H-Beams, W-Beams, and S-Beams: How Do These Steel Beam Options Differ?

Steel beams come in different types, all of which can be used to handle different forms of construction tasks. In this article, you get to understand the different lines of distinction between H-beams, W-beams, and S-beams.

What Are Steel Beams?

Steel Beams are lengthy,  durable pieces of metal used in building and construction. Steel beams work to provide support by opposing the loads applied along their axes. 

The really beautiful thing about steel beams is that they can support both horizontal and vertical weights, using a form of redirection known as twisting.

Steel Beam Parts

Now that we’ve examined what steel beams are and their uses, let’s dive a bit deeper. We’ll start by discussing their parts:

the parts of steel beams

1. Webs

True to its name, the web is the thinner of the two parts of a steel beam. This component stands upright, and it is primarily responsible for carrying massive amounts of load. The web is critical because it handles a significant amount of weight distribution – it takes weights that are held vertically from the upper to the lower flange, thus providing an additional load distribution task. 

2. Flanges

You probably already figured out that flanges are the horizontal components of the beam, and they are significantly wider than the web. The upper flange is known as the compression flange, while the lower one is called the tension flange. 

Steel Beam Nomenclature

To communicate effectively with a beam dealer, for instance, or just about anybody with the same interests you have concerning steel beams, there are particular generic terms you must know. 

1. S-Beams: What are they?

Also known as American Standard Beams (ASBs), S-Beams are products that are essentially named after their unique shape. 

Though consisting of the standard two flanges and a web between, the former are tapered and have a slightly thicker cross-section at the top than at the bottom. These changes confer the signature S shape when viewed from the end. 

Because they can exist in the smallest dimensions, they can be cut into different shapes and sizes. Their tapered flanges also make them most suitable for vertical load bearing, as seen in bridges.

An S-Beam looks similar to an I-beam, actually. Despite this similarity, a major difference between an S-beam and an I-beam is that the flanges on the latter are horizontal and narrower. 

2. W-Beams: What Does “W” Mean in Beam Size? 


You don’t need to think about it so much – a W-beam is built to look like the letter that precedes its name. These beams come with central webs that hold their entire structures together by connecting their end units. The mark of distinction, however, is that W-beams have broader flanges that allow them to hold significantly more weight.  

When you think “W,” think wide; like, really wide. W-Beams have the widest flanges any building contractor could ever ask for. The dimensions and sizes of W-Beams, like other kinds of beams, are solely dependent on the desired use. These dimensions are assigned by their height, weight per foot, and length. 

We would say that the biggest reason why W-beams are so popular is that they provide easier and more seamless weight management for builders – especially across a broader mass spectrum. 

3. H-Beams: What Is An H-Beam Used For? 

This is probably the only letter that readily makes sense for the description of a steel beam. The letter H gives it all away. You might want to flip it on its side for a more accurate description, however [it’s why they are also known as I-Beams] You see it now, don’t you? The two horizontal flanges and the connecting vertical web in between. You could even consider them the model beams. 

H-beams are especially suited to hold vertical loads – a stark contrast from W-beams, which easily hold their own against bends and torsion. As far as size and weight go, no other beam types come close. 

What Are The Differences Between The Types of Steel Beams? 

the diferences between steel beams

There are several significant differences that you should keep in mind. 

  • W-beams are significantly deeper than their flanges are broad. 
  • H-Beams don’t share the same sentiment as most of them have depths equal to their corresponding flange widths. 
  • The W-Beams, of the three, also have the widest range of available dimensions to choose from. 
  • S-Beams, on the other hand, are quite different from the rest in structure. Their inner flanges slope, making them more distinct in terms of shaping and appearance.

For a further understanding of the difference between H-beams, W-beams, and S-beams, let’s consider all beam options carefully:

W-Beams: So, what does “W” mean in W beams? It’s “wide flanges.” The primary distinction between W-beams is that they have parallel inner and outer flanges. Just as well, the width of the flange must be equal to the depth of the entire beam. 

Just as well, W-beams come with a greater number of sections that you can choose from – especially compared to H-beams and S-beams. With thicker flanges, W-beams bring greater durability levels across the board. So, constructors get even more value from them.

