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Does wood age?

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MJP

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I recall my father buying a very nice new wooden ladder about sixty years ago.

A couple of years ago, after it had lived its life all this time in his garage in South Wales, I unearthed it and wondered -

Is this still safe to use?

It looked as good as the day he bought it (it was never much actually used) but
does wood age over the years, get brittle, whatever?

If we assume that there has been no worm attack,no rot, no other damage, does wood weaken in any way over time?

Would a ladder 50 or 100 or even 200 years old be safe to use if it looked Ok and Hadn't been attacked by worm, workman or water?

I've always thought that wood might quietly oxidise over the years, leading to the fibres breaking up - am I mistaken?

I realise that there are roofs around with thousand-year old timber but I still wonder!

Martin.
 

bourbon

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Have a look at a half timbered house ( not the horrible black painted ones), the oak ages to a silver colour. As to whether your old ladders are safe? Well, I wouldn't trust them personally
 

rafezetter

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I am under the impression that wood can lose moisture over decades to a point it becomes less pliable then when "new". In most cases this isn't an issue, but in the case of a ladder and specifially the treads, I'd say yes, it's propbably more prone to breaking now than it was.

This is however my own understanding and I know there are members whos knowledge of wood and it's behaviours surpasses most of us.

Chances are you can sell it now as a pot display stand on Etsy for almost as much as buying a new aluminium one :)
 

MJP

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Thanks folks -

Well, it looks like my idea isn't too far off - it probably ages a bit over the years (like the rest of us!!) and one would be daft to trust it.

Etsy here we come!

Martin.
 

Sgian Dubh

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MJP":34zryex0 said:
Would a ladder 50 or 100 or even 200 years old be safe to use if it looked Ok and Hadn't been attacked by worm, workman or water?
Below is a short quotation from a larger text of mine on the subject of timber technology. I strongly suspect your ladder would be safe to use as long as the wood has not experienced degradation, such as you describe, and some additional factors to consider outlined below, e.g., dryness and 'moderate' temperatures. High heat, for example, such as that found in boiler rooms, forges, glass-blowing workshops, etc, cause brashness in wood: brash wood is weak and liable to failure. Slainte.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Over many decades, or even over two or three centuries, there is insignificant loss of strength in wood. This holds true as long as the wood does not deteriorate structurally due to damage or decay caused by insects or fungal attack, and the wood remains relatively dry in a moderate range of temperatures. These sorts of conditions are met in sound and dry structures such as houses and buildings, some of which may be centuries old, e.g., churches and historically interesting private and public buildings. Wood strength does deteriorate over very many centuries, but it’s also true there are healthy standing trees hundreds of centuries old indicating wood really can stand the test of time."
 

Ttrees

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I've seen an interesting video before, on American firemen using the same wooden "really long" ladders for absolute donkeys.
These guys take pride on these pieces of heritage, and they have a workshop for repairs on them also.
Although this could be a case of triggers broom that lasted him for 20 years (hammer)
Worth a watch anyways, I'll see if I can find it.
Here you go
[youtube]NXSoaeHG6B0[/youtube]
And for fun :) ...
[youtube]56yN2zHtofM[/youtube]

Tom
 

MJP

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Richard, Tom, thanks -

So it's probably safe enough to send my fat friend up first!

Interesting though - It looks as if we would have to wait many centuries before we saw any significant deterioration.

Thanks all. A question answered.

Martin.
 

CHJ

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I have two wooden extending ladders, both bought 56 years ago that are perfectly sound.

Does the ladder by any chance have steel rod ties under the rungs? if so then even a cracked rung is not going to be any real risk.
 

MJP

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Ttrees":2ew8dgrz said:
I've seen an interesting video before, on American firemen using the same wooden "really long" ladders for absolute donkeys.
These guys take pride on these pieces of heritage, and they have a workshop for repairs on them also.
Although this could be a case of triggers broom that lasted him for 20 years (hammer)
Worth a watch anyways, I'll see if I can find it.
Here you go
[youtube]NXSoaeHG6B0[/youtube]
And for fun :) ...
[youtube]56yN2zHtofM[/youtube]

Tom
Very interesting video Tom - but yes, one might wonder if those ladders came from the same stock as Trigger's broom!

