What is a Truss?
A “truss” is what you see when you look at a truss bridge from one of its sides. A truss is typically made up of a lot of triangles, but some uncommon truss designs don’t have any. The purpose of a truss is to help a bridge support a load (car, train, person) from any point along the span of the bridge. Without a truss, you simply have a beam bridge.
While trusses have been used for both roofs and bridges for many centuries, there was an explosion of truss advancement in the 19th century in America. The need for bridges to span longer distances in this era, as well as to hold increasing heavy loads brought about many creative solutions, and many truss designs.
Three names stand out as true pioneers in these early truss bridges: Timothy Palmer (1751-1821), Louis Wernwag (1770-1843), and Theodore Burr (1771-1822). These men, along with other bridge builders who followed them, designed and built many bridges, especially in New England. Theodore Burr came up with a design that was used in many iconic covered bridges, and some are still standing today. These men came up with practical solutions for bridge building, and did not know or have access to the theory behind their designs.
These early truss bridges were made primarily from wood. As iron became more available, more truss designs were developed to make better use of this material. The Howe and Pratt trusses in particular were designed to incorporate iron rods in the truss.
This article will help you learn about trusses used in real bridges, and see how to apply them to model bridges. Learn the history of each common truss design. This page is designed to help you make an educated decision about what truss design you should use on your bridge.
Common trusses used in engineering:
Warren TrussThe Warren truss is one of the most simple yet strong designs. This simple design already existed, but what made the Warren unique is that it uses equilateral triangles. Each side of the triangles are the same length. This marked an improvement over the older Neville truss which did not use equilateral triangles.
Pratt And Howe Truss
There are more factors to consider, however. The Pratt and Howe trusses also differ in how they spread the load to the top and bottom chords. The Pratt truss has larger forces on the top and bottom chords than the Howe. Thus. you’d have to use bigger top and bottom chords.
K TrussThe K truss looks very good on paper. It shortens the lengths of the compression members compared to the other trusses. However, one must wonder if it adds additional weight simply because of the number of members. It is really interesting to note the two green members on the K truss, in theory those pieces could be taken off. However, I had to include them to make the truss design program work. This shows only one orientation of the K truss. If I reversed the direction of the K’s, I wonder how much it would change the forces.
The one thing I don’t like about this truss is the long vertical compression member in the middle of the bridge. If that one member could be shortened or even eliminated, I think the bridge would become more efficient.The K truss would be the hardest of these trusses to build. This is something worth considering. Making a strong joint that would make the most of the switch between compression and tension of the vertical members would be difficult.
If you are interested in learning more about trusses and truss design, check out Truss Fun, Second Edition from amazon. It can be purchased online though amazon. This is a comprehensive study on the engineering principles behind the design of bridges. It is easy to understand and to follow, and is a great fit for students who are just learning, but advanced enough to be a great resource to those with more experience. For more great resources, see this list of other great bridge books.