5 Common Steel Sections and Where To Buy Them

November 14, 2022 in Blog / Steel Sections

In June of 2022, United States steel mills shipped over 7.6 million tons of steel, including structural and reinforcement steel. The term structural steel refers specifically to steel sections produced for construction or heavy fabrication purposes. Steel fabricators, construction workers, and engineers rely on construction steel sections to create buildings and infrastructure we use daily. Many skyscrapers, bridges, and tunnels would be impossible without the use of the different steel sections manufacturers produce. Any business owner using steel sections should be aware of the most common steel section types. If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to structural steel, we’ve got you covered.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the five most common types of steel sections and where you can buy them!

1. Angle Sections

Angle sections, referred to most commonly as “angle iron” by steel fabricators, are shaped much as the name suggests. The profile of an angle section forms an “L” shape. As a result, another common name for this type of section is “L bar.” Usually, angle sections come in 90° angles, with a rounded inner corner. However, steel manufacturers often offer angle sections in custom angles as needed. Because of its angled shape, this type of steel section is much stronger than some other sections of comparable weight. Common applications of angle sections include residential construction and light infrastructure.

2. Channel Sections

Channel sections, also called “U-channel” or “C-channel” depending on the piece, have a profile similar to the shape of a staple. The two parallel sides, called flanges, can be a variety of lengths but always match each other in size. “U-channel” is a channel section with flanges that run parallel on the inside. “C-channel” refers to a section with flanges that taper on the inside. Like angle sections, channel sections provide a high strength-to-weight ratio because of their right angles. However, they tend to be a bit heavier than angle sections. Because of their strength, channel sections are common in construction. Most often, this type of section is used for shorter buildings that can handle heavier materials.

3. I-Beam Sections

As the name suggests, I-beams have a profile shaped like a capital “I.” This type of section can be seen in the famous “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photograph, in which a row of construction workers are seated on an I-beam. If the parallel sides of the beam are wider than the middle, this type of section may be called an “H-beam.” However, the two terms are generally interchangeable. Due to its shape, this type of section is extremely resistant to bending and shearing. I-beam sections are common in large-scale construction like tall buildings and bridges where the structure must bear heavy weight.

4. Hollow Sections

Hollow sections can refer to a variety of steel sections. Any tube or pipe is considered a hollow section. Although tubes and pipes are similar, they aren’t the same. There are a few distinctions between the two types of hollow sections. The main difference between pipes and tubes is their function. Pipes are exclusively used to transport substances like water, whereas tubing is used for building structures. Tubes can also come in a variety of shapes, like square, circular, or elliptical, while pipes are always circular. Additionally, the way pipes and tubing are measured is different. A pipe is measured using its inside diameter, while tubing is typically measured by its outside diameter. Hollow sections like tubing are most commonly used for light fabrication. Because they aren’t solid, they are easy to work with and lightweight.

5. Bar Sections

Similar to hollow sections, bar sections come in a variety of shapes. Bars can be flat, square, or round, and manufacturers can often produce bars in unusual custom shapes. Unlike hollow sections, bar sections are solid pieces of steel. Because of the variety of shapes bar sections come in, they are versatile pieces with many different applications. Solid bars are easily reshaped, allowing fabricators to create many types of structures. Because they bend more easily than other steel sections, bar sections are usually used for industrial purposes rather than structural.

Common Steel Compositions

In addition to differently shaped sections of steel, the material itself is also available in different chemical compositions. Manufacturers produce 70% of United States steel using electric arc furnaces to refine raw iron. The most widely used steel compositions are carbon, stainless, and galvanized. Carbon steel most commonly comes in A36 and A572 varieties. A36 is higher in carbon, making it easier to reshape, cut, and weld. A572 is a high-strength, low-alloy (HSLA) steel. This type of steel has chemical alloys that make it strong and light, but slightly harder to work with. Stainless steel is impervious to rust due to the addition of chromium. It is generally used for lighter applications since it is more costly than carbon steel. To create galvanized steel, manufacturers coat it with zinc. The zinc bath gives galvanized steel a shiny finish and corrosion resistance.

Where to Buy Steel Sections

Steel sections are available in small quantities at most hardware and home improvement stores. However, buying in smaller amounts usually means a higher unit cost. The best way to get a good deal on structural steel is to buy from a steel distributor or a recycling center. Because these types of facilities deal in large amounts of steel, you can get a lower cost per pound.

The Bottom Line on Steel Sections

No matter what kind of steel section you’re looking for, you can trust Bushwick Metals. If you need custom-shaped materials, we’ll get you the perfect steel sections for the job.

Still have questions about your steel needs? Contact us today to find out what else we can do to help!

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