Martin.
 

MJP

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thetyreman":2zj446a4 said:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjnhHKIKqJA
I think I'll have to stop taking those tablets....!!

Martin.
 

Chris152

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Sgian Dubh":3c4p48s2 said:
there are healthy standing trees hundreds of centuries old indicating wood really can stand the test of time."
Richard - am I reading this wrong?! C
 

novocaine

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we are making a bit of globilised assumption here, that all wood is the same.
I'd suggest that the grain and pore structure of the wood will dictate how it "ages", a tight grained, low resin timber like oak will dry stronger than an open grained high resin such as spruce. I think this would be down to how the grain "knits" together to form something with amorphous structure.

or, and this is also a very big possible, I'm talking out me toot chute and it can all be lumped in the same wood pile.
 

Rorschach

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CHJ":2fae7d0c said:
Does the ladder by any chance have steel rod ties under the rungs? if so then even a cracked rung is not going to be any real risk.
I was going to say the same, pretty much every wooden ladder I have ever come across tucked in the back of a shed etc has steel rods under the rung.
 

Sgian Dubh

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Chris152":hxz5fkuf said:
Sgian Dubh":hxz5fkuf said:
there are healthy standing trees hundreds of centuries old indicating wood really can stand the test of time."
Richard - am I reading this wrong?! C
Actually Chris, you're not.

It's a typo that I have never noticed since I wrote it, and nor did any of the editors at Lost Art Press who published Cut & Dried ... so that's what it says in the book. When writing the manuscript I recall I was aware that there are trees reckoned by scientists to be nearly 10,000 years old, so a bit of quick mental arithmetic came up with, 'Oh, near enough hundreds of centuries!', so that got typed. In reality, I should probably have said 'scores of centuries ...', or perhaps I could have said 'nearly hundreds of centuries ...'

I guess I'll have to live with that typo. Too late to do anything about it, even though I recently undertook yet another round of proof-reading of the book before it went off two or three weeks ago to the printer for its second print run. Apart from seeking out annoying little typos for this new print run, I took the opportunity to add a bit more to the book, specifically, to include additional discussion of Cites, which I'd rather skipped over when I first wrote the manuscript.

If there's a third print run (and more) I'll change that bit of text now that it's been spotted. I actually appreciate you finding it and asking the question. Thanks. Slainte.
 

Suffolkboy

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But am I reading it wrong? there are healthy standing trees centuries old that are still sound?

That's surely irrelevant as the trees are live?

or should it be standing dead trees?
 

Sgian Dubh

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Suffolkboy":2n3047b3 said:
That's surely irrelevant as the trees are live?
You could interpret it that way, but the final "there are healthy standing trees centuries old that are still sound" was a way to gently close that part of the discussion, and to indicate that wood can remain strong for a long time in more than one set of conditions, i.e., as either dead or live wood.

The essential points I was getting across to a reader in the larger quotation about dead wood were already covered, and the sub-section on aging in the manuscript (and the book) was part of the wider ranging discussion of factors that affect wood strength covered in other sub-sections such as temperature, moisture content, fatigue, creep, duration of load, growth ring orientation, brashness, etc. Slainte.
 

Suffolkboy

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I see. I hope you didn't think I was criticising, I was just confused.

A good example of timber remaining sound over extremely long periods of time may be bog oak? although I accept that this is a specific set of conditions that produce this.
 

Sgian Dubh

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I didn't see your comment as criticism, merely a request for clarification. It is, after all, not always the case that a writer's words are understood or interpreted as they were intended.

Yes, bog oak is an interesting case. Certainly it's been preserved, but I'm not sure how the make-up of the wood is changed because of its submersion, nor how strength is affected. Similarly, there are submerged logs being dragged out of the Great Lakes in North America that were lost during logging operations in the 1800s. They attract a premium price for a variety of reasons, e.g., history, virgin forest stock, width of boards, growth ring spacing, and so on. I don't recall information about their strength or other physical characteristics affected by their submersion. I could probably do a bit of research … but don't feel like doing so at the moment, ha, ha. Slainte.
 
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