RecQ helicases have attracted considerable interest in recent years due to their role in the suppression of genome instability and human diseases. These atypical helicases exert their function by resolving a number of highly specific DNA structures. The crystal structure of a truncated catalytic core of the human RECQ1 helicase (RECQ149-616) shows a prominent β-hairpin, with an aromatic residue (Y564) at the tip, located in the C-terminal winged-helix domain. Here, we show that the β-hairpin is required for the DNA unwinding and Holliday junction (HJ) resolution activity of full-length RECQ1, confirming that it represents an important determinant for the distinct substrate specificity of the five human RecQ helicases. In addition, we found that the β-hairpin is required for dimer formation in RECQ1 49-616 and tetramer formation in full-length RECQ1. We confirmed the presence of stable RECQ149-616 dimers in solution and demonstrated that dimer formation favours DNA unwinding; even though RECQ1 monomers are still active. Tetramers are instead necessary for more specialized activities such as HJ resolution and strand annealing. Interestingly, two independent protein-protein contacts are required for tetramer formation, one involves the β-hairpin and the other the N-terminus of RECQ1, suggesting a non-hierarchical mechanism of tetramer assembly.