The Mechanical Properties of Wood
by Samuel J. Record
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Including a Discussion of the Factors Affecting the Mechanical Properties, and Methods of Timber Testing





Identification of the Economic Woods of the United States. 8vo, vi + 117 pages, 15 figures. Cloth, $1.25 net.



This book was written primarily for students of forestry to whom a knowledge of the technical properties of wood is essential. The mechanics involved is reduced to the simplest terms and without reference to higher mathematics, with which the students rarely are familiar. The intention throughout has been to avoid all unnecessarily technical language and descriptions, thereby making the subject-matter readily available to every one interested in wood.

Part I is devoted to a discussion of the mechanical properties of wood—the relation of wood material to stresses and strains. Much of the subject-matter is merely elementary mechanics of materials in general, though written with reference to wood in particular. Numerous tables are included, showing the various strength values of many of the more important American woods.

Part II deals with the factors affecting the mechanical properties of wood. This is a subject of interest to all who are concerned in the rational use of wood, and to the forester it also, by retrospection, suggests ways and means of regulating his forest product through control of the conditions of production. Attempt has been made, in the light of all data at hand, to answer many moot questions, such as the effect on the quality of wood of rate of growth, season of cutting, heartwood and sapwood, locality of growth, weight, water content, steaming, and defects.

Part III describes methods of timber testing. They are for the most part those followed by the U.S. Forest Service. In schools equipped with the necessary machinery the instructions will serve to direct the tests; in others a study of the text with reference to the illustrations should give an adequate conception of the methods employed in this most important line of research.

The appendix contains a copy of the working plan followed by the U.S. Forest Service in the extensive investigations covering the mechanical properties of the woods grown in the United States. It contains many valuable suggestions for the independent investigator. In addition four tables of strength values for structural timbers, both green and air-seasoned, are included. The relation of the stresses developed in different structural forms to those developed in the small clear specimens is given.

In the bibliography attempt was made to list all of the important publications and articles on the mechanical properties of wood, and timber testing. While admittedly incomplete, it should prove of assistance to the student who desires a fuller knowledge of the subject than is presented here.

The writer is indebted to the U.S. Forest Service for nearly all of his tables and photographs as well as many of the data upon which the book is based, since only the Government is able to conduct the extensive investigations essential to a thorough understanding of the subject. More than eighty thousand tests have been made at the Madison laboratory alone, and the work is far from completion.

The writer also acknowledges his indebtedness to Mr. Emanuel Fritz, M.E., M.F., for many helpful suggestions in the preparation of Part I; and especially to Mr. Harry Donald Tiemann, M.E., M.F., engineer in charge of Timber Physics at the Government Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, for careful revision of the entire manuscript.





Introduction Fundamental considerations and definitions Tensile strength Compressive or crushing strength Shearing strength Transverse or bending strength: Beams Toughness: Torsion Hardness Cleavability


Introduction Rate of growth Heartwood and sapwood Weight, density, and specific gravity Color Cross grain Knots Frost splits Shakes, galls, pitch pockets Insect injuries Marine wood-borer injuries Fungous injuries Parasitic plant injuries Locality of growth Season of cutting Water content Temperature Preservatives


Working plan Forms of material tested Size of test specimens Moisture determination Machine for static tests Speed of testing machine Bending large beams Bending small beams Endwise compression Compression across the grain Shear along the grain Impact test Hardness test: Abrasion and indentation Cleavage test Tension test parallel to the grain Tension test at right angles to the grain Torsion test Special tests Spike pulling test Packing boxes Vehicle and implement woods Cross-arms Other tests


Sample working plan of United States Forest Service Strength values for structural timbers


Part I: Some general works on mechanics, materials of construction, and testing of materials Part II: Publications and articles on the mechanical properties of wood, and timber testing Part III: Publications of the United States Government on the mechanical properties of wood, and timber testing


Frontispiece Photomicrograph of a small block of western hemlock 1. Stress-strain diagrams of two longleaf pine beams 2. Compression across the grain 3. Side view of failures in compression across the grain 4. End view of failures in compression across the grain 5. Testing a buggy-spoke in endwise compression 6. Unequal distribution of stress in a long column due to lateral bending 7. Endwise compression of a short column 8. Failures of a short column of green spruce 9. Failures of short columns of dry chestnut 10. Example of shear along the grain 11. Failures of test specimens in shear along the grain 12. Horizontal shear in a beam 13. Oblique shear in a short column 14. Failure of a short column by oblique shear 15. Diagram of a simple beam 16. Three common forms of beams—(1) simple, (2) cantilever, (3) continuous 17. Characteristic failures of simple beams 18. Failure of a large beam by horizontal shear 19. Torsion of a shaft 20. Effect of torsion on different grades of hickory 21. Cleavage of highly elastic wood 22. Cross-sections of white ash, red gum, and eastern hemlock 23. Cross-section of longleaf pine 24. Relation of the moisture content to the various strength values of spruce 25. Cross-section of the wood of western larch showing fissures in the thick-walled cells of the late wood 26. Progress of drying throughout the length of a chestnut beam 27. Excessive season checking 28. Control of season checking by the use of S-irons 29. Static bending test on a large beam 30. Two methods of loading a beam 31. Static bending test on a small beam 32. Sample log sheet, giving full details of a transverse bending test on a small pine beam 33. Endwise compression test 34. Sample log sheet of an endwise compression test on a short pine column 35. Compression across the grain 36. Vertical section of shearing tool 37. Front view of shearing tool 38. Two forms of shear test specimens 39. Making a shearing test 40. Impact testing machine 41. Drum record of impact bending test 42. Abrasion machine for testing the wearing qualities of woods 43. Design of tool for testing the hardness of woods by indentation 44. Design of tool for cleavage test 45. Design of cleavage test specimen 46. Designs of tension test specimens used in United States 47. Design of tension test specimen used in New South Wales 48. Design of tool and specimen for testing tension at right angles to the grain 49. Making a torsion test on hickory 50. Method of cutting and marking test specimens 51. Diagram of specific gravity apparatus


I. Comparative strength of iron, steel, and wood II. Ratio of strength of wood in tension and in compression III. Right-angled tensile strength of small clear pieces of 25 woods in green condition IV. Results of compression tests across the grain on 51 woods in green condition, and comparison with white oak V. Relation of fibre stress at elastic limit in bending to the crushing strength of blocks cut therefrom in pounds per square inch VI. Results of endwise compression tests on small clear pieces of 40 woods in green condition VII. Shearing strength along the grain of small clear pieces of 41 woods in green condition VIII. Shearing strength across the grain of various American woods IX. Results of static bending tests on small clear beams of 49 woods in green condition X. Results of impact bending tests on small clear beams of 34 woods in green condition XI. Manner of first failure of large beams XII. Hardness of 32 woods in green condition, as indicated by the load required to imbed a 0.444-inch steel ball to one-half its diameter XIII. Cleavage strength of small clear pieces of 32 woods in green condition XIV. Specific gravity, and shrinkage of 51 American woods XV. Effect of drying on the mechanical properties of wood, shown in ratio of increase due to reducing moisture content from the green condition to kiln-dry XVI. Effect of steaming on the strength of green loblolly pine XVII. Speed-strength moduli, and relative increase in strength at rates of fibre strain increasing in geometric ratio XVIII. Results of bending tests on green structural timbers XIX. Results of compression and shear tests on green structural timbers XX. Results of bending tests on air-seasoned structural timbers XXI. Results of compression and shear tests on air-seasoned structural timbers XXII. Working unit stresses for structural timber expressed in pounds per square inch



The mechanical properties of wood are its fitness and ability to resist applied or external forces. By external force is meant any force outside of a given piece of material which tends to deform it in any manner. It is largely such properties that determine the use of wood for structural and building purposes and innumerable other uses of which furniture, vehicles, implements, and tool handles are a few common examples.

Knowledge of these properties is obtained through experimentation either in the employment of the wood in practice or by means of special testing apparatus in the laboratory. Owing to the wide range of variation in wood it is necessary that a great number of tests be made and that so far as possible all disturbing factors be eliminated. For comparison of different kinds or sizes a standard method of testing is necessary and the values must be expressed in some defined units. For these reasons laboratory experiments if properly conducted have many advantages over any other method.

One object of such investigation is to find unit values for strength and stiffness, etc. These, because of the complex structure of wood, cannot have a constant value which will be exactly repeated in each test, even though no error be made. The most that can be accomplished is to find average values, the amount of variation above and below, and the laws which govern the variation. On account of the great variability in strength of different specimens of wood even from the same stick and appearing to be alike, it is important to eliminate as far as possible all extraneous factors liable to influence the results of the tests.

