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SHEAR PROBLEMS IN TIMBER ENGINEERING – ANALYSIS AND

SOLUTIONS

Ernst Gehri

ABSTRACT: Actual knowledge in shear behaviour has not been enough considered in engineering practice, resulting
in avoidable failures. Reason for that is an inadequate basis of actual shear values in the Codes, without consideration of
real design situations. In the paper are presented factors which have major influence on the shear behaviour: test
configuration, size or volume, moisture content and temperature. Proposals are made for a more realistic approach.

KEYWORDS: Shear failure, size effect, test configuration, moisture content, temperature

1 INTRODUCTION 2.3 EXAMPLE FOR DESIGN SITUATION


Wood – like all layered materials – shows in shear, In Figure 1 are shown two similar design situations.
compared to the lengthwise properties (parallel to the The beam elements are the same, the only difference
grain), a very weak and brittle behaviour. Due to this consists in the way of load introduction: in case (a) are
brittle behaviour the size effect on the characteristic acting compression forces, in case (b) tensile forces. In
shear strength is strong. This is not enough considered any case the equilibrium is fulfilled and the resulting
in actual design procedures. As a result lot of failures shear force in the beam is the same.
in timber structures are initiated by shear.
Shear problems may be reduced by:
- more appropriate and realist design values
- use of wood species with higher shear capacity
- use of engineered products with cross-linked compo-
site configuration.

2 PRINCIPLES FOR THE DESIGN


2.1 GENERAL
Figure 1: Design situations for a beam (same shear
Principles for the design of timber structures are laid force and diagram); load introduction by glued-in bars
down e.g. in the Eurocodes. There is written, that the
design models shall take in account: Questions:
- material properties (e.g. modulus of elasticity, Do we have the same shear capacity? Do we have for
strength and failure mode) these two design situations the correct strength and
- time dependent behaviour of the materials stiffness parameter for the action “shear”? Can we use
- climatic conditions for the materials (temperature, the same materials properties? For which test situations
moisture and variations) or test configurations are the properties determined?
- design situations.

2.2 MATERIAL PROPERTIES


3 MATERIAL PROPERTY: SHEAR
Material properties like strength and stiffness 3.1 GENERAL
parameters to be used in the design shall be Frequent design situations are beams subjected to shear
determined: forces (see Figure 1). Shear failure occurs longitudinal
- on the basis of tests (longitudinal shear or shear parallel to the grain). The
- for the types of action effects which the material will shear values to introduce are given in EN338 for sawn-
be subjected in the structure. timber or EN1194 for glulam. In both cases possible
The last requirement – a very important one – has in cracking may be considered, by the introduction of a
the past often been overlooked. Inadequate material crack factor.
properties may lead to unsafe design and construction. The values are based on dry material (normal climate:
__________________________ 20°C and 65% relative humidity)
Ernst Gehri: Im Lindengut 13, 8803 Rüschlikon, Switzerland, Remark: Background of an elementary (and not new)
Email: gehri@emeritus.ethz.ch property like shear seems not to be so clear!
3.2 SHEAR STRENGTH AND TIMBER SPECIES 3.3 SHEAR AND CRACKS
In older structures most connections were based on the In sawn timber of larger section cracks due to drying
shearing strength of the timber. Experience had shown are unavoidable. Only by splitting up the log into
the better behaviour of hardwoods – in relation to shear smaller sections like boards and using an adequate
strength and stiffness – compared to softwoods. For drying procedure cracks may be reduced or avoided.
keys and dowels higher performing hardwood like oak The reason for that is that the piece can more easily
was commonly used. deform without cracking; unequal shrinkage causes
It is therefore astonishing to see that – meanwhile and warp.
based on erroneous research – the shear capacity and In glued-laminated timber and adequate grading of the
stiffness of softwoods has increased and on the other laminations only minor cracks, which can be
side of hardwoods decreased (see EN338). disregarded, may appear. The introduction of a crack
Note: Shear tests according to EN408 are done on a factor for glulam is therefore not justified.
defect free material called “wood” and not on lumber The problem is here, that the characteristic values fixed
or timber available for structural use. in EN1194 are too high, and can not be reproduced by
According to EN338 the shear strength and stiffness of tests. Instead of correcting the shear values an artificial
softwood boards C40 and ash boards D50 are the same: crack factor was than introduced.
- shear strength: fv,k = 4,0 N/mm2 After years of service more intense cracks and in
- shear modulus: Gmean = 0,88 kN/mm2. glulam also delaminations are appearing (see Figure 4).
Own tests made on glued-laminated timber using This is on one side a matter for quality assurance and
spruce laminations C40 and ash laminations D50 on the other side of material aging.
showed striking differences.

