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Truss bridge for a single-track railway, converted to pedestrian use and pipeline support. In this example the truss is a group of triangular units supporting the bridge. RRTrussBridgeSideView.jpg
Truss bridge for a single-track railway, converted to pedestrian use and pipeline support. In this example the truss is a group of triangular units supporting the bridge.
Typical detail of a steel truss, which is considered as a revolute joint SteelDetail(2D-Truss).pdf
Typical detail of a steel truss, which is considered as a revolute joint
Historical detail of a steel truss with an actual revolute joint TL020504.jpg
Historical detail of a steel truss with an actual revolute joint

A truss is an assembly of members such as beams, connected by nodes, that creates a rigid structure. [1]


In engineering, a truss is a structure that "consists of two-force members only, where the members are organized so that the assemblage as a whole behaves as a single object". [2] A "two-force member" is a structural component where force is applied to only two points. Although this rigorous definition allows the members to have any shape connected in any stable configuration, trusses typically comprise five or more triangular units constructed with straight members whose ends are connected at joints referred to as nodes .

In this typical context, external forces and reactions to those forces are considered to act only at the nodes and result in forces in the members that are either tensile or compressive. For straight members, moments (torques) are explicitly excluded because, and only because, all the joints in a truss are treated as revolutes, as is necessary for the links to be two-force members.

A planar truss is one where all members and nodes lie within a two-dimensional plane, while a space truss has members and nodes that extend into three dimensions. The top beams in a truss are called top chords and are typically in compression, the bottom beams are called bottom chords, and are typically in tension. The interior beams are called webs, and the areas inside the webs are called panels, [3] or from graphic statics (see Cremona diagram) polygons. [4]


Truss derives from the Old French word trousse, from around 1200, which means "collection of things bound together". [5] [6] The term truss has often been used to describe any assembly of members such as a cruck frame [7] [8] or a couple of rafters. [9] [10] One engineering definition is: "A truss is a single plane framework of individual structural member [sic] connected at their ends of forms a series of triangle [sic] to span a large distance". [11]


An Egyptian ship with a rope truss, the oldest known use of trusses. Trusses did not come into common use until the Roman era. Wells egyptian ship red sea.png
An Egyptian ship with a rope truss, the oldest known use of trusses. Trusses did not come into common use until the Roman era.

A truss consists of typically (but not necessarily) straight members connected at joints, traditionally termed panel points. Trusses are typically (but not necessarily [12] ) composed of triangles because of the structural stability of that shape and design. A triangle is the simplest geometric figure that will not change shape when the lengths of the sides are fixed. [13] In comparison, both the angles and the lengths of a four-sided figure must be fixed for it to retain its shape. The joint at which a truss is designed to be supported is commonly referred to as the Munter Point.[ citation needed ]

Simple truss

Planar roof trusses Trusses 008.jpg
Planar roof trusses
The roof trusses of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence Santa croce, navata, capriate.JPG
The roof trusses of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence

The simplest form of a truss is one single triangle. This type of truss is seen in a framed roof consisting of rafters and a ceiling joist, [14] and in other mechanical structures such as bicycles and aircraft. Because of the stability of this shape and the methods of analysis used to calculate the forces within it, a truss composed entirely of triangles is known as a simple truss. [15] However, a simple truss is often defined more restrictively by demanding that it can be constructed through successive addition of pairs of members, each connected to two existing joints and to each other to form a new joint, and this definition does not require a simple truss to comprise only triangles. [12] The traditional diamond-shape bicycle frame, which utilizes two conjoined triangles, is an example of a simple truss. [16]

Planar truss

A planar truss lies in a single plane. [15] Planar trusses are typically used in parallel to form roofs and bridges. [17]

The depth of a truss, or the height between the upper and lower chords, is what makes it an efficient structural form. A solid girder or beam of equal strength would have substantial weight and material cost as compared to a truss. For a given span, a deeper truss will require less material in the chords and greater material in the verticals and diagonals. An optimum depth of the truss will maximize the efficiency. [18]

Space frame truss

A space frame truss is a three-dimensional framework of members pinned at their ends. A tetrahedron shape is the simplest space truss, consisting of six members that meet at four joints. [15] Large planar structures may be composed from tetrahedrons with common edges, and they are also employed in the base structures of large free-standing power line pylons.


For more truss types, see truss types used in bridges.
A large timber Howe truss in a commercial building Large Timber Howe Truss.jpg
A large timber Howe truss in a commercial building

There are two basic types of truss:

A combination of the two is a truncated truss, used in hip roof construction. A metal plate-connected wood truss is a roof or floor truss whose wood members are connected with metal connector plates.

