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Maderas. Ciencia y tecnología

versión On-line ISSN 0718-221X

Maderas, Cienc. tecnol. v.4 n.1 Concepción  2002 

Maderas. Ciencia y tecnología. 4(1):26-39, 2002



Murray C McCurdy1 and Roger B Keey1
Wood Technology Research Centre, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Corresponding author:


Earlywood, formed at the beginning of the growth period each year in temperate regions, has tracheids that are thinner-walled and larger in diameter than those laid down later in the season, the latewood. As a consequence, the permeability to moisture movement differs, particularly as some of the pits in the latewood tracheids may close or aspirate. Boards sawn from a log will have the orientation of the growth rings (representing seasonal accumulation of woody material) at various angles to the long dimension of the boards. The extreme cases, known as flat-sawn and quarter-sawn, respectively, represent the situations where the growth rings lie parallel to the long dimension or at right angles to it. Tests were undertaken on the drying behaviour of both flat-sawn and quarter- sawn, 50mm-thick sapwood boards of Pinus radiata dried under so-called high-temperature conditions, 120/70°C, with an air velocity over the boards of 5m s-1 in a single-board drying tunnel. Moisture-content profiles were determined by slicing samples after various stages of drying. In the wet core, the moisture distribution was uniform with quarter-board boards, but showed “peakiness” corresponding to the latewood zones in flat-sawn boards. With either orientation, there is a thin dry layer below fibre saturation at the surface, which in the case of flat-sawn boards is one growth-ring-wide. Quarter-sawn boards dry more slowly than flat-sawn boards due to different drying mechanisms, and these differences in drying behaviour is also reflected in differences in strain development as the wood tries to shrink in conformity with the local moisture content.

Keywords: Softwood, Pinus radiata, flat-sawn, quarter-sawn, moisture movement.


Wood Anatomy

The microstructure of sapwood in a softwood, such as radiata pine, is relatively simple. The bulk of the structure is made up of fibrous elements called tracheids that are aligned axially in the tree. Other cells known as parenchyma cells and ray tracheids, along with open structures called resin canals, make up the remainder of the sapwood tissue. These are the cells that form the xylem in the tree and are found in sawn sapwood boards.

In temperate climates, the dimensions of the axial tracheids change depending on which part of the growing season they form in. Tracheids formed early in the growing season have large diameters and thin cell walls and are relatively short in length. These make up the earlywood that has a creamy white appearance. Tracheids formed later in the season have smaller diameters and thicker cell walls, but are longer. These make up the latewood bands that are a light brown colour. The contrast between the earlywood and latewood gives the appearance of the annual growth rings. Each growth ring represents the seasonal accumulation of woody material.

The lumens of the axial tracheids in both the earlywood and latewood are connected by structures called bordered pits. These bordered pits are situated mainly on the radial faces of the tracheids and facilitate longitudinal and tangential movement of moisture in the xylem. A few of these pits connect to ray tracheids in the ray tissue, which allows radial moisture movement to occur. These pits are however smaller and less permeable than the pits between axial tracheids.

The size and permeability of the pits between axial tracheids also differ between earlywood and latewood. Earlywood pits are larger, more numerous and more permeable than latewood pits. The torus and supporting strands of bordered pits in earlywood are more flexible than in latewood, which means that they are more likely to aspirate. Many latewood pits remain unaspirated at all times.


The permeability of softwood to moisture movement cannot easily be characterised as it varies with density, direction of flow, and moisture content. Some of the changes are reversible and others are not. The variation with density is based on the anatomical differences between the less dense earlywood and the denser latewood. The larger-diameter lumens and more frequent, open-structured bordered pits of the earlywood mean that the green permeability to liquid water is higher compared with the latewood. The green permeability is greatest in the axial direction, about 2000-times more permeable than that in the tangential and radial directions, which are similar. The radial permeability of latewood is 10 times smaller than that of earlywood.