The mechanical properties of wood considered in this book are: (1) stiffness and elasticity, (2) tensile strength, (3) compressive or crushing strength, (4) shearing strength, (5) transverse or bending strength, (6) toughness, (7) hardness, (8) cleavability, (9) resilience. In connection with these, associated properties of importance are briefly treated.

In making use of figures indicating the strength or other mechanical properties of wood for the purpose of comparing the relative merits of different species, the fact should be borne in mind that there is a considerable range in variability of each individual material and that small differences, such as a few hundred pounds in values of 10,000 pounds, cannot be considered as a criterion of the quality of the timber. In testing material of the same kind and grade, differences of 25 per cent between individual specimens may be expected in conifers and 50 per cent or even more in hardwoods. The figures given in the tables should be taken as indications rather than fixed values, and as applicable to a large number collectively and not to individual pieces.


Study of the mechanical properties of a material is concerned mostly with its behavior in relation to stresses and strains, and the factors affecting this behavior. A stress is a distributed force and may be defined as the mutual action (1) of one body upon another, or (2) of one part of a body upon another part. In the first case the stress is external; in the other internal. The same stress may be internal from one point of view and external from another. An external force is always balanced by the internal stresses when the body is in equilibrium.

If no external forces act upon a body its particles assume certain relative positions, and it has what is called its natural shape and size. If sufficient external force is applied the natural shape and size will be changed. This distortion or deformation of the material is known as the strain. Every stress produces a corresponding strain, and within a certain limit (see elastic limit, in FUNDAMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS AND DEFINITIONS, above) the strain is directly proportional to the stress producing it.[1] The same intensity of stress, however, does not produce the same strain in different materials or in different qualities of the same material. No strain would be produced in a perfectly rigid body, but such is not known to exist.

[Footnote 1: This is in accordance with the discovery made in 1678 by Robert Hooke, and is known as Hooke's law.]

Stress is measured in pounds (or other unit of weight or force). A unit stress is the stress on a unit of the sectional { P } area. { Unit stress = —- } For instance, if a load (P) of one { A } hundred pounds is uniformly supported by a vertical post with a cross-sectional area (A) of ten square inches, the unit compressive stress is ten pounds per square inch.

Strain is measured in inches (or other linear unit). A unit strain is the strain per unit of length. Thus if a post 10 inches long before compression is 9.9 inches long under the compressive stress, the total strain is 0.1 inch, and the unit l 0.1 strain is —- = ——- = 0.01 inch per inch of length. L 10

As the stress increases there is a corresponding increase in the strain. This ratio may be graphically shown by means of a diagram or curve plotted with the increments of load or stress as ordinates and the increments of strain as abscissae. This is known as the stress-strain diagram. Within the limit mentioned above the diagram is a straight line. (See Fig. 1.) If the results of similar experiments on different specimens are plotted to the same scales, the diagrams furnish a ready means for comparison. The greater the resistance a material offers to deformation the steeper or nearer the vertical axis will be the line.

There are three kinds of internal stresses, namely, (1) tensile, (2) compressive, and (3) shearing. When external forces act upon a bar in a direction away from its ends or a direct pull, the stress is a tensile stress; when toward the ends or a direct push, compressive stress. In the first instance the strain is an elongation; in the second a shortening. Whenever the forces tend to cause one portion of the material to slide upon another adjacent to it the action is called a shear. The action is that of an ordinary pair of shears. When riveted plates slide on each other the rivets are sheared off.

These three simple stresses may act together, producing compound stresses, as in flexure. When a bow is bent there is a compression of the fibres on the inner or concave side and an elongation of the fibres on the outer or convex side. There is also a tendency of the various fibres to slide past one another in a longitudinal direction. If the bow were made of two or more separate pieces of equal length it would be noted on bending that slipping occurred along the surfaces of contact, and that the ends would no longer be even. If these pieces were securely glued together they would no longer slip, but the tendency to do so would exist just the same. Moreover, it would be found in the latter case that the bow would be much harder to bend than where the pieces were not glued together—in other words, the stiffness of the bow would be materially increased.

Stiffness is the property by means of which a body acted upon by external forces tends to retain its natural size and shape, or resists deformation. Thus a material that is difficult to bend or otherwise deform is stiff; one that is easily bent or otherwise deformed is flexible. Flexibility is not the exact counterpart of stiffness, as it also involves toughness and pliability.

If successively larger loads are applied to a body and then removed it will be found that at first the body completely regains its original form upon release from the stress—in other words, the body is elastic. No substance known is perfectly elastic, though many are practically so under small loads. Eventually a point will be reached where the recovery of the specimen is incomplete. This point is known as the elastic limit, which may be defined as the limit beyond which it is impossible to carry the distortion of a body without producing a permanent alteration in shape. After this limit has been exceeded, the size and shape of the specimen after removal of the load will not be the same as before, and the difference or amount of change is known as the permanent set.

Elastic limit as measured in tests and used in design may be defined as that unit stress at which the deformation begins to increase in a faster ratio than the applied load. In practice the elastic limit of a material under test is determined from the stress-strain diagram. It is that point in the line where the diagram begins perceptibly to curve.[2] (See Fig. 1.)

[Footnote 2: If the straight portion does not pass through the origin, a parallel line should be drawn through the origin, and the load at elastic limit taken from this line. (See Fig. 32.)]

Resilience is the amount of work done upon a body in deforming it. Within the elastic limit it is also a measure of the potential energy stored in the material and represents the amount of work the material would do upon being released from a state of stress. This may be graphically represented by a diagram in which the abscissae represent the amount of deflection and the ordinates the force acting. The area included between the stress-strain curve and the initial line (which is zero) represents the work done. (See Fig. 1.) If the unit of space is in inches and the unit of force is in pounds the result is inch-pounds. If the elastic limit is taken as the apex of the triangle the area of the triangle will represent the elastic resilience of the specimen. This amount of work can be applied repeatedly and is perhaps the best measure of the toughness of the wood as a working quality, though it is not synonymous with toughness.

Permanent set is due to the plasticity of the material. A perfectly plastic substance would have no elasticity and the smallest forces would cause a set. Lead and moist clay are nearly plastic and wood possesses this property to a greater or less extent. The plasticity of wood is increased by wetting, heating, and especially by steaming and boiling. Were it not for this property it would be impossible to dry wood without destroying completely its cohesion, due to the irregularity of shrinkage.

A substance that can undergo little change in shape without breaking or rupturing is brittle. Chalk and glass are common examples of brittle materials. Sometimes the word brash is used to describe this condition in wood. A brittle wood breaks suddenly with a clean instead of a splintery fracture and without warning. Such woods are unfitted to resist shock or sudden application of load.

The measure of the stiffness of wood is termed the modulus of elasticity (or coefficient of elasticity). It is the ratio of stress per unit of area to the deformation per unit of { unit stress } length. { E = ——————- } It is a number indicative of { unit strain } stiffness, not of strength, and only applies to conditions within the elastic limit. It is nearly the same whether derived from compression tests or from tension tests.

A large modulus indicates a stiff material. Thus in green wood tested in static bending it varies from 643,000 pounds per square inch for arborvitae to 1,662,000 pounds for longleaf pine, and 1,769,000 pounds for pignut hickory. (See Table IX.) The values derived from tests of small beams of dry material are much greater, approaching 3,000,000 for some of our woods. These values are small when compared with steel which has a modulus of elasticity of about 30,000,000 pounds per square inch. (See Table I.)

TABLE I COMPARATIVE STRENGTH OF IRON, STEEL, AND WOOD Sp. Modulus of Tensile Crushing Modulus MATERIAL gr., elasticity strength strength of dry in bending rupture -+ - + + + + Lbs. per Lbs. per Lbs. per Lbs. per sq. in. sq. in. sq. in. sq. in. Cast iron, cold blast (Hodgkinson) 7.1 17,270,000 16,700 106,000 38,500 Bessenger steel, high grade (Fairbain) 7.8 29,215,000 88,400 225,600 Longleaf pine, 3.5% moisture (U.S.) .63 2,800,000 13,000 21,000 Redspruce, 3.5% moisture (U.S.) .41 1,800,000 8,800 14,500 Pignut hickory, 3.5% moisture (U.S.) .86 2,370,000 11,130 24,000 NOTE. Great variation may be found in different samples of metals as well as of wood. The examples given represent reasonable values.


Tension results when a pulling force is applied to opposite ends of a body. This external pull is communicated to the interior, so that any portion of the material exerts a pull or tensile force upon the remainder, the ability to do so depending upon the property of cohesion. The result is an elongation or stretching of the material in the direction of the applied force. The action is the opposite of compression.

Wood exhibits its greatest strength in tension parallel to the grain, and it is very uncommon in practice for a specimen to be pulled in two lengthwise. This is due to the difficulty of making the end fastenings secure enough for the full tensile strength to be brought into play before the fastenings shear off longitudinally. This is not the case with metals, and as a result they are used in almost all places where tensile strength is particularly needed, even though the remainder of the structure, such as sills, beams, joists, posts, and flooring, may be of wood. Thus in a wooden truss bridge the tension members are steel rods.

