What is a Wood Beam?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A wood beam is a structural support made from wood. They are most commonly used in wood frame structures like small houses, although they can be used in other types of construction as well. Both sawn lumber and engineered wood products are used to make beams, with engineered lumber having some distinct advantages including greater resistance to warping and twisting when it is well made. Contractors and architects are involved in decision making about the kinds of beams to use in a structure and how to install them.

Wood frame housing construction.
Wood frame housing construction.

Beams are designed to resist bending when stressed by weight or forces like high winds. They are included in structural elements like floors and roofs to distribute the weight of the structure and provide support. Historically, wood was the most common construction material in many regions of the world and solid wood beams were a preferred method of structural support.

Wood beam construction is commonly built on a foundation made from concrete blocks or other masonry.
Wood beam construction is commonly built on a foundation made from concrete blocks or other masonry.

The type of wood and size of the beam both play a role in how much weight a single wood beam will be able to bear. Dense, close-grained woods tend to be preferred because of their increased strength, as well as resistance to insects and rot. The wood beam can be cut in a solid block, I, or H shape, depending on the needs of construction. In some cases, multiple pieces of wood are stacked and bound to create a single beam. The wood needs to be fully cured before it can be used, as green wood will warp and twist once it is in place, compromising structural integrity.

In the case of engineered wood products, the wood beam is carefully calibrated to determine how much pressure it can withstand. These beams can be used as soon as they are finished, as they do not need to sit and cure. They tend to have a more predictable performance, as the wood is not flawed with knots, fine cracks, and other issues known to occur in sawn lumber. Engineered wood can also be fabricated in a variety of shapes to accommodate special building needs.

In the design phase of a structure, architects will determine what kinds of materials need to be used for the structural supports. There may be aesthetic concerns in cases where supports will be exposed, and in some cases, false wood beams may be installed over or around beams made from other materials like concrete and metal. A false wood beam is typically lightweight and may be made from veneers rather than solid wood.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I stayed in a vacation house on a lake once, and a couple of the rooms in the house had timber beams on the ceiling. The beams gave the house a great country or rustic feel.


We have a steel beam in our house. The beam supports the area between our kitchen and family room. We were told the beam was required by the building code, so we had to have it in order for our house to pass inspection. The beam is not flush with the ceilings of the two areas it joins, so it is very noticeable, and I think it takes a little away from the look of the house.

Only recently, I learned that these wood beams can be used instead of the huge steal beams in many houses and other buildings. I would much rather have had the wood if I had known about this before the beam we have was put in. While I wish the beam would not show at all, I would much rather see a wood beam than a steal one in my house.


An old house that I was considering buying to renovate and sell had been previously renovated several times over the years. This house was very, very old. Some of the work done on the house was obviously not completed by professionals.

There was a wall that had been originally between the old kitchen and the dining room. There was also another wall that had separated the dining room and what had been turned into a family room. Both walls had been knocked down without any consideration for how this was going to affect the stability of the structure.

One of the walls had indeed been a structural wall. Fortunately the entire house had not caved in. An inspector told me that I would have to go in and install a huge wood beam to reinforce the structure. I decided not to buy the house because this was not something I knew anything about and it would have been costly.

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