The structural and mechanical integrity of historic wood

Hudson-McAulay, Kate J. (2016) The structural and mechanical integrity of historic wood. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Little is known about historic wood as it ages naturally. Instead, most studies focus on biological decay, as it is often assumed that wood remains otherwise stable with age. This PhD project was organised by Historic Scotland and the University of Glasgow to investigate the natural chemical and physical aging of wood.
The natural aging of wood was a concern for Historic Scotland as traditional timber replacement is the standard form of repair used in wooden cultural heritage; replacing rotten timber with new timber of the same species. The project was set up to look at what differences could exist both chemically and physically between old and new wood, which could put unforeseen stress on the joint between them. Through Historic Scotland it was possible to work with genuine historic wood from two species, Oak and Scots pine, both from the 1500’s, rather than relying on artificial aging. Artificial aging of wood is still a debated topic, with consideration given to whether it is truly mimicking the aging process or just damaging the wood cells.
The chemical stability of wood was investigated using Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) microscopy, as well as wet chemistry methods including a test for soluble sugars from the possible breakdown of the wood polymers. The physical properties assessed included using a tensile testing machine to uncover possible differences in mechanical properties. An environmental chamber was used to test the reaction to moisture of wood of different ages, as moisture is the most damaging aspect of the environment to wooden cultural objects. The project uncovered several differences, both physical and chemical, between the modern and historic wood which could affect the success of traditional ‘like for like’ repairs. Both oak and pine lost acetyl groups, over historic time, from their hemicellulose polymers. This chemical reaction releases acetic acid, which had no effect on the historic oak but was associated with reduced stiffness in historic pine, probably due to degradation of the hemicellulose polymers by acid hydrolysis. The stiffness of historic oak and pine was also reduced by decay. Visible pest decay led to loss of wood density but there was evidence that fungal decay, extending beyond what was visible, degraded the S2 layer of the pine cell walls, reducing the stiffness of the wood by depleting the cellulose microfibrils most aligned with the grain. Fungal decay of polysaccharides in pine wood left behind sugars that attracted increased levels of moisture.
The degradation of essential polymers in the wood structure due to age had different impacts on the two species of wood, and raised questions concerning both the mechanism of aging of wood and the ways in which traditional repairs are implemented, especially in Scots pine. These repairs need to be done with more care and precision, especially in choosing new timber to match the old. Within this project a quantitative method of measuring the microfibril angle (MFA) of wood using polarised Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) microscopy has been developed, allowing the MFA of both new and historic pine to be measured. This provides some of the information needed for a more specific match when selecting replacement timbers for historic buildings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Historic wood, conservation, timber roofs, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, MFA, FTIR, micro mechanical testing, relative humidity, shrinkage, hardwood, softwood.
Subjects: Q Science > QC Physics
Q Science > QD Chemistry
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Chemistry
Supervisor's Name: Jarvis, Dr. Michael
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Miss Kate J Hudson-McAulay
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7529
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2016 12:06
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2016 07:50

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