Warren truss

Truss members form a series of equilateral triangles, alternating up and down.

Octet truss

Truss members are made up of all equivalent equilateral triangles. The minimum composition is two regular tetrahedrons along with an octahedron. They fill up three dimensional space in a variety of configurations.

Pratt truss

Tempe Salt River Southern Pacific Railroad bridge Tempe-Southern Pacific Railroad Bridge-1912-2.jpg
Tempe Salt River Southern Pacific Railroad bridge

Pratt truss.png The Pratt truss was patented in 1844 by two Boston railway engineers, [19] Caleb Pratt and his son Thomas Willis Pratt. [20] The design uses vertical members for compression and diagonal members to respond to tension. The Pratt truss design remained popular as bridge designers switched from wood to iron, and from iron to steel. [21] This continued popularity of the Pratt truss is probably due to the fact that the configuration of the members means that longer diagonal members are only in tension for gravity load effects. This allows these members to be used more efficiently, as slenderness effects related to buckling under compression loads (which are compounded by the length of the member) will typically not control the design. Therefore, for given planar truss with a fixed depth, the Pratt configuration is usually the most efficient under static, vertical loading.

The Southern Pacific Railroad bridge in Tempe, Arizona is a 393 meter (1,291 foot) long truss bridge built in 1912. [22] [23] The structure is composed of nine Pratt truss spans of varying lengths. The bridge is still in use today.

The Wright Flyer used a Pratt truss in its wing construction, as the minimization of compression member lengths allowed for lower aerodynamic drag. [24]

Bowstring truss

A bowstring truss is used on the oldest metal bridge in Virginia Bowstring Truss Bridge.JPG
A bowstring truss is used on the oldest metal bridge in Virginia

Named for their shape, bowstring trusses were first used for arched truss bridges, often confused with tied-arch bridges.

Thousands of bowstring trusses were used during World War II for holding up the curved roofs of aircraft hangars and other military buildings. Many variations exist in the arrangements of the members connecting the nodes of the upper arc with those of the lower, straight sequence of members, from nearly isosceles triangles to a variant of the Pratt truss.

King post truss

King Post Truss King post truss.png
King Post Truss

One of the simplest truss styles to implement, the king post consists of two angled supports leaning into a common vertical support.

Queen Post Truss Queen post truss.png
Queen Post Truss

The queen post truss, sometimes queenpost or queenspost, is similar to a king post truss in that the outer supports are angled towards the centre of the structure. The primary difference is the horizontal extension at the centre which relies on beam action to provide mechanical stability. This truss style is only suitable for relatively short spans. [25]

Lenticular truss

The Waterville Bridge in Swatara State Park in Pennsylvania is a lenticular truss Waterville Bridge in Swatara State Park HAER 462-14.jpg
The Waterville Bridge in Swatara State Park in Pennsylvania is a lenticular truss

Lenticular trusses, patented in 1878 by William Douglas (although the Gaunless Bridge of 1823 was the first of the type), have the top and bottom chords of the truss arched, forming a lens shape. A lenticular pony truss bridge is a bridge design that involves a lenticular truss extending above and below the roadbed.

Town's lattice truss

Lattice Truss Lattice truss.png
Lattice Truss

American architect Ithiel Town designed Town's Lattice Truss as an alternative to heavy-timber bridges. His design, patented in 1820 and 1835, uses easy-to-handle planks arranged diagonally with short spaces in between them, to form a lattice.

Vierendeel truss

A Vierendeel bridge, which lacks diagonal elements in the primary structure Grammene-vierendeelbridge 20030618.jpg
A Vierendeel bridge, which lacks diagonal elements in the primary structure

The Vierendeel truss is a structure where the members are not triangulated but form rectangular openings, and is a frame with fixed joints that are capable of transferring and resisting bending moments. As such, it does not fit the strict definition of a truss (since it contains non-two-force members): regular trusses comprise members that are commonly assumed to have pinned joints, with the implication that no moments exist at the jointed ends. This style of structure was named after the Belgian engineer Arthur Vierendeel, [26] who developed the design in 1896. Its use for bridges is rare due to higher costs compared to a triangulated truss.

The utility of this type of structure in buildings is that a large amount of the exterior envelope remains unobstructed and can be used for windows and door openings. In some applications this is preferable to a braced-frame system, which would leave some areas obstructed by the diagonal braces.