When wood is dried, there are processes that occur that change the permeability. Firstly, the bordered pits in the earlywood aspirate, as do some of the pits in the latewood. This reduces the permeability, to gas and liquid, in both types of wood, but the effect is more significant in the earlywood because a greater proportion of the pits aspirate. The radial permeability is also modified when the ray tissue dries below fibre-saturation point and the ray parenchyma collapse, leaving a more open structure. This increases the permeability of the wood in the radial direction.

Stress and Strain

The driving force for strain development in boards during drying is the moisture-induced shrinkage that occurs in the wood as it dries below FSP and begins losing bound moisture from the cell walls. In the absence of any restraint this would produce a free shrinkage strain. In a drying board, however, the shrinkage is seldom unrestrained as there are differences in moisture content throughout the board and therefore different levels of moisture-induced shrinkage. Variations in density will also result in variations in moisture-induced shrinkage.

Whenever adjacent zones of wood in a drying board experience different levels of moisture-induced strain then they are restrained by each other and a drying stress develops in response. The development of stress leads to stress-related responses in the form of instantaneous strain, mechano-sorptive strain and creep strain. These stress-induced strains act to offset, or relieve, the moisture-induced shrinkage strains. Instantaneous strain is a strain produced immediately on loading of a stress and can be elastic or plastic depending on the magnitude of the stress and the temperature of the wood. Mechano-sorptive strain develops due to the interaction between moisture loss and stress during drying. This is a difficult strain to analyse and is not considered in this study. Creep strain is a delayed time dependant strain that results in permanent deformation of the wood to relieve stress. At high temperatures, the rate of creep strain is accelerated due to thermal softening so it can counteract other strain development during drying, particularly under high temperature conditions.

Sawing Orientation

When boards of rectangular cross-section are cut from a log the orientation of the annual growth rings to the long face (the drying face) of the board varies. Where the growth rings are roughly parallel to the long face then the boards are called flat-sawn and where they are perpendicular the boards are called quarter-sawn. In most boards the growth ring orientation is somewhere between the two extremes. The sawing patterns used in softwood processing, in New Zealand, usually result in more flat-sawn than quarter-sawn boards.

Sawing orientation influences the rate of drying because of inherent differences in permeability. Pang & Haslett (2002) have shown that quarter-sawn boards dry more slowly than flat-sawn.

In a drying kiln, the boards are stacked such that the short faces are butted together and the long faces are exposed to the hot air. This means that most of the moisture evaporates from the long faces so that drying is essentially one-dimensional. For quarter-sawn boards this means drying is in the tangential direction of the wood, whereas for flat-sawn boards drying is in the radial direction of the wood.

The objective of these experiments was to measure moisture and strain profiles in both flat-sawn and quarter-sawn boards at different stages in drying at high temperatures. These profiles illustrate the different mechanisms of drying for the two extremes of sawing orientation.


The wood used for these experiments were rough-sawn, green sapwood boards, 50mm x 100mm, obtained from a local sawmill in Christchurch from Pinus radiata timber originating from North Canterbury. The boards were taken immediately from the grading table, wrapped in plastic and stored in a refrigerated room at approximately 4oC until required.

Moisture Profiles

A week before the tests were to be done, the boards were cut into smaller lengths for the experiments. A composite test board was to be dried by being placed longitudinally in a wind tunnel under controlled drying conditions, as described by McCurdy (1999). For each run, a test board of effective length 1100mm was made up of 9 individual sample boards of 100mm in length, 8 for the moisture-content profile measurements, with an extra green board for determining the moisture distribution before drying, as well as a 300mm-long leading-edge board. This was placed in front of the sample boards to ensure that the boundary layer over these was developed to a sufficient extent so that the lengthwise variation of the external mass-transfer coefficient was sufficiently small to be of no consequence. The end boards and the sample boards were all painted on the ends and sides with Devshield 216, a two-pot paint that sets on green wood and remains stable at the test temperature. This sealing ensured that the moisture in the boards was only lost in the direction normal to the airflow and the moisture movement was essentially one-dimensional.

