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What is a Microlam?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

A microlam, sometimes called a lam beam or laminated veneer lumber (LVL), is a type of engineered timber. It is notable because it is much stronger than plywood although it is made in a similar fashion. There are many uses for strong timber like microlam, but it can be very expensive when compared with other materials, so use of lam beams is usually reserved for cases where a great amount of strength is needed. Common uses include carrying beams, joists, and headers.

The way microlam is made is the secret to its strength. Like plywood, thin sheets of wood are glued together to create beams. Each layer is glued such that the direction of the grain alternates, providing strength in each direction. The glue is very strong, and when the entire beam is assembled, it is heavy and considered construction-grade.

Microlam lumber is often used for beams and joists in construction.
Microlam lumber is often used for beams and joists in construction.

A microlam beam usually looks a lot like plywood. It generally has a smooth face with identifiable straight layers running in parallel. These layers are usually seen on two sides of the beam, although they can be hidden. Microlam beams come in a variety of sizes for different purposes. They can also be fastened together, creating a stronger main beam.

While lam beams are primarily used in new construction projects, they are also useful when expanding a home. Tearing out exterior walls for additions may require the use of compact, strong beams like these. Consultation with a trained construction professional is a good strategy for determining which type of lumber is best for the project, but hardware store personnel may be able to assist in determining if a lam beam is needed.

The primary benefit of a microlam beam is that it can accomplish the job of a larger piece of lumber using less space. It is only economical, then, to use this type of timber when those features will be an asset. Replacing joists that have begun to sag in a home with microlam beams may not be warranted because there will be little benefit. In new construction using lam beams saves space and allows for fewer support posts.

There are other benefits to using this type of engineered lumber over milled lumber. Lam beams are usually straighter and more uniform than milled counterparts. Composite beams such as these are often at a decreased risk of deformations over time, such as warping, shrinking, or bowing. This wood offers dependability as a result of its man-made nature. While natural materials and techniques are desirable for some purposes, using engineered materials in construction provides added safety and long-term benefits to the owners.

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    • Microlam lumber is often used for beams and joists in construction.
      By: mtmmarek
      Microlam lumber is often used for beams and joists in construction.