Cosmonaut Alexander Serebrov sets up an integrated truss structure "Rapana" at Mir space station, September 16, 1993 Onufriyenko-Sofora-EVA.jpg
Cosmonaut Alexander Serebrov sets up an integrated truss structure "Rapana" at Mir space station, September 16, 1993

A truss that is assumed to comprise members that are connected by means of pin joints, and which is supported at both ends by means of hinged joints and rollers, is described as being statically determinate. Newton's Laws apply to the structure as a whole, as well as to each node or joint. In order for any node that may be subject to an external load or force to remain static in space, the following conditions must hold: the sums of all (horizontal and vertical) forces, as well as all moments acting about the node equal zero. Analysis of these conditions at each node yields the magnitude of the compression or tension forces.

Trusses that are supported at more than two positions are said to be statically indeterminate, and the application of Newton's Laws alone is not sufficient to determine the member forces.

In order for a truss with pin-connected members to be stable, it does not need to be entirely composed of triangles. [12] In mathematical terms, we have the following necessary condition for stability of a simple truss:

where m is the total number of truss members, j is the total number of joints and r is the number of reactions (equal to 3 generally) in a 2-dimensional structure.

When , the truss is said to be statically determinate, because the (m+3) internal member forces and support reactions can then be completely determined by 2j equilibrium equations, once we know the external loads and the geometry of the truss. Given a certain number of joints, this is the minimum number of members, in the sense that if any member is taken out (or fails), then the truss as a whole fails. While the relation (a) is necessary, it is not sufficient for stability, which also depends on the truss geometry, support conditions and the load carrying capacity of the members.

Some structures are built with more than this minimum number of truss members. Those structures may survive even when some of the members fail. Their member forces depend on the relative stiffness of the members, in addition to the equilibrium condition described.


Cremona diagram for a plane truss Cremonadiagram.jpg
Cremona diagram for a plane truss

Because the forces in each of its two main girders are essentially planar, a truss is usually modeled as a two-dimensional plane frame. However if there are significant out-of-plane forces, the structure must be modeled as a three-dimensional space.

The analysis of trusses often assumes that loads are applied to joints only and not at intermediate points along the members. The weight of the members is often insignificant compared to the applied loads and so is often omitted; alternatively, half of the weight of each member may be applied to its two end joints. Provided that the members are long and slender, the moments transmitted through the joints are negligible, and the junctions can be treated as "hinges" or "pin-joints".

Under these simplifying assumptions, every member of the truss is then subjected to pure compression or pure tension forces – shear, bending moment, and other more-complex stresses are all practically zero. Trusses are physically stronger than other ways of arranging structural elements, because nearly every material can resist a much larger load in tension or compression than in shear, bending, torsion, or other kinds of force.

These simplifications make trusses easier to analyze. Structural analysis of trusses of any type can readily be carried out using a matrix method such as the direct stiffness method, the flexibility method, or the finite element method.

Forces in members

Illustrated is a simple, statically determinate flat truss with 9 joints and (2 x 9) − 3 = 15 members. External loads are concentrated in the outer joints. Since this is a symmetrical truss with symmetrical vertical loads, the reactive forces at A and B are vertical, equal, and half the total load.

The internal forces in the members of the truss can be calculated in a variety of ways, including graphical methods:

Design of members

A truss can be thought of as a beam where the web consists of a series of separate members instead of a continuous plate. In the truss, the lower horizontal member (the bottom chord) and the upper horizontal member (the top chord) carry tension and compression, fulfilling the same function as the flanges of an I-beam. Which chord carries tension and which carries compression depends on the overall direction of bending. In the truss pictured above right, the bottom chord is in tension, and the top chord in compression.

The diagonal and vertical members form the truss web, and carry the shear stress. Individually, they are also in tension and compression, the exact arrangement of forces is depending on the type of truss and again on the direction of bending. In the truss shown above right, the vertical members are in tension, and the diagonals are in compression.

Truss sections stabilize this building under construction in Shanghai and will house mechanical floors Shanghai Shimao Plaza Construction.jpg
Truss sections stabilize this building under construction in Shanghai and will house mechanical floors

In addition to carrying the static forces, the members serve additional functions of stabilizing each other, preventing buckling. In the adjacent picture, the top chord is prevented from buckling by the presence of bracing and by the stiffness of the web members.

The inclusion of the elements shown is largely an engineering decision based upon economics, being a balance between the costs of raw materials, off-site fabrication, component transportation, on-site erection, the availability of machinery and the cost of labor. In other cases the appearance of the structure may take on greater importance and so influence the design decisions beyond mere matters of economics. Modern materials such as prestressed concrete and fabrication methods, such as automated welding, have significantly influenced the design of modern bridges.