The plastic wrapping was replaced after painting and the boards returned to the refrigerated room until the day of the experiment.

The boards were dried in a closed-circuit wind tunnel at an air velocity of 5m s-1, a dry-bulb temperature of 120oC and a wet-bulb temperature of 70oC. These conditions were controlled through Advantech® Genie™ data-acquisition and control software, the air temperature being sensed by a platinum resistance thermometer and the humidity by a temperature-compensated, thin-film capacitive element. The weight of the composite boards was monitored continuously by a Sartorius BP8100 balance with a maximum capacity of 8.1kg and a reproducibility of 0.05mg.

The drying tunnel was started up for about an hour before the drying was to begin to allow the system to reach steady state. The sample boards and the end board were then loaded, and the tunnel allowed to run for 100 minutes, at which time one of the sample boards was removed for analysis. The process was repeated at 100-minute intervals until all eight sample boards had been removed.

Once the samples had been put into the tunnel, the green board was tested for moisture content and density using methods described in the following paragraphs. As soon as each sample board was removed from the tunnel, the board’s mass was determined so that its moisture content could be subsequently calculated. After the weighing, smaller samples, approximately 25mm x 25mm x 50mm as shown in Fig 1, were cut from this board using a band saw, the dimensions being checked using vernier callipers. Thirty slices were then taken from each sample using a progressive manual slicer, starting from the surface that was originally the exposed face of the test board. The slicing unit could shear slivers as thin as 0.5mm, but mostly the slices were about 1mm thick. This thickness was sufficiently small to enable local moisture contents to be determined within each growth ring. As each slice was removed from the device, it was weighed, labelled and then sealed using a mixture of carbon tetrachloride and paraffin wax. Once sealed to prevent absorption of water, the volume was determined by water displacement.

When all the sample boards had been sliced, the pieces were then oven-dried at 103oC for 24 hours. This procedure is based on ASTM D 4442-92 test method A, and assumes that the residual moisture content is negligible and there is no thermal degradation apart from moisture loss. The slices were again weighed and resealed in a solvent-wax mixture and the volume determined once more.

Strain Profiles

A week before the tests, the boards were cut into 50×100×800mm test boards, which were painted on the ends and sides to prevent moisture loss from these surfaces during drying. The test boards were then re-wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until the day of the experiment. Twenty flat-sawn and twenty quarter-sawn test boards were prepared in this manner. These boards were dried in the same tunnel as the moisture profile samples under the same conditions.

Immediately before an experiment, each test board was weighed to determine the green weight. The boards were then dried for different lengths of time between 1 and 20 hours. The boards were then re-weighed immediately after drying to determine the dried weight. Two samples, 50mm long, were then cut from the middle of the test boards using a circular saw, as indicated in Figure 2. The first of these was weighed and later oven-dried and re-weighed to determine the moisture content of the original test board, before and after drying. Boards that had warped or cupped during drying, or had excessive checking, were rejected at this point, as such degrade would increase error in subsequent measurements and difficulty in interpreting the results.


Figure 1. Experimental procedure for cutting samples and slices from test board.

The second sample was cut again to remove 10mm from the 50×50mm ends to produce an even surface for strain measurement. The width of the sample was then measured as the long dimension (perpendicular to the direction of moisture movement) at 5mm intervals from the top drying surface to 40mm. Twenty slices, each approximately 1.5mm thick, were then cut from the sample starting at the top drying surface and moving through the sample towards the opposite drying surface.

The samples were sliced using equipment specially made for that purpose. It consisted of a clamping system to hold the sample with the surface to be sliced held vertically. The clamping system was mounted on a movable platform so that the sample could be moved through the device with each consecutive slice. The slices were cut by a steel blade held firmly to move only in the vertical direction. The equipment was operated by hand.