The tensile strength of wood parallel to the grain depends upon the strength of the fibres and is affected not only by the nature and dimensions of the wood elements but also by their arrangement. It is greatest in straight-grained specimens with thick-walled fibres. Cross grain of any kind materially reduces the tensile strength of wood, since the tensile strength at right angles to the grain is only a small fraction of that parallel to the grain.

TABLE II RATIO OF STRENGTH OF WOOD IN TENSION AND IN COMPRESSION (Bul. 10, U. S. Div. of Forestry, p. 44) Ratio: A stick 1 square inch in cross section. Tensile KIND OF WOOD strength Weight required to R = - compressive Pull apart Crush endwise strength - - - Hickory 3.7 32,000 8,500 Elm 3.8 29,000 7,500 Larch 2.3 19,400 8,600 Longleaf Pine 2.2 17,300 7,400 NOTE. Moisture condition not given.

Failure of wood in tension parallel to the grain occurs sometimes in flexure, especially with dry material. The tension portion of the fracture is nearly the same as though the piece were pulled in two lengthwise. The fibre walls are torn across obliquely and usually in a spiral direction. There is practically no pulling apart of the fibres, that is, no separation of the fibres along their walls, regardless of their thickness. The nature of tension failure is apparently not affected by the moisture condition of the specimen, at least not so much so as the other strength values.[3]

[Footnote 3: See Brush, Warren D.: A microscopic study of the mechanical failure of wood. Vol. II, Rev. F.S. Investigations, Washington, D.C., 1912, p. 35.]

Tension at right angles to the grain is closely related to cleavability. When wood fails in this manner the thin fibre walls are torn in two lengthwise while the thick-walled fibres are usually pulled apart along the primary wall.

TABLE III TENSILE STRENGTH AT RIGHT ANGLES TO THE GRAIN OF SMALL CLEAR PIECES OF 25 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION (Forest Service Cir. 213) When When COMMON NAME surface of surface of OF SPECIES failure is failure is radial tangential Lbs. per Lbs. per sq. inch sq. inch Hardwoods Ash, white 645 671 Basswood 226 303 Beech 633 969 Birch, yellow 446 526 Elm, slippery 765 832 Hackberry 661 786 Locust, honey 1,133 1,445 Maple, sugar 610 864 Oak, post 714 924 red 639 874 swamp white 757 909 white 622 749 yellow 728 929 Sycamore 540 781 Tupelo 472 796 Conifers Arborvitae 241 235 Cypress, bald 242 251 Fir, white 213 304 Hemlock 271 323 Pine, longleaf 240 298 red 179 205 sugar 239 304 western yellow 230 252 white 225 285 Tamarack 236 274


Compression across the grain is very closely related to hardness and transverse shear. There are two ways in which wood is subjected to stress of this kind, namely, (1) with the load acting over the entire area of the specimen, and (2) with a load concentrated over a portion of the area. (See Fig. 2.) The latter is the condition more commonly met with in practice, as, for example, where a post rests on a horizontal sill, or a rail rests on a cross-tie. The former condition, however, gives the true resistance of the grain to simple crushing.

The first effect of compression across the grain is to compact the fibres, the load gradually but irregularly increasing as the density of the material is increased. If the specimen lies on a flat surface and the load is applied to only a portion of the upper area, the bearing plate indents the wood, crushing the upper fibres without affecting the lower part. (See Fig. 3.) As the load increases the projecting ends sometimes split horizontally. (See Fig. 4.) The irregularities in the load are due to the fact that the fibres collapse a few at a time, beginning with those with the thinnest walls. The projection of the ends increases the strength of the material directly beneath the compressing weight by introducing a beam action which helps support the load. This influence is exerted for a short distance only.

When wood is used for columns, props, posts, and spokes, the weight of the load tends to shorten the material endwise. This is endwise compression, or compression parallel to the grain. In the case of long columns, that is, pieces in which the length is very great compared with their diameter, the failure is by sidewise bending or flexure, instead of by crushing or splitting. (See Fig. 5.) A familiar instance of this action is afforded by a flexible walking-stick. If downward pressure is exerted with the hand on the upper end of the stick placed vertically on the floor, it will be noted that a definite amount of force must be applied in each instance before decided flexure takes place. After this point is reached a very slight increase of pressure very largely increases the deflection, thus obtaining so great a leverage about the middle section as to cause rupture.

The lateral bending of a column produces a combination of bending with compressive stress over the section, the compressive stress being maximum at the section of greatest deflection on the concave side. The convex surface is under tension, as in an ordinary beam test. (See Fig. 6.) If the same stick is braced in such a way that flexure is prevented, its supporting strength is increased enormously, since the compressive stress acts uniformly over the section, and failure is by crushing or splitting, as in small blocks. In all columns free to bend in any direction the deflection will be seen in the direction in which the column is least stiff. This sidewise bending can be overcome by making pillars and columns thicker in the middle than at the ends, and by bracing studding, props, and compression members of trusses. The strength of a column also depends to a considerable extent upon whether the ends are free to turn or are fixed.

- TABLE IV - RESULTS OF COMPRESSION TESTS ACROSS THE GRAIN ON 51 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION, AND COMPARISON WITH WHITE OAK (U. S. Forest Service) - Fibre stress Fiber stress COMMON NAME at elastic in per cent OF SPECIES limit of white oak, perpendicular or 853 pounds to grain per sq. in. - - - Lbs. per sq. inch Per cent Osage orange 2,260 265.0 Honey locust 1,684 197.5 Black locust 1,426 167.2 Post oak 1,148 134.6 Pignut hickory 1,142 133.9 Water hickory 1,088 127.5 Shagbark hickory 1,070 125.5 Mockernut hickory 1,012 118.6 Big shellbark hickory 997 116.9 Bitternut hickory 986 115.7 Nutmeg hickory 938 110.0 Yellow oak 857 100.5 White oak 853 100.0 Bur oak 836 98.0 White ash 828 97.1 Red oak 778 91.2 Sugar maple 742 87.0 Rock elm 696 81.6 Beech 607 71.2 Slippery elm 599 70.2 Redwood 578 67.8 Bald cypress 548 64.3 Red maple 531 62.3 Hackberry 525 61.6 Incense cedar 518 60.8 Hemlock 497 58.3 Longleaf pine 491 57.6 Tamarack 480 56.3 Silver maple 456 53.5 Yellow birch 454 53.2 Tupelo 451 52.9 Black cherry 444 52.1 Sycamore 433 50.8 Douglas fir 427 50.1 Cucumber tree 408 47.8 Shortleaf pine 400 46.9 Red pine 358 42.0 Sugar pine 353 41.1 White elm 351 41.2 Western yellow pine 348 40.8 Lodgepole pine 348 40.8 Red spruce 345 40.5 White pine 314 36.8 Engelman spruce 290 34.0 Arborvitae 288 33.8 Largetooth aspen 269 31.5 White spruce 262 30.7 Butternut 258 30.3 Buckeye (yellow) 210 24.6 Basswood 209 24.5 Black willow 193 22.6 -

The complexity of the computations depends upon the way in which the stress is applied and the manner in which the stick bends. Ordinarily where the length of the test specimen is not greater than four diameters and the ends are squarely faced (see Fig. 7), the force acts uniformly over each square inch of area and the crushing strength is equal to the maximum load (P) divided { P } by the area of the cross-section (A). { C = —- } { A }

It has been demonstrated[4] that the ultimate strength in compression parallel to the grain is very nearly the same as the extreme fibre stress at the elastic limit in bending. (See Table V.) In other words, the transverse strength of beams at elastic limit is practically equal to the compressive strength of the same material in short columns. It is accordingly possible to calculate the approximate breaking strength of beams from the compressive strength of short columns except when the wood is brittle. Since tests on endwise compression are simpler, easier to make, and less expensive than transverse bending tests, the importance of this relation is obvious, though it does not do away with the necessity of making beam tests.

[Footnote 4: See Circular No. 18, U.S. Division of Forestry: Progress in timber physics, pp. 13-18; also Bulletin 70, U.S. Forest Service: Effect of moisture on the strength and stiffness of wood, pp. 42, 89-90.]