Once the force on each member is known, the next step is to determine the cross section of the individual truss members. For members under tension the cross-sectional area A can be found using A = F × γ / σy, where F is the force in the member, γ is a safety factor (typically 1.5 but depending on building codes) and σy is the yield tensile strength of the steel used.

The members under compression also have to be designed to be safe against buckling.

The weight of a truss member depends directly on its cross section—that weight partially determines how strong the other members of the truss need to be. Giving one member a larger cross section than on a previous iteration requires giving other members a larger cross section as well, to hold the greater weight of the first member—one needs to go through another iteration to find exactly how much greater the other members need to be. Sometimes the designer goes through several iterations of the design process to converge on the "right" cross section for each member. On the other hand, reducing the size of one member from the previous iteration merely makes the other members have a larger (and more expensive) safety factor than is technically necessary, but doesn't require another iteration to find a buildable truss.

The effect of the weight of the individual truss members in a large truss, such as a bridge, is usually insignificant compared to the force of the external loads.

Design of joints

After determining the minimum cross section of the members, the last step in the design of a truss would be detailing of the bolted joints, e.g., involving shear stress of the bolt connections used in the joints. Based on the needs of the project, truss internal connections (joints) can be designed as rigid, semi rigid, or hinged. Rigid connections can allow transfer of bending moments leading to development of secondary bending moments in the members.


A type of truss used in roofing A type of truss used in roofing.jpg
A type of truss used in roofing

Post frame structures

Component connections are critical to the structural integrity of a framing system. In buildings with large, clearspan wood trusses, the most critical connections are those between the truss and its supports. In addition to gravity-induced forces (a.k.a. bearing loads), these connections must resist shear forces acting perpendicular to the plane of the truss and uplift forces due to wind. Depending upon overall building design, the connections may also be required to transfer bending moment.

Wood posts enable the fabrication of strong, direct, yet inexpensive connections between large trusses and walls. Exact details for post-to-truss connections vary from designer to designer, and may be influenced by post type. Solid-sawn timber and glulam posts are generally notched to form a truss bearing surface. The truss is rested on the notches and bolted into place. A special plate/bracket may be added to increase connection load transfer capabilities. With mechanically-laminated posts, the truss may rest on a shortened outer-ply or on a shortened inner-ply. The later scenario places the bolts in double shear and is a very effective connection.

See also

Related Research Articles

Structural engineering Sub-discipline of civil engineering dealing with the creation of man made structures

Structural engineering is a sub-discipline of civil engineering in which structural engineers are trained to design the 'bones and muscles' that create the form and shape of man-made structures. Structural engineers also must understand and calculate the stability, strength, rigidity and earthquake-susceptibility of built structures for buildings and nonbuilding structures. The structural designs are integrated with those of other designers such as architects and building services engineer and often supervise the construction of projects by contractors on site. They can also be involved in the design of machinery, medical equipment, and vehicles where structural integrity affects functioning and safety. See glossary of structural engineering.

Space frame Rigid three dimensional load bearing truss structure

In architecture and structural engineering, a space frame or space structure is a rigid, lightweight, truss-like structure constructed from interlocking struts in a geometric pattern. Space frames can be used to span large areas with few interior supports. Like the truss, a space frame is strong because of the inherent rigidity of the triangle; flexing loads are transmitted as tension and compression loads along the length of each strut.

Beam (structure) Structural element capable of withstanding loads by resisting bending

A beam is a structural element that primarily resists loads applied laterally to the beam's axis. Its mode of deflection is primarily by bending. The loads applied to the beam result in reaction forces at the beam's support points. The total effect of all the forces acting on the beam is to produce shear forces and bending moments within the beams, that in turn induce internal stresses, strains and deflections of the beam. Beams are characterized by their manner of support, profile, equilibrium conditions, length, and their material.

Truss bridge Bridge whose load-bearing superstructure is composed of a truss

A truss bridge is a bridge whose load-bearing superstructure is composed of a truss, a structure of connected elements, usually forming triangular units. The connected elements may be stressed from tension, compression, or sometimes both in response to dynamic loads. The basic types of truss bridges shown in this article have simple designs which could be easily analyzed by 19th and early 20th-century engineers. A truss bridge is economical to construct because it uses materials efficiently.