Each slice was weighed immediately after it was cut and the long dimension, parallel to the drying surface, measured using digital callipers. The thickness of each slice was also measured and then the slice was labelled. After all the slices had been cut, weighed and measured, the volume of each slice was determined using water displacement. The slices were then reassembled into a stack with 1.5mm spacers between each slice. Blocks were put at the top and bottom of the stack and the whole assembly tightened firmly with a G-clamp. The stack was then dried for 24 hours in a vacuum oven at 103°C. After oven drying the slices were removed from the stack, and the weight and long dimension of each re-measured.

Figure 2: Diagram showing the cutting and measurement of samples and slices.



The dry-basis moisture content X of each slice was evaluated from the initial and oven-dried weights, WI and WOD, respectively:


The density, ρD, was estimated from the oven-dried weight and the volume of the partially dried sample measured immediately after slicing as an approximation to the basic density (which is based on the oven-dried weight and the green volume). For moisture contents above fibre saturation, this substitution is reasonable since shrinkage of wood essentially only takes place below fibre saturation. This density value ρD of the partially dried sample and the density of wood substance ρs (taken as 1500 kg m-3) was then used to calculate the theoretical maximum moisture content by equation (2):


where the sap density ρL was assumed to be the same as that of pure water.

The theoretical maximum moisture content is a measure of the maximum saturation when all the tracheids are filled with sap and the cell walls themselves are saturated. The fractional saturation at an intermediate moisture content, X, between the moisture content at fibre saturation, XFSP, and the maximum value Xmax is thus given by:


A growth-ring-averaged saturation was also calculated. This is the average of all saturation values between points of density maxima on the density profile, which are assumed to indicate the latewood boundaries on adjacent growth rings. This provides a measure of the relative saturation levels among growth rings.

Below fibre saturation, the value of S has no physical meaning, and was not calculated. To calculate S, the moisture content at fibre saturation was taken from the temperature-dependent equation given by Chen et al. (1997), with the wood temperature assumed to have reached the quasi-steady-state temperature at the boiling point by the time the first sample board had been withdrawn after 100 minutes. This assumption yielded a value of 0.22 for XFSP.

The initial green moisture content of each board (Xbg) can be determined from the green weight of the board (Wbg) and the oven-dry weight (Wbo).


However, the oven-dry weight of the board is unknown, but can be determined from the dried weight of the board (Wbd) and that of the sample (Wsd), knowing the oven-dry weight of the sample (Wso) from equation (5):


It follows therefore that:


The unsliced long dimension of each partially dried slice was determined from the measurements made on the sample at 5mm intervals prior to slicing. The long dimension measurements were interpolated, between the 5mm intervals, to get a measurement for each individual slice (li) from the thickness measurements for each slice. A measure of the instantaneous strain was then calculated using equation (7).


where ls is the long dimension of the slice after cutting and is the average of the li values for the 20 slices.

The residual shrinkage was also calculated for each slice using the following equation:


where lod is the oven-dried length of the slice.


Fig 3 shows the moisture saturation profiles for flat-sawn timber and Fig 4 those for quarter-sawn timber. Each curve represents a separate board with a unique density profile. In Fig 3, the positions of peaks in the density profiles, representing latewood bands, are indicated by the enlarged symbols. This feature is not included in profiles for quarter-sawn boards as the density profile is effectively uniform, and thus moisture content is also plotted directly rather than moisture saturation.

The strain profiles determined in the second set of experiments are shown in Figure 5 for flat-sawn boards and Figure 6 for quarter-sawn boards. On most of the plots moisture content and percentage saturation are shown. However, where only moisture content is plotted, it means the board was dried below fibre saturation point and percentage saturation is no longer relevant.


Figure 3: Moisture saturation profiles for flat-sawn radiata pine boards.

Figure 4: Moisture content profiles for quarter-sawn radiata pine boards.




Figure 5: Results for a 50×100 mm flat sawn boards dried to a.) 94%, b.) 20% and c.) 10% average moisture content, with 120/70°C drying schedule, showing; Density and instantaneous strain and; Saturation, moisture content and instantaneous strain.




Figure 6: Results for a 50×100 mm quarter sawn boards dried to a.) 80%, b.) 37% and c.) 21% average moisture content, with 120/70°C drying schedule, showing; Saturation, moisture content and instantaneous strain and; Residual shrinkage and instantaneous strain.


