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DESIGN OF STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS

Section – 1: Properties of Timber Materials
Introduction
Wood, steel and concrete are actually extraordinarily complex materials. Of the three,
wood was used first as a structural material, and some of the otherwise inscrutable
vocabulary of structural analysis derives from this fact: the notion of an "outer fiber"
of a cross-section; or even the concept of "horizontal shear" are rooted in the
particular material structure of wood.
Only certain material properties are of interest to us here -- specifically, those that
has some bearing on the structural behavior of the elements under consideration.
The most obvious, and important, structural properties are those relating force to
deformation (extension), or stress to strain. Knowing how a material sample contracts
or elongates as it is stressed up to failure provides a crucial model for its performance
in an actual structure. Not only is its ultimate stress (or strength) indicated, but also
a measure of its resistance to strain (modulus of elasticity), its linear (and presumably
elastic) and/or non-linear (plastic) behavior, and its ability to absorb energy without
fracturing (ductility).
Ductility is important in a structural member because it allows concentrations of high
stress to be absorbed and redistributed without causing sudden, catastrophic failure.
Ductile failures are preferred to brittle failures, since the large strains possible with
ductile materials give warning of collapse in advance of the actual failure. Glass, a
non-ductile (i.e., brittle) material, is generally unsuitable for use as a structural
element, in spite of its high strength, because it is unable to absorb large amounts of
energy, and could fail catastrophically as a result of local stress concentrations.
A linear relationship between stress and strain is an indicator of elastic behavior -the return of a material to its original shape after being stressed and then un-stressed.
Structures are expected to behave elastically under normal "service" loads; but
plastic behavior, characterized by permanent deformations, needs to be considered
when ultimate, or failure, loads are being computed. Typical stress-strain curves for
wood, steel and concrete are shown below.
The most striking aspect of wood, steel, and concrete stress-strain curves is the
incredibly high strength and modulus of elasticity (indicated by the slope of the curve)
of steel relative to concrete and wood. Of equal importance is the information about
the strength and ductility of the three materials in tension versus compression. For
example, structural carbon steel, along with its high strength and modulus of
elasticity, can be strained to a value 60 times greater than shown above in both
tension and compression, indicating a high degree of ductility. Concrete, on the other
hand, has very little strength in tension, and fails in a brittle (non-ductile) manner in
both tension and compression. Wood has high tensile strength compared to
concrete, but also fails in a brittle manner when stressed in tension; in compression,
however, wood shows ductile behavior.

Dr. Sudhira De Silva, Efac, UoR

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The basic structure of wood can be understood by examining its situation within the tree: the trunk consists of a bundle of cellulose tubes. Efac. a great deal of material is available at the neutral axis (where shear stresses are highest) so the "glue" or lignin holding the fibers together can be relatively weak. eccentric dead and snow load). it is not necessarily appropriate for the rectangular cross-sections characteristic of lumber. Since we build with lumber (which is also timber.is much lower than its strength in tension or compression parallel to those fibers. its ability to resist sliding of the cellular fibers relative to each other -. depending on the context. or the way in which loads are applied.becomes a liability when the tree is cut. it is virtually impossible to cut every piece of lumber so that the orientation of the fibers. timber is wood suitable for (or prepared for) use in structures. since it is the continuity of these fibers that give the wood strength. or fibers. Sudhira De Silva. When we cut lumber from the tree. These material-dependent responses are discussed below for timber. material properties can also be effected by environmental conditions. all lumber. Cutting Lumber cut from a tree immediately has three structural defects. relatively less material is present at the neutral axis. or grain. manufacturing processes.that is. the continuous path of those fibers leading from trunk to branch -. Wood is graded to account for these and other imperfections. and in bending (wind load. as it results in knots and other imperfections which weaken the boards. For this reason. UoR Page 2 . Second. saw cuts are made parallel to the longitudinal fibers of the wood. we do so in a way that allows it to be stressed within building structures in the same manner that it was stressed while in the tree. Why this is so can be seen by comparing the two cross-sectional shapes: with a circle. and shear stresses are therefore higher. is compromised by a disproportionate weakness in shear.Aside from this stress-strain data. Third. which is also wood). Dr. Various loads stress the tree trunk in axial compression (dead load and snow load). the shear strength of the wood -. all three of these terms are used. that serve the dual purpose of carrying water and nutrients from the ground to the leaves. is exactly parallel to the edges of the wood planks. While a low shear strength is perfectly adapted to a tree's circular cross-section. but when the tree is cut into rectangular crosssections. while providing a cellular geometry ("structure") capable of supporting those leaves and the necessary infrastructure of branches. the structural efficiency of lumber with a rectangular cross-section. that is. compared to wood in the tree itself: First. lumber is timber cut into standard-sized planks.a functional and structural necessity within the tree -. Wood is the stuff inside trees. Thus. This means that the full potential of the wood's strength is rarely achieved.

