Truss Series: Warren Truss

The Warren Truss is a very common design for both real and model bridges. It’s exact history and origination is a little muddled, however. James Warren patented a design in 1848 (in England), which many attribute the name “Warren Truss”. His patent was more about the methodology of building rather than a “design”. Regardless, the Warren Truss has been around a while and has been very popular. Examples of it can be found everywhere in the world.

The Warren Truss uses equilateral triangles to spread out the loads on the bridge. This is opposed to the Neville Truss which used isosceles triangles. The equilateral triangles minimize the forces to only compression and tension. Interestingly, as a load (such as a car or train) moves across the bridge sometimes the forces for a member switch from compression to tension. This happens especially to the members near the center of the bridge.

How the forces are spread out

Here are two diagrams showing how the forces are spread out when the warren truss is under a load. The first shows the load being applied across the entire top of the bridge. The second shows a localized load in the center of the bridge. In both cases the total load = 100. Therefore, you can take the numbers as a percentage of the total load.

Interestingly, there is a significant difference. When the load is concentrated on the middle of the bridge, pretty much all the forces are larger. The top and bottom chord are under larger forces, even though the total load is the same. Thus, if you want your school project bridge to be able to hold more weight then try to spread out the force across the top of the bridge.

For a real life Warren Truss bridge, the forces often will be very localized and not spread out along the bridge. Thus, engineers must calculate how strong to make each member of the bridge and build accordingly. Unfortunately, not many Warren bridges are made anymore.

Warren Truss for model bridges

I have definitely used the Warren truss design for many balsa and basswood bridges. I have also used for some popsicle stick bridges. In fact, you can get a learning kit using a Warren Truss from my store. I think the Warren is a very solid choice when designing a model bridge. If you do not know how to start designing your own bridge, I would recommend the Warren, or the Pratt or Howe trusses.

The Warren truss is easy to use with Lap Joints, which are very strong joints. Find out more on my Bridge Joints page. All you have to do is lay down your top and bottom chords, and glue on the truss members directly on top of the top and bottom chords. The example bridge that I build in my 5 Steps to Building a Model Bridge ebook is a Warren Truss design.

Additional Resources

Pictures of real Warren Truss Bridges
In depth history of the Warren Truss

73 thoughts on “Truss Series: Warren Truss”

  1. This post was super awesome and the whole website in general was great. I’m a senior in high school and in my AP Physics class after the AP test we spent a week building bridges out of balsa wood. The bridge had to spam a 10 inch gap and was loaded from the top. Max height was 3 inches and max width was 2 inches. We built a warren truss with 6 bottom segments and 5 top segments. The load was placed in the middle of the middle top segment. We used Loctite glue for the joints. The bridge was 12 inches long and a little over 2 inches high and about an inch and three quarters wide. The bridge weighed 9.92 grams and held 20.2 pounds. The scoring was kilograms per gram and the score was 0.92 I believe. It was our first time building a bridge for a competition like this and we couldn’t have done it without this website. We used small gussets on our joints for both the truss and cross members. We also set the record for all time best bridge in the class. The balsa wood we had to use was 0.125 in by 0.125 in. The segment of the top that had the load used an extra piece of balsa to reinforce it because the load was not on a joint and we were afraid the balsa would break.

  2. Hello, I have to do a basswood bridge project for school. I was planning on using a Warren Truss for my project but I am unsure, because the directions say that the load will be administered from a loading point that will hang down from the bridge. If the load is hanging down from the bridge should Is still make the bridge short and long, or try use a different design?

  3. We have a requirement on our Steel Design, I’m going to design a bridge using warren truss, 2 lanes and 4 spans. What should I do first?

  4. thank you for this!! well, we have a project too, we will make a bridge out of pasta 🙂 but i think this is easier than others :))

  5. Hi, I will be doing this for a physics CP project that will be due in a week. From what my teacher has explained the weight will be held from the center of the bridge and not spread out equally throughout the bridge. Which design of a truss bridge would you most recommend for this project? We will be graded based on how much the bridge can hold, and how much the bridge islet weighs. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

    • Regan, use the Warren Truss bridge design, I have recently done an engineering assignment where we had to make a light weight bridge out of balsawood and see how much weight it could take then our strength/weight(bridge) ratio was calculated. the warren truss bridge I created weighted 120g and held 19kgs… I also did another type of bridge that was heavier and only held 15kgs. I would thoroughly reccomend an Warren Truss Bridge, hope this helps 🙂

  6. Hi guys! I have a project for science and we need to make a bridge out of skewers and straws. We only have 40 skewers and i need a strong design that can hold its weight x4! If anyone can help me find a design that includes warren trusses that would super duper helpful!! 😀 xx

    • clair,

      having participated in a few model truss competitions while in college i can offer a few words of wisedom.

      1, carefull clean construction with good joints goes a long way
      2, most likely failure mode will be the joints or in compression. so make good joints
      since this is a science project think about bucking and do some simple tests.
      3, shorter is better for compression, long and thin is good for tension. this will enable you to optimize the design.
      withadditional details on the span, width and materials I can provide more advise.

    • bob,

      what grade are you in and what level of math can you do? some trigonometry is needed to calculate the forces. can you do trigonometry?

  7. I’ve done 2 bridge building project and have used the warren truss model for both. I think it is very effective and would definetly use it again

  8. I have a tech project and I’m trying to find the easiest bridge to build. Not that I’m trying to take the easy way out, but what do you think about this? Would it be a good choice?

  9. I have to do a science fair project to see what bridge designs hold the most weight. I want to test the best. 🙂 Can you tell me what are some of your favorites? Thanks!

      • Currently we have middle school project on Warren Truss Balsa bridge, How did you managed the load to spread across the top , bottom chords . We are only able to get 10 to 12 lbs most . How can we increase the load on to the bridge . Have to use only Balsa wood and did lap joints . Appreciate your help . We will be heading to states shortly . So need your inputs . Thanks .

      • You can spread the weight by extending the truss system above the single span pictured on this website, i.e. make the bridge a triangle. You can continue the design upwards, shortening each successive span by two equilateral triangles, until you have a central triangle which transfers forces downwards onto the base span. This will obviously increase the mass of the bridge and place extra load on the base span, but will spread the load 🙂 Hope this helps.


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