Influence of Growth Rings on Moisture Profiles

There is a clear difference in the shape of the moisture profiles for the two sawing orientations illustrated in Figs 3 and 4, respectively. Flat-sawn boards exhibit minima in moisture saturation at the latewood bands (Fig 3), whereas quarter-sawn boards show a relatively uniform moisture content profile in the wet core of the board (Fig 4). There are also differences in the moisture profiles close to the surface. With flat-sawn wood, the moisture level at the surface falls below fibre saturation point, early in drying, while there is a small change in the moisture saturation of the core. On the other hand, with quarter-sawn timber, the entire core moisture content falls uniformly with only a small gradient at the surface.

This difference in behaviour is likely to be a reflection of the orientation of the growth rings with respect to the drying surface. In flat-sawn wood the growth rings are in series with respect to moisture movement. The moisture movement seems to be impeded by the less permeable latewood bands in the core, resulting in higher saturation at the board centre and lower saturation in subsequent growth rings nearer the surface, with a sharp drop in saturation over the outermost growth ring. Moisture evaporation probably occurs over this growth ring for much of the drying process, with sap moving as liquid from the core to it, until the bordered pits have sufficiently aspirated to render the remaining liquid immobile.

In quarter-sawn wood, the growth rings run parallel to the direction of the moisture movement. The measured moisture content at any position represents some kind of average over a number of rings. Since the mean permeability is essentially uniform normal to the surface, the moisture gradient is smoother than in flat-sawn wood, with a less pronounced dry surface zone.

For flat-sawn wood it appears that the evaporative zone withdraws into the wood while there is still free moisture in the core. The position of the evaporative zone is also quite distinct and is associated with the position of the latewood bands. With quarter-sawn wood the evaporative zone stays near the surface, though it is not as easy to place due to the gentler slope of the moisture profile. This slope might be caused by existence of non-uniform moisture profiles orthogonal to the direction of moisture movement. Such non-uniform profiles may result from drying variation caused by differences in wood density.

Influence of Growth Rings on Strain Profiles

The growth rings have a threefold effect on the development of drying strains. Firstly, the rings influence the moisture-loss rate and the moisture profile, which determine the development of mechanosorptive and shrinkage-related strains, respectively. Secondly, the earlywood and latewood zones shrink differently because of differences in cell wall properties. Thirdly, the structure of successive wood zones, with the latewood bands acting as stiffening rings, influences the transmission of stresses through the board. It is thus expected that the strain behaviour will depend on the grain orientation with respect to the direction of moisture movement.

One difference between the strain profiles for the two grain orientations is that the magnitude of strains measured in quarter-sawn boards is roughly half that of flat-sawn boards. This is because for the quarter-sawn boards the strain is measured in the radial direction of the wood and that for flat-sawn in the tangential direction. For radiata pine the radial shrinkage is roughly half of the tangential shrinkage.

For flat-sawn boards, the strain profiles for 94% average moisture content (Fig 5a) shows that most of the wood within 5mm of the surface is in tension, whereas the layer of wood right at the surface and in the core is in compression. The compression in the core is expected as a reaction to the wood nearer the surface shrinking as it dries below fibre saturation point. The surface compression seen here has not been reported before. We believe that early in the drying process the wood right at the surface dries below fibre saturation point and thus shrinks, while the surface zone (the outermost growth ring) is still mostly above fibre saturation point and therefore does not shrink. This difference in shrinkage causes significant tensile stress in the surface layer. This tensile stress can be higher than the elastic limit and causes some non-elastic deformation. With further drying, the wood in the surface zone dries below the fibre saturation point and attempts to shrink; therefore, the compressive stress in this zone is reversed. However, due to the non-elastic elongation, the deformation in the thin surface layer cannot be recovered and a compressive stress develops. Such stress changes are consistent with model predictions (Pang, 2001). Overall the strain profiles follow the anticipated pattern, with a strain reversal during drying, so that towards the end of the drying process the core is in tension, balanced by the surface zones in compression.