so that its moisture content doesn't change radically during or after construction. Duration of load. and becoming weaker or stronger. Because wide beams seem to be relatively stronger than narrow ones. but has no effect on the section's ability to resist axial tension. expanding or shrinking. As the number of defects increases. snow or live load. it simply means that the average stress causing failure will be lower in larger beams. large pieces of lumber will statistically fail at lower levels of stress than small pieces. where the humidity is controlled and the moisture content of the wood is expected not to exceed about 19% (for glued laminated timber. the issue of strength versus moisture content is handled by assuming one of two conditions: either the wood is indoors. This would explain why beams. the theory is validated by test results for all categories of beams and tension elements. this condition is met when the moisture content is less than about 16%). Interestingly. This phenomenon is similar to the "fatigue" of metals. and the wood gets stronger. and more likely to be contained as cross-sectional width increases. UoR Page 3 . Thus. the probability that larger. As atmospheric humidity changes. Two things then happen: the wood shrinks. or more damaging. opposite to what the theory of brittle failure predicts. due to imperfections within or between the cellular fibers of the material and larger cracks or knots often visible on the surface. It is impossible to know where all these defects might be in any particular piece of lumber. increasing the depth of a structural element has no such beneficial effect. but may have to due with the fact that local failures at regions of low strength are more likely to cascade across the entire width of relatively thin cross-sections. seem to get stronger with increased width. Volume. defects will exist within critical regions of the structural element also increases.Seasoning. Dr. Lumber is generally air-dried or kiln-dried after it is cut and surfaced. Sudhira De Silva. the allowable stress in beams used flat (stressed about their weak axes) is higher than when they are used in their normal orientation. Wood fails at a lower stress the longer it is loaded. Efac. but not tension members. wood can sustain a higher stress caused by a short-duration impact load then by a longer-duration wind. loss of strength in wood is purely time-dependent and will occur even under a constant load. The reason for this anomaly remains unclear. This does not mean that large beams hold lesser load than small beams. or outdoors. A dead tree begins losing its internal water until its moisture content reaches equilibrium with the surrounding air. On the other hand. For structural design. Lumber contains both hidden and visible pockets of low strength. since even a complete vertical break within a cross-section neither increases nor decreases a member's bending or tensile strength. even though their total volume hasn't changed. especially perpendicular to the grain. except that where metal fatigue is brought on by repeated cycling or reversals of stress. where the potential exists for the wood to take on added moisture and lose some strength. A horizontal break corresponding to a complete discontinuity between the lower and upper parts of a cross-section drastically reduces the cross-section's ability to resist bending moments. but one can safely surmise that there will be more of them as the volume of the piece increases. with one exception: increases in cross-sectional width seem to make beams stronger (but not tension members). the wood responds by gaining or losing moisture. Since these regions of low strength can trigger brittle failure (wood is brittle when stressed in tension).

For that reason. For this reason. UoR Page 4 . while glulam can be custom-fabricated in an unlimited variety of sizes and geometries. like glulam. Plywood typically contains an odd number of plies. the choices in any given geographical region are limited to what is locally available.Species and grade. knots. different grades are identified. LVL is used for beams and girders only. I-joists are manufactured from various combinations of flange and web materials. duration of load. it mimics the anisotropic fibrous structure of an ordinary piece of lumber. but are selected from the much shorter list of regionally-available species and grades. The grain in each lamination is oriented along the longitudinal axis of the member so that. web material is typically plywood or particle board. being sliced off a log like paper pulled off a roll. Many species of wood can be used as lumber. Flange material can be ordinary sawn lumber or LVL. for example. These products can be custom-fabricated. Practically speaking. Where this doesn't occur. Related products. Several wood-based products have been developed with structural applications: Laminated veneer lumber (LVL) is similar to glulam except that the laminations are much thinner. used typically as a substrate (sheathing) for roofs and exterior walls. along with "adjustment" factors to account for the effects of moisture. checks and other imperfections. Dr. and can be used in place of sawn lumber beams. Since each species of wood is subdivided into numerous grades. depending on such things as overall density. the result is a multitude of possible material types. Plywood is similar to LVL except that alternate laminations (plies) are oriented perpendicular to each other. Efac. in certain panalized roof systems. Pre-fabricated trusses consisting typically of sawn members joined by metal connector plates can be used for both pitched roofs and flat floors. the top and bottom fibers point in the same direction (parallel to the long dimension of the plywood sheet). plywood is typically oriented so that it spans in the direction of its long dimension. Within each species. rather than being sawn. except when the middle two plies are "doubled up" as in 4-ply plywood. Grading can be done by visual inspection (for "visually graded lumber") or with the aid of machines (for "machine stress rated lumber"). Sudhira De Silva. Allowable (permissible) stresses are published for various grades and species of wood. the lower bending strength of the plywood spanning in its short direction needs to be considered. each with different structural properties. in either case. and is manufactured in standard sizes consistent with the sizes of sawn lumber. and the glued joints between laminations are vertical. creating a dimensionally-stable structural membrane. Cold-formed metal can also be used as a "web" material. the material properties assumed when designing in timber are not arbitrarily selected from the lists produced by wood industry organizations. and as a sub-floor over joists in woodframe construction. and so on. volume. creating a composite "truss-joist" consisting of wooden chords and metal diagonals. rather than horizontal. and are often structurally designed (engineered) by the manufacturer.