American Made Wide Flange Beams At Bushwick Metals

September 5, 2022 in Beams / Blog
wf beams, black and white photo

More than 100 years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem — Bethlehem, PA, that is — a revolutionary advancement arrived that allowed builders to reach for the sky.

Steel beams had opened up opportunities in building taller years before. But the invention of wide-flange beams at Bethlehem Steel allowed buildings to climb higher than 20 stories, creating the iconic skylines of major cities across the country. Today, those same WF beams form the skeleton of most construction projects. Let’s take a look at what makes this type of beam work so well and how to shop for them for your upcoming project.

What Is a Wide-Flange Beam?

Wide-flange beams revolutionized construction thanks to their ability to hold up large and heavy buildings. They replaced a cobbled-together option that was cost-prohibitive with a single piece that was cheaper to produce.

What Bethlehem Steel did was simple in concept. They took the then-standard I-beam and stretched out the flanges to make a beam that looked more like a sideways H, thus the name wide flange. The change increased the strength of the beam. You’ll typically find them used as horizontal supports because they allow builders to distribute weight evenly. But they can also serve as vertical supports in a combination wall.

Looking at a cross section of a WF beam, the vertical mid-section is the web, and the horizontal end sections are the flanges. The web in the middle withstands shear forces, and the flanges on the end withstand bending. When strengthened by Bethlehem Steel’s seemingly minor change, WF beams made it possible to construct buildings taller than ever before.

Before purchasing WF beams, consider the project you will use them for. Engineers often measure WF beams in four dimensions: flange width, flange thickness, web thickness, and height. Smaller, thinner beams are great for projects where they will only hold lesser amounts of pressure, while larger and thicker sizes can support massive structures such as skyscrapers. It isn’t economical to purchase sizes larger than you need, but you never want a small WF beam supporting more weight than it can handle and causing a safety concern.

WF beams can be used on their own or combined with another material, often concrete, to create a composite. When pairing WF beams with another material, factors often considered are preventing vibrations, shearing or bending failure, tension, deflection, and other failures with the strength of the WF beam.

What Is a WF Beam’s Typical Use?

Wide-flange beams began rolling off the line in 1908 and were first used to build the Gimbel Brothers’ department store in New York City. In construction today, it might be easier to list the times you wouldn’t use a wide-flange beam as they have become the standard for any use that requires a high-strength application.

They can function as columns in commercial buildings and floors in homes. They form structural supports for overpasses and highway ramps and are critical for bridge construction. Outside of buildings, these support beams can perform as retaining walls. These are sometimes temporary to hold back dirt while construction is underway or permanent in sound barriers beside highways or basement walls.

How Wide-Flange Beams Are Made

Wide-flange beams typically use steel thanks to the fact that it is highly customizable, easy to work with, and durable. It’s also the most recycled material in the world by weight. If you’re buying American-made WF beams, they’re likely to contain as much as 95 percent scrap metal.

Once the metal is cleaned up and ready as raw material, the steel is rolled out much like dough by a rolling pin. The rolling creates a rough shape of the beam. It is then fed through a universal mill for fine-tuning, at which time it is rolled horizontally and vertically to refine the “H” shape.

Not An I-Beam

While you might hear terms like I-beam, H-beam, and W-beam used interchangeably, they aren’t quite the same. Wide-flange beams are technically H-beams because of their shape, but a “W” is often used when referring to their sizing.

A wide-flange beam looks more like a sideways “H” than an “I” because of the wider flange. An I-beam has narrower flanges, making it a lighter building material. You can also see a difference in where the web connects to the flanges, as an I-beam meets them at an angle.

Beyond the shape, the beam types differ as well in their construction. An H-beam or wide flange has a thicker center web and can be built up to be any size or height. An I-beam has a thinner centerpiece and is restricted in size by the manufacturer’s equipment. H-beams can span up to 330 feet, while an I-beam’s span ranges 33-100 feet.

Measuring Wide-Flange Beams

In the construction industry, WF beams come in a wide range of sizes, and the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM International) provides standardized guidelines for steel manufacturers globally. Steel manufacturers use the information that ASTM International publishes, including the classification, evaluation, and specification of steel types, to produce standardized WF beams.

  • ASTM A36 is mainly for carbon structural steel. It applies to the shapes of structural quality for bolted, riveted, or welded construction of buildings and bridges.
  • ASTM A572 Grade 50 is for higher strength, low-alloy Columbium-Vanadium structural steel. It covers riveting, welding, and bolting construction structures at the 50 grade.
  • ASTM A588 is applied to higher strength, low-alloy structural steel. It includes specified savings in weight and resistance to atmospheric corrosion.
  • ASTM A690 is for the materials and testing standards for high-strength and low alloy of phosphorus steel H-piles and sheet piling of structural quality. It is used in the construction of block walls, excavation, and bulkheads.
  • ASTM A709 is applied to carbon and high-strength low-alloy shapes. It is for shapes and bars for bridge projects.
  • ASTM A913 Grade 50 is for higher strength, low-alloy steel shapes of structural quality. It covers structural steel shape in grade 50, used for riveting, bolting, and welding construction of buildings, bridges, and other structures, produced by QSI.
  • ASTM A913 Grade 65 is the same as ASTM A913 Grade 50, but its grade is grade 65 and not grade 50.
  • ASTM A992 is applied to steel structural shapes in building framing. It covers rolled shapes for building bridges, framing, and general structural projects.

Transporting Wide-Flange Beams

Structural steel like wide-flange beams has a few shipping challenges due to size and weight. It’s not like picking something up at Home Depot that you can just toss in the back of your truck.

A longer haul for materials means a higher cost. Most of the time beams will be coming by truck to your job site, so it makes sense to stick close to home in picking a supplier.

Local structural steel supply also can help with the timing of your job. Beams can show up when you need them, which reduces cash outflow for items that then just sit around waiting to be used. There’s also less risk of your beams not showing up when you need them because they don’t have as far to go.

Get American-Made Wide-Flange Beams

Wide-flange beams revolutionized construction with a design still in use today. While the steel comes from all over the world, it’s easy to source your project with beams made in the US. Understanding the structure of the beam ensures you’re getting the appropriate size and strength for a particular project.

If you’re looking for a solid supplier for an upcoming construction project, contact us today or request a quote. We stock three grades of beams in a wide range of sizes and provide next-day delivery to your job site anywhere from Maine to Virginia.