H-Beams: In terms of the differences between H-beams and W-beams, there aren’t many. Flanges are similar in structure and appearance, so it’s quite easy for anyone to mistake them for each other. 

Nevertheless, you should know that H-beams come with bulkier bodies. So, they hold on to more weight and can accommodate loads. 

S-Beams: What is the difference between a W-shape and an S-shape beam? The major point of uniqueness for S-beams is that they tend to be much smaller than other beam options. They especially stand out thanks to their tapered legs – H- and W-beams come with blocked angles where their legs and webs are seemingly connected, while S-beams are more rounded. 

The legs on S-beams are also thinner than those of both H- and W-beams.

Below, you have a table that shed more light on the H-beam, W-beam, and S-beams differences: 

Parameter H-Beam W-Beam S-Beam 
Shape  Looks more like the letter “H,” with a cross-section and equal thickness in the two parallel flanges. Note that there is also no taper on the surface. End units are connected by central webbing structures. Their flanges are also very broad, meaning that they can accommodate significantly more weight and are adept at providing balance.   A standard beam shape with a web and two flanges. Interestingly, the flanges are also tapered, with thicker cross-sections on top of them that give them their signature shape.
Manufacturing S-beams are made using the rolling process. The process can be hot or cold, with each having its own set of merits and demerits.  The W-beams manufacturing process is usually done by the rolling method. Steel is first rolled using caliber rolls to create a cross-sectional shape, with a beam blank being heated and rolled out.  Primarily, H-beams are made using high-quality structural steel that is able to meet the standards of the American Institute of Steel Construction. The process of making these beams is quite similar to the two, although it is important to consider their peculiarities.
Flanges Flanges are usually equal in width to the depth of the beam.   Inner and outer flange surfaces that run side by side. Their flanges tend to be the broadest and thickest of the bunch, although this depends on the beam’s specifications.  Sloppy inner flange surfaces, which give them a distinct shape
Strength  Very strong and durable, thanks to their weight and density. Generally, H-beams are seen as the strongest of the bunch. Also strong; these beams are capable of holding weights ranging from nine pounds per square inch to 350 pounds per square inch.  Strong enough to resist bending and wrangling. This is why the beams are specially used for load bearing. 
Application  Mostly used in construction and building ships  Primarily used for support and reinforcement in the construction of materials such as bridges and buildings. Used to provide support in construction work.
Tapered Legs  Equal, blocky angles that connect legs and webs Equal, blocky angles that connect legs and webs Rounded legs; this is actually a necessity for every S-beam 
Leg width  Relatively narrow Broader legs Broader legs 

Practical DIY Functionality Differences For The Beam Options

Building Cranes

If you’re looking at whether you should use a beam option for crane building, then the regular I-beam shape easily provides optimal strength – especially in and around the flanges. The beams easily distribute the load from each flange landing, thanks to the thickness of the area around the vertical and horizontal intersection.

Constructing Trailer Frames

As for trailer frames, you would find that S-beams, H-beams, and W-beams work effectively across the board. 

All in all, from a technical point of view, H-beams will most likely be the best option for you. The H-beam material is thinner, and they offer comparable heights as well as a broader range of options when it comes to robustness and width. So, you’re literally spoilt for choice when working with an H-beam. 

steel beams in construction

What Do S-Beams, W-Beams, And H-Beams Have In Common?

With all these letters, you’re probably confused. You might find yourself asking what beam is best for what purpose, or if at there’s a rule of thumb that must be followed at all times for the use of each of these beams. Let us help you. 

First off, you should know that there is no wrong way to use these steel beams. Theoretically, an S-Beam can do what any of the others can do. The question, in practice, is about perfect suitability for the job at hand.

In essence, these beams have more in common than differences. Here are a few:

  • Shape: All of them are named after their shapes when viewed from the end. 
  • Material: It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyways – high-quality steel is critical in the makeup of a beam. 
  • Versatility: Neither of these 3 has a narrow spectrum of application, and that is a blessing indeed. From building automobiles to ships to airplanes to buildings, and to bridges, to name a few, each of these finds its place. There is no clause of exclusivity either. No rule stops all three from being used in the same construction project. 


We enjoyed showing you a thing or two, and we hope you enjoyed learning too! Do you have some construction business you need steel beams for? Or do you simply want some further clarifications? Contact us

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