bend than I-beams and can be curved to fit specific applications that require arched or rounded support.

Wide Flange Beams/W-beams/H-beams

As mentioned earlier, wide flange beams are shaped like an H with a web that is shorter than its flanges. They also don’t have tapered flanges and are often used in applications like cofferdams, piling, and temporary structures like falsework on bridges.

Steel Channels

Steel channels are structural pieces whose cross-section resembles a C or an I-beam if the web connected the two flanges at one end instead of in the middle. They’re often used when the web can be mounted on a flat surface to get maximum contact area, and can also be welded together to create a non-standard I-beam.

These can be used in conjunction with beams as braces or extra support or can be used in similar applications to tee beams where the strength of I-beams isn’t necessary. Because of this, channels are versatile and come in a number of shapes (usually differentiated by the flange slope). These include standard, bar, junior, and MC channels.

Steel Angles

The most basic form of structural steel, angles are L-shaped pieces of metal (usually at 90° angle) that are used for minor structural support where strength isn’t needed. The most common uses include brackets, framing, and other reinforcements. Because of their size and limited strength, they can also be used outside of construction in things like shelves, bed frames, and tables.

HSS/structural steel tubing

HSS stands for Hollow Structural Sections and are welded steel tubing used for structural applications in constructions. It can be round or made with corners for either square or rectangular shapes. Tubing’s closed nature means that things can be enclosed inside them but also tend to look more finished than other types of structural steel.

Square and round tubing are symmetrical along both axes, meaning that it has uniform strength in both directions as well. This property makes them good options for columns and can be used as a beam if there is a high risk of lateral torsion as they have better resistance to this than  I-beams and wide flange beams.

Getting structural steel for your projects

Clearly, structural steel is vital to construction projects, large and small. If you need any, Service Steel Warehouse can supply all the structural steel you need with our high quality and ready-to-ship inventory. From beams to tubing, angles, channels, and more we can find exactly what you need and process it to fit your application.

Request a quote today.