- TABLE V - RELATION OF FIBRE STRESS AT ELASTIC LIMIT (r) IN BENDING TO THE CRUSHING STRENGTH (C) OF BLOCKS CUT THEREFROM, IN POUNDS PER SQUARE INCH (Forest Service Bul. 70, p. 90) - LONGLEAF PINE - Soaked Green 14 11.5 9.5 Kiln-dry MOISTURE CONDITION 50 per 23 per per per per 6.2 per cent cent cent cent cent cent -+ + + -+ -+ -+ Number of tests averaged 5 5 5 5 4 5 r in bending 4,920 5,944 6,924 7,852 9,280 11,550 C in compression 4,668 5,100 6,466 7,466 8,985 10,910 Per cent r is in excess of C 5.5 16.5 7.1 5.2 3.3 5.9 - SPRUCE - Soaked Green 10 8.1 Kiln-dry MOISTURE CONDITION 30 per 30 per per per 3.9 per cent cent cent cent cent + + + -+ -+ Number of tests averaged 5 4 5 3 4 r in bending 3,002 3,362 6,458 8,400 10,170 C in compression 2,680 3,025 6,120 7,610 9,335 Per cent r is in excess of C 12.0 11.1 5.5 10.4 9.0 -

When a short column is compressed until it breaks, the manner of failure depends partly upon the anatomical structure and partly upon the degree of humidity of the wood. The fibres (tracheids in conifers) act as hollow tubes bound closely together, and in giving way they either (1) buckle, or (2) bend.[5]

[Footnote 5: See Bulletin 70, op. cit., p. 129.]

The first is typical of any dry thin-walled cells, as is usually the case in seasoned white pine and spruce, and in the early wood of hard pines, hemlock, and other species with decided contrast between the two portions of the growth ring. As a rule buckling of a tracheid begins at the bordered pits which form places of least resistance in the walls. In hardwoods such as oak, chestnut, ash, etc., buckling occurs only in the thinnest-walled elements, such as the vessels, and not in the true fibres.

According to Jaccard[6] the folding of the cells is accompanied by characteristic alterations of their walls which seem to split them into extremely thin layers. When greatly magnified, these layers appear in longitudinal sections as delicate threads without any definite arrangements, while on cross section they appear as numerous concentric strata. This may be explained on the ground that the growth of a fibre is by successive layers which, under the influence of compression, are sheared apart. This is particularly the case with thick-walled cells such as are found in late wood.

[Footnote 6: Jaccard, P.: Etude anatomique des bois comprimes. Mit. d. Schw. Centralanstalt f.d. forst. Versuchswesen. X. Band, 1. Heft. Zurich, 1910, p. 66.]

- TABLE VI - RESULTS OF ENDWISE COMPRESSION TESTS ON SMALL CLEAR PIECES OF 40 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION (Forest Service Cir. 213) - Fibre Modulus COMMON NAME stress at Crushing of OF SPECIES elastic strength elasticity limit -+ -+ + Lbs. per Lbs. per Lbs. per sq. inch sq. inch sq. inch Hardwoods Ash, white 3,510 4,220 1,531,000 Basswood 780 1,820 1,016,000 Beech 2,770 3,480 1,412,000 Birch, yellow 2,570 3,400 1,915,000 Elm, slippery 3,410 3,990 1,453,000 Hackberry 2,730 3,310 1,068,000 Hickory, big shellbark 3,570 4,520 1,658,000 bitternut 4,330 4,570 1,616,000 mockernut 3,990 4,320 1,359,000 nutmeg 3,620 3,980 1,411,000 pignut 3,520 4,820 1,980,000 shagbark 3,730 4,600 1,943,000 water 3,240 4,660 1,926,000 Locust, honey 4,300 4,970 1,536,000 Maple, sugar 3,040 3,670 1,463,000 Oak, post 2,780 3,330 1,062,000 red 2,290 3,210 1,295,000 swamp white 3,470 4,360 1,489,000 white 2,400 3,520 946,000 yellow 2,870 3,700 1,465,000 Osage orange 3,980 5,810 1,331,000 Sycamore 2,320 2,790 1,073,000 Tupelo 2,280 3,550 1,280,000 Conifers Arborvitae 1,420 1,990 754,000 Cedar, incense 2,710 3,030 868,000 Cypress, bald 3,560 3,960 1,738,000 Fir, alpine 1,660 2,060 882,000 amabilis 2,763 3,040 1,579,000 Douglas 2,390 2,920 1,440,000 white 2,610 2,800 1,332,000 Hemlock 2,110 2,750 1,054,000 Pine, lodgepole 2,290 2,530 1,219,000 longleaf 3,420 4,280 1,890,000 red 2,470 3,080 1,646,000 sugar 2,340 2,600 1,029,000 western yellow 2,100 2,420 1,271,000 white 2,370 2,720 1,318,000 Redwood 3,420 3,820 1,175,000 Spruce, Engelmann 1,880 2,170 1,021,000 Tamarack 3,010 3,480 1,596,000 -

The second case, where the fibres bend with more or less regular curves instead of buckling, is characteristic of any green or wet wood, and in dry woods where the fibres are thick-walled. In woods in which the fibre walls show all gradations of thickness—in other words, where the transition from the thin-walled cells of the early wood to the thick-walled cells of the late wood is gradual—the two kinds of failure, namely, buckling and bending, grade into each other. In woods with very decided contrast between early and late wood the two forms are usually distinct. Except in the case of complete failure the cavity of the deformed cells remains open, and in hardwoods this is true not only of the wood fibres but also of the tube-like vessels. In many cases longitudinal splits occur which isolate bundles of elements by greater or less intervals. The splitting occurs by a tearing of the fibres or rays and not by the separation of the rays from the adjacent elements.

Moisture in wood decreases the stiffness of the fibre walls and enlarges the region of failure. The curve which the fibre walls make in the region of failure is more gradual and also more irregular than in dry wood, and the fibres are more likely to be separated.

In examining the lines of rupture in compression parallel to the grain it appears that there does not exist any specific type, that is, one that is characteristic of all woods. Test blocks taken from different parts of the same log may show very decided differences in the manner of failure, while blocks that are much alike in the size, number, and distribution of the elements of unequal resistance may behave very similarly. The direction of rupture is, according to Jaccard, not influenced by the distribution of the medullary rays.[7] These are curved with the bundles of fibres to which they are attached. In any case the failure starts at the weakest points and follows the lines of least resistance. The plane of failure, as visible on radial surfaces, is horizontal, and on the tangential surface it is diagonal.

[Footnote 7: This does not correspond exactly with the conclusions of A. Thil, who says ("Constitution anatomique du bois," pp. 140-141): "The sides of the medullary rays sometimes produce planes of least resistance varying in size with the height of the rays. The medullary rays assume a direction more or less parallel to the lumen of the cells on which they border; the latter curve to the right or left to make room for the ray and then close again beyond it. If the force acts parallel to the axis of growth, the tracheids are more likely to be displaced if the marginal cells of the medullary rays are provided with weak walls that are readily compressed. This explains why on the radial surface of the test blocks the plane of rupture passes in a direction nearly following a medullary ray, whereas on the tangential surface the direction of the plane of rupture is oblique—but with an obliquity varying with the species and determined by the pitch of the spirals along which the medullary rays are distributed in the stem." See Jaccard, op. cit., pp. 57 et seq.]


Whenever forces act upon a body in such a way that one portion tends to slide upon another adjacent to it the action is called a shear.[8] In wood this shearing action may be (1) along the grain, or (2) across the grain. A tenon breaking out its mortise is a familiar example of shear along the grain, while the shoving off of the tenon itself would be shear across the grain. The use of wood for pins or tree-nails involves resistance to shear across the grain. Another common instance of the latter is where the steel edge of the eye of an axe or hammer tends to cut off the handle. In Fig. 10 the action of the wooden strut tends to shear off along the grain the portion AB of the wooden tie rod, and it is essential that the length of this portion be great enough to guard against it. Fig. 11 shows characteristic failures in shear along the grain.

[Footnote 8: Shear should not be confused with ordinary cutting or incision.]

- TABLE VII - SHEARING STRENGTH ALONG THE GRAIN OF SMALL CLEAR PIECES OF 41 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION (Forest Service Cir. 213) - When When COMMON NAME surface of surface of OF SPECIES failure is failure is radial tangential - Lbs. per Lbs. per sq. inch sq. inch Hardwoods Ash, black 876 832 white 1,360 1,312 Basswood 560 617 Beech 1,154 1,375 Birch, yellow 1,103 1,188 Elm, slippery 1,197 1,174 white 778 872 Hackberry 1,095 1,161 Hickory, big shellbark 1,134 1,191 bitternut 1,134 1,348 mockernut 1,251 1,313 nutmeg 1,010 1,053 pignut 1,334 1,457 shagbark 1,230 1,297 water 1,390 1,490 Locust, honey 1,885 2,096 Maple, red 1,130 1,330 sugar 1,193 1,455 Oak, post 1,196 1,402 red 1,132 1,195 swamp white 1,198 1,394 white 1,096 1,292 yellow 1,162 1,196 Sycamore 900 1,102 Tupelo 978 1,084 Conifers Arborvitae 617 614 Cedar, incense 613 662 Cypress, bald 836 800 Fir, alpine 573 654 amabilis 517 639 Douglas 853 858 white 742 723 Hemlock 790 813 Pine, lodgepole 672 747 longleaf 1,060 953 red 812 741 sugar 702 714 western yellow 686 706 white 649 639 Spruce, Engelmann 607 624 Tamarack 883 843 -

Both shearing stresses may act at the same time. Thus the weight carried by a beam tends to shear it off at right angles to the axis; this stress is equal to the resultant force acting perpendicularly at any point, and in a beam uniformly loaded and supported at either end is maximum at the points of support and zero at the centre. In addition there is a shearing force tending to move the fibres of the beam past each other in a longitudinal direction. (See Fig. 12.) This longitudinal shear is maximum at the neutral plane and decreases toward the upper and lower surfaces.