Table 1: Shear properties of spruce and ash (mean not


characteristic values)

Glulam Shear strength Shear modulus


laminations N/mm2 kN/mm2
Spruce: C40 3,6 0,65
Ash: D50 6,7 1,10
Factor: ash/spruce 1,9 1,7

The shear strength is based on tests with beams of


120/480 mm and a shear area Ashear =66·103 mm2. The
load configuration can be seen from Figures 2 and 3.
The shear modulus is directly determined from the
measurement of the shear deformation in each panel.

Figure 2: Shear-beam test configuration; dimensions


Figure 4: A near 100 years old glued-laminated arch
with large zones of open glue-lines

The residual shear strength of such an element was


experimentally evaluated. About 1/3 of the nowadays
required material property was achieved, still enough
for an arch type structure. A similar reduction was
found on the shear modulus.
To have a better insight in the influence of cracks, a
series of artificial “cracked” beams has been tested.
Only the inner 1/3 of the lamination with was glued
(the outer 2/3’s of the beam section 120/480 mm
remained unglued or open). The mean shear strength
was about 2 N/mm2 or more than 50% of an uncracked
Figure 3: Test at “neue Holzbau”
similar girder.
3.5 TO SUM UP
Moisture and temperature have on the shear properties
major influence. For service class 2 where higher
moisture and temperature (than occurring in the test
values based on climate 20°C and 65% r.h.) may occur
and are admitted, a reduction on shear strength and
stiffness should be provided for. It is recommended to
reduce the values by 20%.
Cracks reduce strength and stiffness. The degree of
cracking is not assessable to a direct measurement. An
indirect way would be to measure the shear stiffness
and based in a similar relationship between modulus of
elasticity and tensile strength to obtain indications
about the level of cracking and about the shear
Figure 5: Artificial “cracked” beams strength. Naturally as for tensile strength other factors
additionally affect the shear strength.
3.4 SHEAR AND MOISTURE CONTENT
Shear properties are based on tests made at normal 4 TEST CONFIGURATION
climate, e.g. 20°C and 65% relative humidity, which 4.1 TEST CONFIGURATION IN EN408
lead to about a moisture content of 12%.
In service class 2 the average moisture content can vary The actual test configuration in EN408 can only be
between 12 and 20%, but it is accepted that it may applied with defect material and small size. Effectively
exceed 20% a few weeks per year. the material tested is “wood” and not “timber”. The
With increasing moisture content the resistance against results may not be used directly, only the relationship.
internal slipping of one part upon another along the Furthermore the test results not to “real” shear, but to a
grain decreases. The shear strength for moisture combination of shear and compressive stress
content between 12 and 20% decreases by 2.5% per perpendicular to the grain (see Figure 6).
1% increase of moisture content.
fv,w% = fv,12% [1 - 0.025 (w – 12%)] (1)
The same reduction can be applied on the shear
modulus. The relationship is based on tests with clear
wood [1].
Since the shear properties are quit not influenced by the
timber quality (knots may even have a positive effect)
the relationship is generally valid.
The effect of moisture content on shear has been
confirmed on shear block tests [2] and on finger-joints
tested in tension [3]. In both cases shear is a
determinant property for the load transmission. Since
shear is affected by moisture content, higher moisture
in the finger-joint decreases the tensile strength of the
joint. The result is also a decrease of bending strength
of the glued-laminated timber: in service class 2 a Figure 6: Combination of shear parallel to the grain and
reduction of about 20% should therefore be considered. compressive strength perpendicular to the grain

3.5 SHEAR AND TEMPERATURE 4.2 SHEAR-BEAM TESTS

Higher temperature leads to a “softening” of the wood Bending test configuration was created to obtain
structure, resulting in a reduction of strength and bending failures and eliminate as possible other failure
stiffness. A good approximation (for the range 20°C to modes like shear: for sawn timber normally with span
100°C) is given by equation (2). to depth of 18, for glulam often with reduced side
spans (4.5 h instead of 6h).
fv,T = fv,20° [1 – 0,0038 (T -20°)] (2) Through better grading higher bending strength is
It is practice to accept, that no reduction is needed up achieved, but not higher shear strength (in the contrary
to 50°C, even though the difference is more than 10%. the defect free material shows lower shear strength). As
This must therefore be covered by the partial factor for a result increasing number of shear failures are
material properties γM . The reason for this practice is occurring in bending tests. This may be frustrating for
the small influence on the bending strength, material establishing bending values, but very interesting in
propriety which is only used for the timber strength regard to shear. We obtain here representative shear
classification. values (lower values of the shear distribution).
In the same way as for bending, where shear failures 4.3 SIZE OR VOLUME EFFECT
may be avoided by a correct relationship shear to
Knowing the very brittle behaviour at failure state, an
bending, we may avoid bending failures by fixing
another relationship. As a result we will obtain a beam important size effect must be expected. One of the
with the following geometry: most extensive research data was done in Canada by
Longworth in 1977 [4]. As reference were proposed
shear area and shear volume. Reanalysing the test data
and taking in consideration the moisture content of the
specimens, the following relationship can be used:
fv,mean = 100 · Ashear -0,28 (3)
2
where fv,mean= shear strength in N/mm and Ashear =
shear span area, as defined in Figure 9, in mm2.

