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.