The instantaneous strain profile illustrates how drying stresses can be transmitted through the board. Fig 5a shows a step change in the instantaneous strain at the second latewood band from the surface, while there is very little variation in strain over the earlywood bands. This suggests that an entire growth ring acts as a single unit when reacting to strain development.

The strain profiles for the quarter-sawn boards are similar to those for flat-sawn boards in the early part of drying (Fig 6a), though the profile of compression in the core is different. Later in the drying (Fig 6b), the strain profiles change, with increasing tension near the surface and a decrease in compression in the core. There are two aspects of these profiles that are unusual. Firstly, there seems to be shrinkage occurring above fibre saturation point, as indicated by a tensile strain in wood with a positive saturation. Secondly, the level of compressive strain increases further into the core. The first of these observations can be explained by the existence of non-uniform moisture profile parallel to the direction of strain. This means that for each slice taken for strain measurement contains wood above and below fibre saturation point, so while the overall saturation is above zero some parts of the slice are shrinking. The second observation can be explained by the stiffening effect of the latewood bands constraining the board to shrink uniformly. The higher compressive strain in the core is likely to be due to other mitigating effects, such as shrinkage strain and mechanosorptive strain, being lower than they are closer to the surface, due to the higher saturation.

The strain resulting from an uneven moisture profile in parallel to the drying surface could also be involved in the formation of collapse as the wood shrinks more in the tangential direction, the direction of collapse, than in the radial direction. Collapse in the form of surface “washboarding” is a feature of drying quarter-sawn timber (Deyev and Keey, 2001).

The quarter-sawn strain profile towards the end of drying (Fig 6c) is unusual, with the wood entirely in tension. The other half of the sample (25-50mm) that was not sliced may have affected this profile, if it did not dry as quickly and therefore has not shrunk as much.


The difference in physical structure and permeability between earlywood and latewood tracheids causes the drying behaviour of sapwood boards of softwood timber to depend on the way the boards are cut from the log. In flat-sawn timber, the latewood bands are in series with the direction of moisture movement: in quarter-sawn timber, the latewood bands run parallel to the movement of moisture. Thus the latewood bands in flat-sawn timber tend to form barriers to moisture movement, resulting in stepwise changes in the moisture profile and a sharp drop over the outermost growth ring. By contrast, the moisture profile is more uniform when quarter-sawn boards are dried, with a less marked moisture gradient near the surface. These differences in moisture profile also influence the strain development. In our tests, the strain behaviour for flat-sawn boards conforms to the expected behaviour. On the other hand the strain behaviour of the quarter-sawn boards is unusual, with highest compression in the core and apparent shrinkage above fibre saturation point.


Chen, G.; Keey, R.B and Walker, J.C.F. 1997. The drying stress and check development on high-temperature kiln-seasoning of sapwood Pinus radiata boards. Part I Moisture movement and strain model. Holz als Roh- Werkst., vol.55, 351-360.

Deyev, A and Keey, R.B. 2001. Observation of the “washboard effect” on the surface of quarter-sawn Pinus radiata boards under kiln-drying conditions. New Zealand Journal of Forestry, vol.46(2), 26-33.

Keey, R.B, Langrish, T.A.G and Walker, J.C.F. 2000. Kiln drying of lumber. Springer Series in Wood Science, Springer Verlag, New York.

McCurdy, M.C and Keey, R.B. 1999. Moisture saturation profiles in Pinus radiata during high temperature drying. IPENZ Transactions: Civil Section, V26/N1CIV, 29-33.

Pang, S. 2001. Modeling of stresses and deformation of radiata pine lumber during drying. Proceedings of 7th International IUFRO Wood Drying Conference, Tsukuba, Japan: 238-245.

Pang, S and Haslett, A.N. 2002. Effects of sawing pattern on drying rate and residual drying stresses of Pinus radiata lumber. Paper submitted to Maderas: Ciencia Y Tecnologia.


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