The type of joint you use on your bridge can drastically change its strength. There are three basic types of joints, the Lap Joint, End Joint, and Notched Joint. To increase the strength of an end or notched joint you can add a Gusset. Learn about each type of joint and when to use it on a model bridge in this article.
These pictures are not of glued joints, I simply laid sticks together. On a bridge, you want to make sure that the joints are clean and there are no gaps between the wood. Glue does not work well as a filler, the two pieces of wood should have no gaps.
The lap joint is one of the strongest, and you should use it whenever you can. It helps members in compression to resist bending. The lap joint has a potential weakness, however. Depending on the type of glue you use, the joint is only as strong as the face of the wood. If your glue soaks into the wood then this will not be a problem. The face of Balsa wood is typically not strong, and tears easily. You can also help avoid tearing by making sure your lap joints have plenty of surface area for the glue.
The end joint is not a very strong joint, especially for tension members. In tension, the two pieces of wood will just pull right away from each other. In compression, this joint will allow the piece to bend in a perfect arc. The lap joint holds the piece stiff, which does help it to hold more.
The notched joint gives more strength than the end joint, but less than the lap joint. And if the notch is a little too big, it creates a weakness in the notched member. It is also more difficult to build, which makes it not very common.
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid using an end joint on your bridge. But you can add a gusset to get all the benefits of a lap joint. In fact, you can make two gussets to create the strongest joint possible.
Typically gussets are thin pieces of wood, and not as thick as in these photos. Again, I was simply throwing together some scrap sticks of wood to get these pictures.