Shearing across the grain is so closely related to compression at right angles to the grain and to hardness that there is little to be gained by making separate tests upon it. Knowledge of shear parallel to the grain is important, since wood frequently fails in that way. The value of shearing stress parallel to the grain is found by dividing the maximum load in pounds (P) by the area of the cross section in inches (A).

{ P } { Shear = —- } { A }

Oblique shearing stresses are developed in a bar when it is subjected to direct tension or compression. The maximum shearing stress occurs along a plane when it makes an angle of 45 degrees P with the axis of the specimen. In this case, shear = ——-. When 2 A the value of the angle [Greek: theta] is less than 45 degrees, P the shear along the plane = —- sin [Greek: theta] cos [Greek: A theta]. (See Fig. 13.) The effect of oblique shear is often visible in the failures of short columns. (See Fig. 14.)

- TABLE VIII - SHEARING STRENGTH ACROSS THE GRAIN OF VARIOUS AMERICAN WOODS (J.C. Trautwine. Jour. Franklin Institute. Vol. 109, 1880, pp. 105-106) - KIND OF WOOD Lbs. per KIND OF WOOD Lbs. per sq. inch sq. inch -+ + -+ Ash 6,280 Hickory 7,285 Beech 5,223 Locust 7,176 Birch 5,595 Maple 6,355 Cedar (white) 1,372 Oak 4,425 Cedar (white) 1,519 Oak (live) 8,480 Cedar (Central Amer.) 3,410 Pine (white) 2,480 Cherry 2,945 Pine (northern yellow) 4,340 Chestnut 1,536 Pine (southernyellow) 5,735 Dogwood 6,510 Pine (very resinous yellow) 5,053 Ebony 7,750 Poplar 4,418 Gum 5,890 Spruce 3,255 Hemlock 2,750 Walnut (black) 4,728 Hickory 6,045 Walnut (common) 2,830 - NOTE. Two specimens of each were tested. All were fairly seasoned and without defects. The piece sheared off was 5/8 in. The single circular area of each pin was 0.322 sq. in. -


When external forces acting in the same plane are applied at right angles to the axis of a bar so as to cause it to bend, they occasion a shortening of the longitudinal fibres on the concave side and an elongation of those on the convex side. Within the elastic limit the relative stretching and contraction of the fibres is directly[9] proportional to their distances from a plane intermediate between them—the neutral plane. (N_{1} P in Fig. 15.) Thus the fibres half-way between the neutral plane and the outer surface experience only half as much shortening or elongation as the outermost or extreme fibres. Similarly for other distances. The elements along the neutral plane experience no tension or compression in an axial direction. The line of intersection of this plane and the plane of section is known as the neutral axis (N A in Fig. 15) of the section.

[Footnote 9: While in reality this relationship does not exactly hold, the formulae for beams are based on its assumption.]

If the bar is symmetrical and homogeneous the neutral plane is located half-way between the upper and lower surfaces, so long as the deflection does not exceed the elastic limit of the material. Owing to the fact that the tensile strength of wood is from two to nearly four times the compressive strength, it follows that at rupture the neutral plane is much nearer the convex than the concave side of the bar or beam, since the sum of all the compressive stresses on the concave portion must always equal the sum of the tensile stresses on the convex portion. The neutral plane begins to change from its central position as soon as the elastic limit has been passed. Its location at any time is very uncertain.

The external forces acting to bend the bar also tend to rupture it at right angles to the neutral plane by causing one transverse section to slip past another. This stress at any point is equal to the resultant perpendicular to the axis of the forces acting at this point, and is termed the transverse shear (or in the case of beams, vertical shear).

In addition to this there is a shearing stress, tending to move the fibres past one another in an axial direction, which is called longitudinal shear (or in the case of beams, horizontal shear). This stress must be taken into consideration in the design of timber structures. It is maximum at the neutral plane and decreases to zero at the outer elements of the section. The shorter the span of a beam in proportion to its height, the greater is the liability of failure in horizontal shear before the ultimate strength of the beam is reached.


There are three common forms of beams, as follows:

(1) Simple beam—a bar resting upon two supports, one near each end. (See Fig. 16, No. 1.)

(2) Cantilever beam—a bar resting upon one support or fulcrum, or that portion of any beam projecting out of a wall or beyond a support. (See Fig. 16, No. 2.)

(3) Continuous beam—a bar resting upon more than two supports. (See Fig. 16, No. 3.)

Stiffness of Beams

The two main requirements of a beam are stiffness and strength. The formulae for the modulus of elasticity (E) or measure of stiffness of a rectangular prismatic simple beam loaded at the centre and resting freely on supports at either end is:[10]

[Footnote 10: Only this form of beam is considered since it is the simplest. For cantilever and continuous beams, and beams rigidly fixed at one or both ends, as well as for different methods of loading, different forms of cross section, etc., other formulae are required. See any book on mechanics.]

P' l^{3} E = ——————- 4 D b h^{3}

b = breadth or width of beam, inches. h = height or depth of beam, inches. l = span (length between points of supports) of beam, inches. D = deflection produced by load P', inches. P' = load at or below elastic limit, pounds.

From this formulae it is evident that for rectangular beams of the same material, mode of support, and loading, the deflection is affected as follows:

(1) It is inversely proportional to the width for beams of the same length and depth. If the width is tripled the deflection is one-third as great.

(2) It is inversely proportional to the cube of the depth for beams of the same length and breadth. If the depth is tripled the deflection is one twenty-seventh as great.

(3) It is directly proportional to the cube of the span for beams of the same breadth and depth. Tripling the span gives twenty-seven times the deflection.

The number of pounds which concentrated at the centre will deflect a rectangular prismatic simple beam one inch may be found from the preceding formulae by substituting D = 1" and solving for P'. The formulae then becomes:

4 E b h^{3} Necessary weight (P') = ——————- l^{3}

In this case the values for E are read from tables prepared from data obtained by experimentation on the given material.

Strength of Beams

The measure of the breaking strength of a beam is expressed in terms of unit stress by a modulus of rupture, which is a purely hypothetical expression for points beyond the elastic limit. The formulae used in computing this modulus is as follows:

1.5 P l R = ————- b h{^2}

b, h, l = breadth, height, and span, respectively, as in preceding formulae. R = modulus of rupture, pounds per square inch. P = maximum load, pounds.

In calculating the fibre stress at the elastic limit the same formulae is used except that the load at elastic limit (P_{1}) is substituted for the maximum load (P).

From this formulae it is evident that for rectangular prismatic beams of the same material, mode of support, and loading, the load which a given beam can support varies as follows:

(1) It is directly proportional to the breadth for beams of the same length and depth, as is the case with stiffness.

(2) It is directly proportional to the square of the height for beams of the same length and breadth, instead of as the cube of this dimension as in stiffness.

(3) It is inversely proportional to the span for beams of the same breadth and depth and not to the cube of this dimension as in stiffness.

