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H-Beams vs. I-Beams

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The differences between an H-beam and an I-beam are very slight. The two beams look very similar in construction and are often called the same thing -- a W-beam or wide-flange beam. The beams are often used for different types of construction or different parts of the structure.


Both the H-beam and I-beam have top and bottom flanges. The flanges on an H-beam are longer and stick out farther from the center web. The flanges on an I-beam are shorter and not as wide. The distance from the end of the flange to the center web is shorter on an I-beam than the same measurement on an H-beam flange.


Another difference between an H-beam and I-beam is the fabrication method used to make the beams. The I-beam is fabricated by milling or rolling the steel. The size of the I-beam is limited by the capacity of the milling equipment, which this is why I-beams have smaller flanges. H-beams are built up rather than milled, so they can be made any height and width.


Since I-beams are milled or rolled, the web and flanges have a bevel where the three pieces come together and look like one piece. H-beams have the top and bottom flanges attached to the center web by welding or riveting them together. You can actually see that the H-beam is made of three different metal plates.


H-beams are useful for longer spans than I-beams because the H-beam can be fabricated to any size. I-beams are good for spans of 33 feet to 100 feet because of the size limitation. H-beams can be used for spans up to 330 feet.


About the Author

Mitchell Brock has been writing since 1980. His work includes media relations and copywriting technical manuals for Johnson & Johnson, HSBC, FOX and Phillip Morris. Brock graduated from the University of Southern California in 1980, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English.

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