The Various Types of Structural Steel Shapes

Apr 18 2017

a structural steel project from steel fabrication company Swanton welding

Structural steel is one of the most flexible and versatile building materials on earth. Engineers have used structural steel to accomplish feats thought impossible, building massive skyscrapers and expansive bridges that have remained for hundreds of years.

To grasp the full potential of structural steel, a steel fabricator must understand its various shapes, sizes, and potential uses.

Here is an overview of the many faces of structural steel.

American Standard Beam (S-Shaped)

Generally known as an S beam, the American standard beam has a rolled section with two parallel flanges, all connected by a web. The flanges on S-shaped beams are relatively narrow. The designation of the beam gives the builder information about each unit’s width and weight. For example, S12x50 represents a beam that’s 12 inches deep and weighs 50 pounds per foot.

Angle (L-Shaped)

Angle beams take an L shape, with two legs that come together at a 90-degree angle. Angle beams come in equal or unequal leg sizes. An unequal leg L beam may have one leg of 2x2x0.5 and one leg of 6x3x0.5, for example. L beams are typically used in floor systems because of the reduced structural depth.

Bearing Pile (H-Shaped)

When builders can’t find a structure on a shallow foundation, they use bearing piles to design a deep foundation system. Bearing piles are H-shaped to effectively transfer loads through the pile to the tip. Bearing piles work best in dense soils that offer most resistance at the tip. Individual piles can bear more than 1,000 tons of weight.

Channel (C-Shaped)

Structural C channels, or C beams, have a C-shaped cross section. Channels have top and bottom flanges, with a web connecting them. C-shaped beams are cost-effective solutions for short- to medium-span structures. Channel beams were originally designed for bridges, but are popular for use in marine piers and other building applications.

Hollow Steel Section (HSS)

HSS is a metal profile that has a hollow, tubular cross section. HSS units can be square, rectangular, circular, or elliptical. HSS structures are rounded, with radiuses that are about twice the thickness of the wall. Engineers commonly use HSS sections in welded steel frames for which units experience loading in different directions.

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An I Beam, also known as an H beam or a universal beam, has two horizontal elements, the flanges, with a vertical element as the web. The web is capable of resisting shear forces, while the horizontal flanges resist most of the beam’s bending movement. The I shape is very effective at carrying shear and bending loads in the web’s plane. The construction industry widely uses I beams in a variety of sizes.


Structural steel pipes are important for a variety of construction applications, lending strength and stability. Pipes are hollow, cylindrical tubes that come in a variety of sizes. Engineers often use steel pipes to meet the needs of water, oil, and gas industry projects.


A tee beam, or T beam, is a load-bearing beam with a T-shaped cross section. The top of this cross section is the flange, with the vertical web below. Tee beams can withstand large loads but lack the bottom flange of the I Beam, giving it a disadvantage in some applications.

Custom Shapes

Today’s engineers are not limited to using only the most common shapes. Custom metal fabrication opens the doors to a variety of special structural steel shapes for any type of project. Using state-of-the-art tools and techniques, such as water jet, laser, and plasma cutting, metal fabricators can sculpt steel into myriad shapes for specific needs. If you can dream it, odds are an experienced metal fabricator can create it.

As an expert steel fabrication company in Toledo, Swanton Welding has the experience your steel fabrication project needs.

To receive a free quote for custom structural steel fabrication, contact Swanton Welding, Inc. today.

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