The fact that the strength varies as the square of the height and the stiffness as the cube explains the relationship of bending to thickness. Were the law the same for strength and stiffness a thin piece of material such as a sheet of paper could not be bent any further without breaking than a thick piece, say an inch board. - TABLE IX - RESULTS OF STATIC BENDING TESTS ON SMALL CLEAR BEAMS OF 49 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION (Forest Service Cir. 213) - Fibre Work in Bending COMMON NAME stress at Modulus Modulus - OF SPECIES elastic of of To To limit rupture elasticity elastic maximum Total limit load - - - In.-lbs. In.-lbs. In.-lb. Lbs. per Lbs. per Lbs. per per cu. per cu. per sq. in. sq. in. sq. in. inch inch inch Hardwoods Ash, black 2,580 6,000 960,000 0.41 13.1 38.9 white 5,180 9,920 1,416,000 1.10 20.0 43.7 Basswood 2,480 4,450 842,000 .45 5.8 8.9 Beech 4,490 8,610 1,353,000 .96 14.1 31.4 Birch, yellow 4,190 8,390 1,597,000 .62 14.2 31.5 Elm, rock 4,290 9,430 1,222,000 .90 19.4 47.4 slippery 5,560 9,510 1,314,000 1.32 11.7 44.2 white 2,850 6,940 1,052,000 .44 11.8 27.4 Gum, red 3,460 6,450 1,138,000 Hackberry 3,320 7,800 1,170,000 .56 19.6 52.9 Hickory, big shellbark 6,370 11,110 1,562,000 1.47 24.3 78.0 bitternut 5,470 10,280 1,399,000 1.22 20.0 75.5 mockernut 6,550 11,110 1,508,000 1.50 31.7 84.4 nutmeg 4,860 9,060 1,289,000 1.06 22.8 58.2 pignut 5,860 11,810 1,769,000 1.12 30.6 86.7 shagbark 6,120 11,000 1,752,000 1.22 18.3 72.3 water 5,980 10,740 1,563,000 1.29 18.8 52.9 Locust, honey 6,020 12,360 1,732,000 1.28 17.3 64.4 Maple, red 4,450 8,310 1,445,000 .78 9.8 17.1 sugar 4,630 8,860 1,462,000 .88 12.7 32.0 Oak, post 4,720 7,380 913,000 1.39 9.1 17.4 red 3,490 7,780 1,268,000 .60 11.4 26.0 swamp white 5,380 9,860 1,593,000 1.05 14.5 37.6 tanbark 6,580 10,710 1,678,000 1.49 white 4,320 8,090 1,137,000 .95 12.1 36.7 yellow 5,060 8,570 1,219,000 1.20 11.7 30.7 Osage orange 7,760 13,660 1,329,000 2.53 37.9 101.7 Sycamore 2,820 6,300 961,000 .51 7.1 13.6 Tupelo 4,300 7,380 1,045,000 1.00 7.8 20.9 Conifers Arborvitae 2,600 4,250 643,000 .60 5.7 9.5 Cedar, incense 3,950 6,040 754,000 Cypress, bald 4,430 7,110 1,378,000 .96 5.1 15.4 Fir, alpine 2,366 4,450 861,000 .66 4.4 7.4 amabilis 4,060 6,570 1,323,000 Douglas 3,570 6,340 1,242,000 .59 6.6 13.6 white 3,880 5,970 1,131,000 .77 5.2 14.9 Hemlock 3,410 5,770 917,000 .73 6.6 12.9 Pine, lodgepole 3,080 5,130 1,015,000 .54 5.1 7.4 longleaf 5,090 8,630 1,662,000 .88 8.1 34.8 red 3,740 6,430 1,384,000 .59 5.8 28.0 shortleaf 4,360 7,710 1,395,000 sugar 3,330 5,270 966,000 .66 5.0 11.6 west, yellow 3,180 5,180 1,111,000 .52 4.3 15.6 White 3,410 5,310 1,073,000 .62 5.9 13.3 Redwood 4,530 6,560 1,024,000 Spruce, Engelmann 2,740 4,550 866,000 .50 4.8 6.1 red 3,440 5,820 1,143,000 .62 6.0 white 3,160 5,200 968,000 .58 6.6 Tamarack 4,200 7,170 1,236,000 .84 7.2 30.0 -

Kinds of Loads

There are various ways in which beams are loaded, of which the following are the most important:

(1) Uniform load occurs where the load is spread evenly over the beam.

(2) Concentrated load occurs where the load is applied at single point or points.

(3) Live or immediate load is one of momentary or short duration at any one point, such as occurs in crossing a bridge.

(4) Dead or permanent load is one of constant and indeterminate duration, as books on a shelf. In the case of a bridge the weight of the structure itself is the dead load. All large beams support a uniform dead load consisting of their own weight.

The effect of dead load on a wooden beam may be two or more times that produced by an immediate load of the same weight. Loads greater than the elastic limit are unsafe and will generally result in rupture if continued long enough. A beam may be considered safe under permanent load when the deflections diminish during equal successive periods of time. A continual increase in deflection indicates an unsafe load which is almost certain to rupture the beam eventually.

Variations in the humidity of the surrounding air influence the deflection of dry wood under dead load, and increased deflections during damp weather are cumulative and not recovered by subsequent drying. In the case of longleaf pine, dry beams may with safety be loaded permanently to within three-fourths of their elastic limit as determined from ordinary static tests. Increased moisture content, due to greater humidity of the air, lowers the elastic limit of wood so that what was a safe load for the dry material may become unsafe.

When a dead load not great enough to rupture a beam has been removed, the beam tends gradually to recover its former shape, but the recovery is not always complete. If specimens from such a beam are tested in the ordinary testing machine it will be found that the application of the dead load did not affect the stiffness, ultimate strength, or elastic limit of the material. In other words, the deflections and recoveries produced by live loads are the same as would have been produced had not the beam previously been subjected to a dead load.[11]

[Footnote 11: See Tiemann, Harry D.: Some results of dead load bending tests of timber by means of a recording deflectometer. Proc. Am. Soc. for Testing Materials. Phila. Vol. IX, 1909, pp. 534-548.]

Maximum load is the greatest load a material will support and is usually greater than the load at rupture.

Safe load is the load considered safe for a material to support in actual practice. It is always less than the load at elastic limit and is usually taken as a certain proportion of the ultimate or breaking load.

The ratio of the breaking to the safe load is called the factor of safety. (Factor of safety = ultimate strength / safe load) In order to make due allowance for the natural variations and imperfections in wood and in the aggregate structure, as well as for variations in the load, the factor of safety is usually as high as 6 or 10, especially if the safety of human life depends upon the structure. This means that only from one-sixth to one-tenth of the computed strength values is considered safe to use. If the depth of timbers exceeds four times their thickness there is a great tendency for the material to twist when loaded. It is to overcome this tendency that floor joists are braced at frequent intervals. Short deep pieces shear out or split before their strength in bending can fully come into play.

Application of Loads

There are three[12] general methods in which loads may be applied to beams, namely:

[Footnote 12: A fourth might be added, namely, vibratory, or harmonic repetition, which is frequently serious in the case of bridges.]

(1) Static loading or the gradual imposition of load so that the moving parts acquire no appreciable momentum. Loads are so applied in the ordinary testing machine.

(2) Sudden imposition of load without initial velocity. "Thus in the case of placing a load on a beam, if the load be brought into contact with the beam, but its weight sustained by external means, as by a cord, and then this external support be suddenly (instantaneously) removed, as by quickly cutting the cord, then, although the load is already touching the beam (and hence there is no real impact), yet the beam is at first offering no resistance, as it has yet suffered no deformation. Furthermore, as the beam deflects the resistance increases, but does not come to be equal to the load until it has attained its normal deflection. In the meantime there has been an unbalanced force of gravity acting, of a constantly diminishing amount, equal at first to the entire load, at the normal deflection. But at this instant the load and the beam are in motion, the hitherto unbalanced force having produced an accelerated velocity, and this velocity of the weight and beam gives to them an energy, or vis viva, which must now spend itself in overcoming an excess of resistance over and above the imposed load, and the whole mass will not stop until the deflection (as well as the resistance) has come to be equal to twice that corresponding to the static load imposed. Hence we say the effect of a suddenly imposed load is to produce twice the deflection and stress of the same load statically applied. It must be evident, however, that this case has nothing in common with either the ordinary 'static' tests of structural materials in testing-machines, or with impact tests."[13]

[Footnote 13: Johnson, J.B.: The materials of construction, pp. 81-82.]

(3) Impact, shock, or blow.[14] There are various common uses of wood where the material is subjected to sudden shocks and jars or impact. Such is the action on the felloes and spokes of a wagon wheel passing over a rough road; on a hammer handle when a blow is struck; on a maul when it strikes a wedge.

[Footnote 14: See Tiemann, Harry D.: The theory of impact and its application to testing materials. Jour. Franklin Inst., Oct., Nov., 1909, pp. 235-259, 336-364.]

Resistance to impact is resistance to energy which is measured by the product of the force into the space through which it moves, or by the product of one-half the moving mass which causes the shock into the square of its velocity. The work done upon the piece at the instant the velocity is entirely removed from the striking body is equal to the total energy of that body. It is impossible, however, to get all of the energy of the striking body stored in the specimen, though the greater the mass and the shorter the space through which it moves, or, in other words, the greater the proportion of weight and the smaller the proportion of velocity making up the energy of the striking body, the more energy the specimen will absorb. The rest is lost in friction, vibrations, heat, and motion of the anvil.

In impact the stresses produced become very complex and difficult to measure, especially if the velocity is high, or the mass of the beam itself is large compared to that of the weight.

The difficulties attending the measurement of the stresses beyond the elastic limit are so great that commonly they are not reckoned. Within the elastic limit the formulae for calculating the stresses are based on the assumption that the deflection is proportional to the stress in this case as in static tests.