Figure 7: Specimens geometry: (a) for bending with a =


4.5 to 6 h; (b) for shear with possible bending; (c) for
shear with a about 1.5 to 2h

Knowing (see 4.3) the great influence of size on the


shear strength (much greater than for bending) there is
Figure 9: Definition of shear span area
an imperative requirement to declare the size of the test
specimens or refer the value to a so-called reference
size or reference shear-beam (in analogy to the Longworth (equ.3) and own results

reference bending beam). 7

6
shear strength in N/mm^2

0
0 100 200 300 400 500
shear area in *10^3 mm^2
Figure 8: Reference shear-beam (dimensions)
Figure 10: Influence of shear span area on the shear
Test configuration has to be as near as possible to the strength
problem envisaged: from point of view of material
(similar as possible in the structure) as for the way the Note that the tests were made on new beams (without
forces are acting. drying cracks). For the reference size (see Figure 8)
The load introduction has been done – usually – by mean shear strength of about 3.5 N/mm2 is obtained.
compression perpendicular to grain. This results in
very large (long) plates; the effective shear field (with 4.4 INFLUENCE OF LOAD INTRODUCTION
high constant stress) is much smaller than the By the use of glued-in rods it is easily possible to
geometric one. The shear strength is only valid for the examine the effect of different cases of load
smaller shear area or volume (see 4.3). introduction (see Figure 11).
Such long supports are in practice unrealistic. The A series of 4 beams with the configuration (a) and (c)
loads are introduced more concentrated using large were tested. The beam depth was 480 mm; the shear
screws or glued-in rods. This should therefore also be panel quadratic.
considered in the test configuration. The test configuration (c) or ZZ-configuration showed
lower shear strength of about 15% compared to the test
In the test procedure easily the measurement of the
configuration (a), “usual” test condition.
shear stiffness may be included (shear modulus can
The result was expected and confirmed the formulation
also be obtained in normal bending tests).
given in Swiss Code SIA 265:2003 for shear combined
with normal stresses perpendicular to the grain.
- Leicester/Young (1991) [6]
“Shear strength tends to be more important in the
design of continuous rather than single span beams.
Because of this, there has been a proposal in Australia,
that double span test specimens should be used for in-
grade shear strength measurements. However, in some
recent studies using LVL (laminated veneer lumber),
some anomalies were noted in short-span shear tests,
including the fact that shear failures appeared to be
inhibited in double-span tests”.
These findings let the Authors a little perplex and they
concluded:
“However, it is already obvious from the test results,
that some modification to conventional structural
theory needs to be made in the case of design for the
shear strength of continuous beams”.
- Sanders (1996) [7]
Sanders (1996) and Rammer et al (1997) proposed to
Figure 11: Cases of load introduction change the common shear test on single span (3-point
test configuration) to a double-span configuration (or
4.5 CONTINUOUS BEAMS 5-point test). Only by such a test configuration realistic
4.5.1 Earlier statements shear values (higher values without possible influence
Based on the commonly simplified design of beams the of end cracks) could be obtained.
following will be found when going from the single-
4.5.2 5-point-configuration versus 3-point
span with central concentrated load F to the double
Fortunately the findings of Egner were never
span beam (see Figure 12):
introduced in the Codes; about the modification of the
- if bending determinant: 1/3 more load
conventional structural theory nothing was more heard
- if shear determinant: about ¼ less load.
about from by Leicester/Young; only the 5-point test
configuration is still alive. Therefore only this point
will be discussed.
The protagonists showed that the shear strength
obtained is higher and therefore should better
correspond with the “true” shear value.

