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I-Beam vs. Wide Flange Beam | A Steel Beam Guide

To build an infrastructure or facility, you’ll most likely require steel beams, like I-beams and wide flange beams. While these are common types of steel beams, they often get confused with one another. Understanding their distinctions begins with understanding the terms flange and web. Flanges are the beam’s horizontal components, while webs are the vertical components that connect the flanges.

Here we’ll review the differences and similarities between I-beams vs. W-beams, as well as how to select the right beam for your application.

What Is a Wide Flange Beam?

w beams

Sometimes called a W-beam, a wide flange beam is a type of steel beam shaped like a sideways H. The web can be of equal width or wider than the flange. The size of a W-beam is identified by the first number in the product description followed by the weight per foot. For example, a W21x44 beam measures about 21 inches in width and 44 pounds per foot. The web bears shear forces while the flange resists bending forces.

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Many construction projects rely on wide flange beams, including:

  • Bridges
  • Factory platforms
  • Support beams for steel buildings and factories
  • Machinery
  • Truck bed frames

What Is an I-Beam?

i beams

I-beams tend to have flanges that are shorter than the web, resulting in a cross-section shaped like a capital “I.” This design enables the beam to bend when high pressure is applied. W-beams offer more variety in sizes and lengths, whereas I-beams have a more limited selection.

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I-beams appear in many structures, such as:

  • Warehouses and factories
  • Truck bed frames
  • Support beams for facilities, construction, and engineering
  • Support steel angles and channels

Choosing Between an I-Beam and a Wide Flange Beam

Both wide flange beams and I-beams are reliable weight-bearing components for many applications. However, the best type will depend on your project’s specific requirements. 

Wide Flange Beams

Compared to I-beams, wide flange beams have a wider flange and thicker web. Their design enables them to handle more weight, and they’re suitable for spans of up to 300 feet. Wide flange beams also feature a bevel that connects the web and top and bottom flanges. Lightweight wide flange beams—rather than I-beams—are typically used in residential construction projects.

Infra-Metals stocks W-beams from W4x13 to W44x335, with lengths up to 70 feet.

I-Beams

I-beams feature thinner webs and tapered flanges for a more lightweight construction. The I-beam’s shorter length makes it compatible with spans between 33 and 100 feet. Where wide flange beams come in three connected metal components, I-beam steel comes in a single metal piece.

Infra-Metals carries I-beams from S3x5.7 to S24x121, with various lengths up to 60 feet.

w beams vs. i beams

Contact Our Experts for Premium Steel Beam Solutions

I-beams and wide flange beams are vital construction elements in many types of structures. Now that you know the difference between wide flange beams vs. I-beams, you can select the best beam for your application depending on your engineering specifications.

Since 1990, Infra-Metals has been a premier provider of top-quality structural steel beams. In addition to I-beams and wide flange beams, we carry a selection of angles, tubes, plates, channels, solar panel mounts, and more. We also offer a variety of processing services, including drilling, cutting, blasting, and cambering. 

All of our steel products for U.S. applications feature standard alloys specified by ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials). Infra-Metals is also a proud member of the Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. family. We aim to serve as your one-stop shop for steel construction materials and processing.

Browse our catalog to view more of our offerings and capabilities, or request a quote at any time to get started on selecting the right solution for your application.

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