A common method of making tests upon the resistance of wood to shock is to support a small beam at the ends and drop a heavy weight upon it in the middle. (See Fig. 40.) The height of the weight is increased after each drop and records of the deflection taken until failure. The total work done upon the specimen is equal to the area of the stress-strain diagram plus the effect of local inertia of the molecules at point of contact.

The stresses involved in impact are complicated by the fact that there are various ways in which the energy of the striking body may be spent:

(a) It produces a local deformation of both bodies at the surface of contact, within or beyond the elastic limit. In testing wood the compression of the substance of the steel striking-weight may be neglected, since the steel is very hard in comparison with the wood. In addition to the compression of the fibres at the surface of contact resistance is also offered by the inertia of the particles there, the combined effect of which is a stress at the surface of contact often entirely out of proportion to the compression which would result from the action of a static force of the same magnitude. It frequently exceeds the crushing strength at the extreme surface of contact, as in the case of the swaging action of a hammer on the head of an iron spike, or of a locomotive wheel on the steel rail. This is also the case when a bullet is shot through a board or a pane of glass without breaking it as a whole.

(b) It may move the struck body as a whole with an accelerated velocity, the resistance consisting of the inertia of the body. This effect is seen when a croquet ball is struck with a mallet.

(c) It may deform a fixed body against its external supports and resistances. In making impact tests in the laboratory the test specimen is in reality in the nature of a cushion between two impacting bodies, namely, the striking weight and the base of the machine. It is important that the mass of this base be sufficiently great that its relative velocity to that of the common centre of gravity of itself and the striking weight may be disregarded.

(d) It may deform the struck body as a whole against the resisting stresses developed by its own inertia, as, for example, when a baseball bat is broken by striking the ball.

- TABLE X - RESULTS OF IMPACT BENDING TESTS ON SMALL CLEAR BEAMS OF 34 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION (Forest Service Cir. 213) - Fibre Work in COMMON NAME stress at Modulus of bending OF SPECIES elastic elasticity to limit elastic limit -+ -+ + In.-lbs. Lbs. per Lbs. per per cu. sq. in. sq. in. inch Hardwoods Ash, black 7,840 955,000 3.69 white 11,710 1,564,000 4.93 Basswood 5,480 917,000 1.84 Beech 11,760 1,501,000 5.10 Birch, yellow 11,080 1,812,000 3.79 Elm, rock 12,090 1,367,000 6.52 slippery 11,700 1,569,000 4.86 white 9,910 1,138,000 4.82 Hackberry 10,420 1,398,000 4.48 Locust, honey 13,460 2,114,000 4.76 Maple, red 11,670 1,411,000 5.45 sugar 11,680 1,680,000 4.55 Oak, post 11,260 1,596,000 4.41 red 10,580 1,506,000 4.16 swamp white 13,280 2,048,000 4.79 white 9,860 1,414,000 3.84 yellow 10,840 1,479,000 4.44 Osage orange 15,520 1,498,000 8.92 Sycamore 8,180 1,165,000 3.22 Tupelo 7,650 1,310,000 2.49 Conifers Arborvitae 5,290 778,000 2.04 Cypress, bald 8,290 1,431,000 2.71 Fir, alpine 5,280 980,000 1.59 Douglas 8,870 1,579,000 2.79 white 7,230 1,326,000 2.21 Hemlock 6,330 1,025,000 2.19 Pine, lodgepole 6,870 1,142,000 2.31 longleaf 9,680 1,739,000 3.02 red 7,480 1,438,000 2.18 sugar 6,740 1,083,000 2.34 western yellow 7,070 1,115,000 2.51 white 6,490 1,156,000 2.06 Spruce, Engelmann 6,300 1,076,000 2.09 Tamarack 7,750 1,263,000 2.67 -

Impact testing is difficult to conduct satisfactorily and the data obtained are of chief value in a relative sense, that is, for comparing the shock-resisting ability of woods of which like specimens have been subjected to exactly identical treatment. Yet this test is one of the most important made on wood, as it brings out properties not evident from other tests. Defects and brittleness are revealed by impact better than by any other kind of test. In common practice nearly all external stresses are of the nature of impact. In fact, no two moving bodies can come together without impact stress. Impact is therefore the commonest form of applied stress, although the most difficult to measure.

Failures in Timber Beams

If a beam is loaded too heavily it will break or fail in some characteristic manner. These failures may be classified according to the way in which they develop, as tension, compression, and horizontal shear; and according to the appearance of the broken surface, as brash, and fibrous. A number of forms may develop if the beam is completely ruptured.

Since the tensile strength of wood is on the average about three times as great as the compressive strength, a beam should, therefore, be expected to fail by the formation in the first place of a fold on the compression side due to the crushing action, followed by failure on the tension side. This is usually the case in green or moist wood. In dry material the first visible failure is not infrequently on the lower or tension side, and various attempts have been made to explain why such is the case.[15]

[Footnote 15: See Proc. Int. Assn. for Testing Materials, 1912, XXIII_{2}, pp. 12-13.]

Within the elastic limit the elongations and shortenings are equal, and the neutral plane lies in the middle of the beam. (See TRANSVERSE OR BENDING STRENGTH: BEAMS, above.) Later the top layer of fibres on the upper or compression side fail, and on the load increasing, the next layer of fibres fail, and so on, even though this failure may not be visible. As a result the shortenings on the upper side of the beam become considerably greater than the elongations on the lower side. The neutral plane must be presumed to sink gradually toward the tension side, and when the stresses on the outer fibres at the bottom have become sufficiently great, the fibres are pulled in two, the tension area being much smaller than the compression area. The rupture is often irregular, as in direct tension tests. Failure may occur partially in single bundles of fibres some time before the final failure takes place. One reason why the failure of a dry beam is different from one that is moist, is that drying increases the stiffness of the fibres so that they offer more resistance to crushing, while it has much less effect upon the tensile strength.

There is considerable variation in tension failures depending upon the toughness or the brittleness of the wood, the arrangement of the grain, defects, etc., making further classification desirable. The four most common forms are:

(1)Simple tension, in which there is a direct pulling in two of the wood on the under side of the beam due to a tensile stress parallel to the grain, (See Fig. 17, No. 1.) This is common in straight-grained beams, particularly when the wood is seasoned.

(2)Cross-grained tension, in which the fracture is caused by a tensile force acting oblique to the grain. (See Fig. 17, No. 2.) This is a common form of failure where the beam has diagonal, spiral or other form of cross grain on its lower side. Since the tensile strength of wood across the grain is only a small fraction of that with the grain it is easy to see why a cross-grained timber would fail in this manner.

(3)Splintering tension, in which the failure consists of a considerable number of slight tension failures, producing a ragged or splintery break on the under surface of the beam. (See Fig. 17, No. 3.) This is common in tough woods. In this case the surface of fracture is fibrous.

(4)Brittle tension, in which the beam fails by a clean break extending entirely through it. (See Fig. 17, No. 4.) It is characteristic of a brittle wood which gives way suddenly without warning, like a piece of chalk. In this case the surface of fracture is described as brash.

Compression failure (see Fig. 17, No. 5) has few variations except that it appears at various distances from the neutral plane of the beam. It is very common in green timbers. The compressive stress parallel to the fibres causes them to buckle or bend as in an endwise compressive test. This action usually begins on the top side shortly after the elastic limit is reached and extends downward, sometimes almost reaching the neutral plane before complete failure occurs. Frequently two or more failures develop at about the same time.

Horizontal shear failure, in which the upper and lower portions of the beam slide along each other for a portion of their length either at one or at both ends (see Fig. 17, No. 6), is fairly common in air-dry material and in green material when the ratio of the height of the beam to the span is relatively large. It is not common in small clear specimens. It is often due to shake or season checks, common in large timbers, which reduce the actual area resisting the shearing action considerably below the calculated area used in the formulae for horizontal shear. (See page 98 for this formulae.) For this reason it is unsafe, in designing large timber beams, to use shearing stresses higher than those calculated for beams that failed in horizontal shear. The effect of a failure in horizontal shear is to divide the beam into two or more beams the combined strength of which is much less than that of the original beam. Fig. 18 shows a large beam in which two failures in horizontal shear occurred at the same end. That the parts behave independently is shown by the compression failure below the original location of the neutral plane.

Table XI gives an analysis of the causes of first failure in 840 large timber beams of nine different species of conifers. Of the total number tested 165 were air-seasoned, the remainder green. The failure occurring first signifies the point of greatest weakness in the specimen under the particular conditions of loading employed (in this case, third-point static loading).

