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Ultimate Guide to Steel Sections and Their Uses

Steel sections are standardized shapes made from steel, designed for specific structural purposes. These shapes include I-beams, H-beams, and more. They play a crucial role in load-bearing structures, offering versatility, efficiency, and durability. Steel sections allow engineers to create complex designs efficiently. Their high strength-to-weight ratios enhance safety, making them fundamental components in construction projects. In this article we will delve into various types of steel section standardized by European and American codes and explore their uses and design characteristics.

Types of Steel Sections in US codes

In North America, AISC provide list of all the steel section shapes that are compatible with the AISC steel construction manual.  Following table list downs all the sections that are compatible with the latest edition of steel construction manual (15th edition).

Type of steel sections in European codes

Difference between H and I shapes?

The primary distinction between an H-beam and an I-beam is that the web of an H-beam is substantially thicker than that of an I-beam. A thicker web indicates a stronger beam, allowing for greater load-bearing capability. This means that you may use fewer H beams than I beams to provide the same structural support.

Difference between W and HP shapes?

The bearing pile (HP shape) is nearly comparable to the W form. The sole difference is that the bearing pile’s flange and web thicknesses are the same, but the W-shape’s web and flange thicknesses differ.

Differences between UPN and UPE Channels

The main shape difference between the two channels is that UPN have tapering flangers with a decreasing width towards the edges, whilst UPE channels have parallel flanges with a constant width. Furthermore, UPE channels feature a deeper profile and thicker flanges.

UPN channels have a mid-range load-bearing capability and are often employed in light to medium-duty constructions. They provide enough strength for many construction and engineering components, but they are not appropriate for heavy-duty applications.

UPE channels must be utilized in applications requiring a high level of structural strength. Because of the design and thickness of the flanges, they can handle larger loads.

Properties and Dimensions

  • Flange Width (b): The flange width refers to the horizontal dimension of the steel section. For I-beams and H-beams, it corresponds to the width of the top and bottom flanges.
  • Web Thickness (t): The web thickness represents the vertical dimension of the central web portion in I-beams and H-beams.
  • Depth (d): The depth of a steel section is the vertical distance between the top and bottom flanges. It determines the overall height of the section.
  • Moment of Inertia (I): The moment of inertia quantifies a section’s resistance to bending. It depends on the distribution of material around the neutral axis. Larger moments of inertia indicate greater stiffness.

Most common steel beam shapes

In Europe, it contains IPE, HE, HL, HD, and other sections; in the United States, it includes Wide Flange (WF or W-Shape) and H sections. I-beams’ strength comes from their flanges, which prevent bending, and the web, which resists force. I-beams’ distinctive design allows them to provide optimum weight support while using little resources. It’s simple to see why they’re so adaptable across sectors.

Learn more: How to design a steel beam in bending?

Most common steel Column shapes

For columns, there is no common shape. Usually, box or circular shape are used. Or sometime, thicker I or H shaped sections are also used.

Learn more: How to calculate the design capacity of a steel column? [Step by Step guide]

Most common steel sections for Purlins and Girts:

Purlins and girts are another type of steel members which are designed as steel beams. C and Z sections are commonly employed as roof purlins or wall girts, contributing to the overall ‘skeleton’ of your structure to which additional components are attached. C purlins are lightweight and often used to support walls and floors.


In conclusion, steel sections serve as the backbone of modern construction and engineering. Their standardized shapes, precise dimensions, and inherent properties contribute to safe, efficient, and durable structures. Whether it’s supporting skyscrapers, bridges, or industrial facilities, steel sections play an indispensable role in shaping our built environment. As architects and engineers continue to innovate, steel remains a timeless material that bridges the gap between creativity and practicality

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