Figure 13: Test configuration according to [7]


Figure 12: Single versus double-span beam
The test were made – as usually – by introduction of
The following are the load carrying capacities: the loads on compression perpendicular to the grain,
on shear:
resulting in large or long plates to reduce possible
Fv,single = 1,33 (b·h·fv) Fv,double = 0,97 (b·h·fv)
crushing.
on bending: Comparing directly the failure loads Fsingle to Fdouble it
Fm,single = 0,111 (b·h·fm) Fm,double = 0,148 (b·h·fm) was found that Fsingle ≈ Fdouble, as can bee seen in Figure
These findings seem not to be covered by test results. 14 (which is not in accordance to the classical approach
Therefore many researchers conclude that the as presented in Figure 12).
continuity over the middle support might be the reason. In Figure 14 are given the loads in function of a
Three researchers and their statements are cited below. relative shear volume; this is possible since the
dimensions of plates for load introduction were chosen
- Egner (1958) [5] proportional to beam size. The differences in shear
“It seems justifiable to allow over the continuous strength between 5-point to 3-point are justified by the
support higher shear design values, e.g. the double of absence of drying checks (end splits) in the central part
those admissible for end supports”.
of the beam. Unfortunately the same relationship can beam showed clearly, that 3-point testing is still an
be found for wet beams, as can be seen from Figure 14. adequate test configuration for shear.
Furthermore it could be shown that the shear strength –
12
by relating to the same shear span area – is independent
of the system used (single-span or double-span), if the
10 same load introduction direction is applied (see 4.4).
relative shear capacity

8 5 CONCLUSIONS
6 It is amazing (for not to saying unbelievable) that such
a fundamental timber property like shear is not proper
4
defined.
- Need for a test configuration which takes in
2
consideration the predominate type of action and the
0 material to be applied. Use structural timber instead of
0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 wood and a shear-beam configuration.
relative shear volum e - Need for a reference size (or reference sizes for sawn
timber and glulam). Shear values are strongly size
Figure 14: Analysis of [7] based on failure loads: upper dependent; therefore relationships for other sizes
curves for dry beams; lower curves for wet beams (blue needed.
for 5-point and red for 3-point test configuration) - Need for a better defined shear field for testing using
glued-in bars (or large screws) for the introduction of
A look on Figure 14, were the dimensions are drawn the loads.
true to scale, show the unrealistic small volume of the - Need for modification factors for other climate
beam subjected to shear and the much smaller volume conditions than 20° and 65% relative humidity: for
tested in the 5-point configuration compared to the 3-
other moisture contents and for higher temperatures up
point configuration. In view of the large size effect – as
to 60°C.
presented in 4.3 – and the incorrect calculation of the
- Show the way to measure directly the shear or
central reaction (without taking in consideration for the
analysis the shear deformation) no justification for the angular deformation and from that the easy and simple
5-point configuration is found. determination of the shear modulus.
- Use the shear stiffness as indicator of the extent of the
4.5.3 Own tests cracking; this using a similar relationship as between
It may be disappointing that 2 single-span beams have modulus of elasticity and strength parallel to the grain.
higher shear capacity than a double-span beam. By - Need for corrective indications for other load
connecting rigidly over the support the two single-span applications.
beams the shear capacity will decrease, whereas the Proposals where made to establish reliable strength and
bending capacity and the stiffness will increase. stiffness values on shear.

ACKNOWLEGMENT
Thanks goes to the “neue Holzbau AG, Lungern” for
all the support and to my friend Peter Haas for
preparing and testing most of the specimens.

REFERENCES
[1] Wood Handbook. Forest Product Laboratory.1987
[2] Gehri E.: Einfluss der Feuchte auf die Druckscher-
festigkeit verklebter Proben. Interner Versuchs-
bericht 2006.
[3] Gehri E.: Feuchteinfluss auf Festigkeit – Zugfes-
tigkeit von Keilzinkenverbindungen. Interner
Versuchsbericht 2006.
[4] Longworth J.: Longitudinal shear strength of
timber beams. Forest Prod. J. 27(8), p. 19-23.1977
Figure 15: Tests on continuous beams at “neue [5] Egner K.: Belastungsversuche mit durchlaufenden
Holzbau”
geleimten Holzbalken in I-Form. Bauen mit Holz
Own tests with measurement of the shear deformation 18, S. 431-436. 1958.
(which is linear correlated through the shear modulus [6] Leicester R.H. and Young F.G.: Shear strength of
to the shear stress and shear force) – made on the same continuous beams. CIB-W18/24-10-1 Oxford 1991
beam – once as single-span and once as continues [7] Sanders C.L.: The effects of testing conditions on
the measured shear strength of wood beams.
Washington State University, Pullman. 1996.