- TABLE XI - MANNER OF FIRST FAILURE OF LARGE BEAMS (Forest Service Bul. 108, p. 56) - Total Per cent of total failing by COMMON NAME number - - - OF SPECIES of Tension Compression Shear tests - - - Longleaf pine: green 17 18 24 58 dry 9 22 22 56 Douglas fir: green 191 27 72 1 dry 91 19 76 5 Shortleaf pine: green 48 27 56 17 dry 13 54 46 Western larch: green 62 23 71 6 dry 52 54 19 27 Loblolly pine: green 111 40 53 7 dry 25 60 12 28 Tamarack: green 30 37 53 10 dry 9 45 22 33 Western hemlock: green 39 21 74 5 dry 44 11 66 23 Redwood: green 28 43 50 7 dry 12 83 17 Norway pine: green 49 18 76 6 dry 10 30 60 10 - NOTE. These tests were made on timbers ranging in cross section from 4" x 10" to 8" x 16", and with a span of 15 feet. -


Toughness is a term applied to more than one property of wood. Thus wood that is difficult to split is said to be tough. Again, a tough wood is one that will not rupture until it has deformed considerably under loads at or near its maximum strength, or one which still hangs together after it has been ruptured and may be bent back and forth without breaking apart. Toughness includes flexibility and is the reverse of brittleness, in that tough woods break gradually and give warning of failure. Tough woods offer great resistance to impact and will permit rougher treatment in manipulations attending manufacture and use. Toughness is dependent upon the strength, cohesion, quality, length, and arrangement of fibre, and the pliability of the wood. Coniferous woods as a rule are not as tough as hardwoods, of which hickory and elm are the best examples.

The torsion or twisting test is useful in determining the toughness of wood. If the ends of a shaft are turned in opposite directions, or one end is turned and the other is fixed, all of the fibres except those at the axis tend to assume the form of helices. (See Fig. 19.) The strain produced by torsion or twisting is essentially shear transverse and parallel to the fibres, combined with longitudinal tension and transverse compression. Within the elastic limit the strains increase directly as the distance from the axis of the specimen. The outer elements are subjected to tensile stresses, and as they become twisted tend to compress those near the axis. The elongated elements also contract laterally. Cross sections which were originally plane become warped. With increasing strain the lateral adhesion of the outer fibres is destroyed, allowing them to slide past each other, and reducing greatly their power of resistance. In this way the strains on the fibres nearer the axis are progressively increased until finally all of the elements are sheared apart. It is only in the toughest materials that the full effect of this action can be observed. (See Fig. 20.) Brittle woods snap off suddenly with only a small amount of torsion, and their fracture is irregular and oblique to the axis of the piece instead of frayed out and more nearly perpendicular to the axis as is the case with tough woods.


The term hardness is used in two senses, namely: (1) resistance to indentation, and (2) resistance to abrasion or scratching. In the latter sense hardness combined with toughness is a measure of the wearing ability of wood and is an important consideration in the use of wood for floors, paving blocks, bearings, and rollers. While resistance to indentation is dependent mostly upon the density of the wood, the wearing qualities may be governed by other factors such as toughness, and the size, cohesion, and arrangement of the fibres. In use for floors, some woods tend to compact and wear smooth, while others become splintery and rough. This feature is affected to some extent by the manner in which the wood is sawed; thus edge-grain pine flooring is much better than flat-sawn for uniformity of wear.

- TABLE XII - HARDNESS OF 32 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION, AS INDICATED BY THE LOAD REQUIRED TO IMBED A 0.444-INCH STEEL BALL TO ONE-HALF ITS DIAMETER (Forest Service Cir. 213) - COMMON NAME OF SPECIES Average End Radial Tangential surface surface surface - - - Pounds Pounds Pounds Pounds Hardwoods 1 Osage orange 1,971 1,838 2,312 1,762 2 Honey locust 1,851 1,862 1,860 1,832 3 Swamp white oak 1,174 1,205 1,217 1,099 4 White oak 1,164 1,183 1,163 1,147 5 Post oak 1,099 1,139 1,068 1,081 6 Black oak 1,069 1,093 1,083 1,031 7 Red oak 1,043 1,107 1,020 1,002 8 White ash 1,046 1,121 1,000 1,017 9 Beech 942 1,012 897 918 10 Sugar maple 937 992 918 901 11 Rock elm 910 954 883 893 12 Hackberry 799 829 795 773 13 Slippery elm 788 919 757 687 14 Yellow birch 778 827 768 739 15 Tupelo 738 814 666 733 16 Red maple 671 766 621 626 17 Sycamore 608 664 560 599 18 Black ash 551 565 542 546 19 White elm 496 536 456 497 20 Basswood 239 273 226 217 Conifers 1 Longleaf pine 532 574 502 521 2 Douglas fir 410 415 399 416 3 Bald cypress 390 460 355 354 4 Hemlock 384 463 354 334 5 Tamarack 384 401 380 370 6 Red pine 347 355 345 340 7 White fir 346 381 322 334 8 Western yellow pine 328 334 307 342 9 Lodgepole pine 318 316 318 319 10 White pine 299 304 294 299 11 Engelmann pine 266 272 253 274 12 Alpine fir 241 284 203 235 - NOTE. Black locust and hickory are not included in this table, but their position would be near the head of the list. -

Tests for either form of hardness are of comparative value only. Tests for indentation are commonly made by penetrations of the material with a steel punch or ball.[16] Tests for abrasion are made by wearing down wood with sandpaper or by means of a sand blast.

[Footnote 16: See articles by Gabriel Janka listed in bibliography, pages 151-152.]


Cleavability is the term used to denote the facility with which wood is split. A splitting stress is one in which the forces act normally like a wedge. (See Fig. 21.) The plane of cleavage is parallel to the grain, either radially or tangentially.

This property of wood is very important in certain uses such as firewood, fence rails, billets, and squares. Resistance to splitting or low cleavability is desirable where wood must hold nails or screws, as in box-making. Wood usually splits more readily along the radius than parallel to the growth rings though exceptions occur, as in the case of cross grain.

Splitting involves transverse tension, but only a portion of the fibres are under stress at a time. A wood of little stiffness and strong cohesion across the grain is difficult to split, while one with great stiffness, such as longleaf pine, is easily split. The form of the grain and the presence of knots greatly affect this quality.

- TABLE XIII - CLEAVAGE STRENGTH OF SMALL CLEAR PIECES OF 32 WOODS IN GREEN CONDITION (Forest Service Cir. 213) - When When COMMON NAME surface of surface of OF SPECIES failure is failure is radial tangential - Lbs. per Lbs. per sq. inch sq. inch Hardwoods Ash, black 275 260 white 333 346 Bashwood 130 168 Beech 339 527 Birch, yellow 294 287 Elm, slippery 401 424 white 210 270 Hackberry 422 436 Locust, honey 552 610 Maple, red 297 330 sugar 376 513 Oak, post 354 487 red 380 470 swamp white 428 536 white 382 457 yellow 379 470 Sycamore 265 425 Tupelo 277 380 Conifers Arborvitae 148 139 Cypress, bald 167 154 Fir, alpine 130 133 Douglas 139 127 white 145 187 Hemlock 168 151 Pine, lodgepole 142 140 longleaf 187 180 red 161 154 sugar 168 189 western yellow 162 187 white 144 160 Spruce, Engelmann 110 135 Tamarack 167 159 -



Wood is an organic product—a structure of infinite variation of detail and design.[17] It is on this account that no two woods are alike—in reality no two specimens from the same log are identical. There are certain properties that characterize each species, but they are subject to considerable variation. Oak, for example, is considered hard, heavy, and strong, but some pieces, even of the same species of oak, are much harder, heavier, and stronger than others. With hickory are associated the properties of great strength, toughness, and resilience, but some pieces are comparatively weak and brash and ill-suited for the exacting demands for which good hickory is peculiarly adapted.

[Footnote 17: For details regarding the structure of wood see Record, Samuel J.: Identification of the economic woods of the United States. New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1912.]

It follows that no definite value can be assigned to the properties of any wood and that tables giving average results of tests may not be directly applicable to any individual stick. With sufficient knowledge of the intrinsic factors affecting the results it becomes possible to infer from the appearance of material its probable variation from the average. As yet too little is known of the relation of structure and chemical composition to the mechanical and physical properties to permit more than general conclusions.


To understand the effect of variations in the rate of growth it is first necessary to know how wood is formed. A tree increases in diameter by the formation, between the old wood and the inner bark, of new woody layers which envelop the entire stem, living branches, and roots. Under ordinary conditions one layer is formed each year and in cross section as on the end of a log they appear as rings—often spoken of as annual rings. These growth layers are made up of wood cells of various kinds, but for the most part fibrous. In timbers like pine, spruce, hemlock, and other coniferous or softwood species the wood cells are mostly of one kind, and as a result the material is much more uniform in structure than that of most hardwoods. (See Frontispiece.) There are no vessels or pores in coniferous wood such as one sees so prominently in oak and ash, for example. (See Fig. 22.)

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