Photograph of OSB and FRT plywood © Daniel Friedman LVL Beams & Headers: Definitions, Properties, & Description of Laminated Veneer Lumber

This article defines and illustrates Laminated Veneer Lumber LVL used for beams and headers used in floor, wall, and roof construction. We also illustrate LVL trim boards used on building exteriors. This article series describes wood products used in construction including engineered lumber, OSB, and Plywood products.

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Definition & Characteristics of "LVL" - Laminated Veneer Lumber, Beams, Headers

Laminated veneer lumber is an "engineered wood product", developed in the 1960's, is produced by gluing together layers of wood veneers with the wood grains in parallel. Illustraged in our photographs of LVL beams in use at a Poughkeepsie NY Project, our example LVL beams are made of fifteen laminated wood plies.

Multiple laminated veneer lumber beams can be assembled to provide greater strength to carry greater loads. In our LVL beam photo (below left) you will see that a higher-capacity LVL beam may be constructed as a built-up beam using multiple individual members nailed or nailed and glued together.

Our LVL composition closeup photo (below right) shows how the ends of individual plies within a single LVL beam may overlap within the product. [Click any image to see an enlarged, detailed version]

LVL beam, built-up (C) Daniel Friedman LVL beam, built-up (C) Daniel Friedman

Because individual wood ingredient defects in a laminated wood product will not extend beyond a single layer or "veneer" of wood, the overall laminated product is stronger than a piece of lumber of the same dimensions sawn from an individual tree. This approach also permits construction of large structural beams from smaller-diameter and lower-lumber-grades of trees.

As we illustrate in our LVL beam photographs (above) and as we also discuss at TRIM, EXTERIOR CHOICES, INSTALLATION:

LVL board siding sidely used in beams and headers, LVL has also been put to good use as a trim material (photo at left) with some minor modifications such as water-resistant edge sealing and adding a couple of cross-laminated layers to minimize cupping.

Like LVL beams, LVL trim is dimensionally stable and is easy to cut, nail, and install, similar to a piece of plywood.

Its weight falls in between solid wood and hardboard. It can be used for fascia, casings, corner boards, and most other exterior trim, and is available in lengths from 8 to 24 feet.

According to Laminated Veneer Lumber, Overview [Quoting:]

Being a homogenous and dimensionally stable building material, LVL can be used in both bearing and non-bearing walls, as planks, as beams, as headers, in door and window frames, sliding door rails, steps, as well as in the roof trusses of single-family houses and engineered building constructions such as swimming halls, sport halls, etc.

The example photograph of LVL boards used to form board-and-batten trim on a building exterior is from the above document.

LVL Beams (C) Daniel Friedman

Typically an individual LVL ply or layer of veneer is 45mm to 65mm in thickness, and may be up to 1.2 meters wide and as much as 25 meters in length, depending on the size of the original tree.

LVL lumber, including trim and structural beams (see our photo at left) is provided by several wood products companies including Georgia Pacific (GP-LAM).

LVL beams are typically used where long spans or extra strength are desired of beams, such as over garage doors, ridge and hip beams for suspended roof designs (cathedral ceilings below), and for window and door headers.

Laminated beams such as GluLam™ (photo at above left) or microlam structural wood beams (see LVL or laminated veneer lumber earlier in this article and illustrated further below). Layers of wood are glued (laminated) together with heat, resin binder, and pressure to form a very strong structural member that can be produced in regular sizes and lengths.

Unlike plywood or OSB, LVL lumber uses wood fragments that are all oriented in the same direction to produce very stiff beams that generally have greater span capacity than sawn lumber. GluLam produces laminated wood beams, timbers, I-joists, and other engineered wood products.

LVL mixed with conventional framing (C) Daniel Friedman

LVL structural wood products are produced in thicknesses from 3 1/2" to 24", and up to 60 feet in length.

Our LVL beam photo at left illustrates that LVL beams are produced in lumber dimensions that allow them to mix naturally with wood framed structures using conventional 2x4 and 2x6 framing.

LVL wood products, depending on their manufacturer and trade names and some product details, may be referred to as Microllam Laminated Veneer Lumber, Parallam Lumber, and also Glulam lumber.

See TRIM, EXTERIOR CHOICES, INSTALLATION for a discussion of use of LVL for exterior trim.

See Laminated Veneer Lumber, Overview of the Product for a nice collection of examples of use of LVL products and a brief history of this material.

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