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Wood Research and Technology


Cellulose – Hemicelluloses – Lignin – Wood Extractives

Editor-in-Chief: Salmén, Lennart

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Volume 67, Issue 6


Mimicking of the strength loss in the Vasa: model experiments with iron-impregnated recent oak

Shahin Norbakhsh / Ingela Bjurhager / Gunnar Almkvist
Published Online: 2013-02-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/hf-2012-0150


Previous studies of the oak wood of the 17th century warship the Vasa have shown significant changes in the chemical and mechanical properties compared with recent oak. The most important factors contributing to these changes are the incorporation of iron compounds during waterlogging and the uptake of polyethylene glycol (PEG) in the course of the 17 years of preservation treatment. To investigate the effect of iron-dependent oxidative degradation reactions, recent oak wood samples were impregnated with aqueous iron(II) chloride solution (0.1 M) and thereafter exposed to air or pure oxygen at controlled relative humidity in long-term experiments followed by tensile strength (TS) measurements. The iron-impregnated samples exposed to oxygen displayed significant effects already after 1 week and the reduction in TS was ~50% after 1 year. The samples treated with additional PEG displayed less TS reduction, whereas the addition of cysteine had no effect. The size exclusion chromatography of treated samples showed that the average molecular weight of holocellulose had decreased. The results confirm that iron compounds have a detrimental effect in wood and indicate that PEG might act as an antioxidant for the degradation processes. Concerning the Vasa, it may be concluded that most degradation related to iron compounds and oxidative processes have taken place during the first period of conservation when the wood was exposed to oxygen in a still very humid state. Thus, the current rate of oxidative degradation under the present relatively dry museum conditions should be relatively low.

This article offers supplementary material which is provided at the end of the article.

Keywords: antioxidant; cysteine; degradation; extractives; iron compounds; oak wood; polyethylene glycol (PEG); preservation; tensile strength; Vasa ship; waterlogged wood


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About the article

Corresponding author: Gunnar Almkvist, Department of Chemistry, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden

Received: 2012-09-18

Accepted: 2013-01-10

Published Online: 2013-02-07

Published in Print: 2013-08-01

Citation Information: Holzforschung, Volume 67, Issue 6, Pages 707–714, ISSN (Online) 1437-434X, ISSN (Print) 0018-3830, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/hf-2012-0150.

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