Ashtabula River railroad disaster 1876 railroad bridge collapse near Ashtabula, Ohio, United States

The Ashtabula River railroad disaster was the failure of a bridge about 1000 feet from the railway station near the town of Ashtabula, Ohio, in the United States on Friday, December 29, 1876. A train of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway named the Pacific Express carrying about 160 passengers passed over the bridge as it failed. All but the lead locomotive plunged into the river. The train's oil lanterns and coal-fired heating stoves set the wooden cars alight. Firefighters declined to extinguish the flames, leaving individuals to try to pull survivors from the wreck. Many who perished in the crash burned to death. The accident killed approximately 92 people. It was the worst rail accident in the U.S. in the 19th century and the worst rail accident in U.S. history until the Great Train Wreck of 1918 Also,

A tie, strap, tie rod, eyebar, guy-wire, suspension cables, or wire ropes, are examples of linear structural components designed to resist tension. It is the opposite of a strut or column, which is designed to resist compression. Ties may be made of any tension resisting material.

Girder Support beam used in construction

A girder is a support beam used in construction. It is the main horizontal support of a structure which supports smaller beams. Girders often have an I-beam cross section composed of two load-bearing flanges separated by a stabilizing web, but may also have a box shape, Z shape, or other forms. Girders are commonly used to build bridges.

The term structural system or structural frame in structural engineering refers to the load-resisting sub-system of a building or object. The structural system transfers loads through interconnected elements or members.

Tied-arch bridge

A tied-arch bridge is an arch bridge in which the outward horizontal forces of the arch(es) caused by tension at the arch ends to a foundation are countered by equal tension of its own gravity plus any element of the total deck structure such great arch(es) support. The arch(es) have strengthened chord(s) that run to a strong part of the deck structure or to independent tie-rods below the arch ends.

Steel building

A steel building is a metal structure fabricated with steel for the internal support and for exterior cladding, as opposed to steel framed buildings which generally use other materials for floors, walls, and external envelope. Steel buildings are used for a variety of purposes including storage, work spaces and living accommodation. They are classified into specific types depending on how they are used.

The staggered truss system is a type of structural steel framing used in high-rise buildings. The system consists of a series of story-high trusses spanning the total width between two rows of exterior columns and arranged in a staggered pattern on adjacent column lines. William LeMessurier, the founder Cambridge, Massachusetts engineering firm LeMessurier Consultants has been credited in developing this award winning system as part of his research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Howe truss

A Howe truss is a truss bridge consisting of chords, verticals, and diagonals whose vertical members are in tension and whose diagonal members are in compression. The Howe truss was invented by William Howe in 1840, and was widely used as a bridge in the mid to late 1800s.

A Brown truss is a type of bridge truss, used in covered bridges. It is noted for its economical use of materials and is named after the inventor, Josiah Brown Jr., of Buffalo, New York, who patented it July 7, 1857, as US patent 17,722.

King post Central vertical post used in architectural or bridge designs

A king post is a central vertical post used in architectural or bridge designs, working in tension to support a beam below from a truss apex above.

Blackfriars Street Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge in London, Ontario, Canada is a wrought iron bowstring arch through truss bridge, crossing the North Thames River. The bridge was constructed in 1875 and carries single-lane vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians from Blackfriars Street to Ridout Street North.

Warren truss Type of structural truss based upon equilateral triangles

In structural engineering, a Warren truss or equilateral truss is a type of truss employing a weight-saving design based upon equilateral triangles. It is named after the British engineer James Warren, who patented it in 1846.

Cold-formed steel Steel products shaped by cold-working processes

Cold-formed steel (CFS) is the common term for steel products shaped by cold-working processes carried out near room temperature, such as rolling, pressing, stamping, bending, etc. Stock bars and sheets of cold-rolled steel (CRS) are commonly used in all areas of manufacturing. The terms are opposed to hot-formed steel and hot-rolled steel.

Timber roof truss

A timber roof truss is a structural framework of timbers designed to bridge the space above a room and to provide support for a roof. Trusses usually occur at regular intervals, linked by longitudinal timbers such as purlins. The space between each truss is known as a bay.

Bethanga Bridge

The Bethanga Bridge is a steel truss road bridge that carries the Riverina Highway across Lake Hume, an artificial lake on the Murray River in Australia. The dual heritage-listed bridge crosses the border between the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria, linking the Victorian towns of Bellbridge and Bethanga with the regional New South Wales city of Albury.

This glossary of structural engineering terms pertains specifically to structural engineering and its sub-disciplines. Please see glossary of engineering for a broad overview of the major concepts of engineering.


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