Strategy for developing a future support system for the Vasa warship and evaluating its mechanical properties
Review article, 2013

To maintain the integrity of the Vasa warship after salvage in 1961, conservation treatment with polyethylene glycol was carried out to prevent the collapse of cell walls. This treatment had negative effects on the strength and stiffness of the oak and the hull structure has been found to slowly deform over time. It is of interest to construct a three-dimensional numerical computer model to model and predict the deformation of the warship. This creates difficulties related to the complexity of measuring the detailed material properties that are required as input. In this context, a non-destructive methodology to predict the stiffness of the Vasa oak in terms of moduli of elasticity in the three principal directions of timber at critical positions in the ship would be useful. The twofold aim of the paper is to propose a strategy for a support system and to conduct an on-site assessment of the warship to predict the mechanical properties of the Vasa oak material. This paper also contains an up-to-date review of all essential mechanical data measured on the Vasa oak. The preliminary investigation using an X-ray technique to investigate the density properties produced promising results for future use in the evaluation of the mechanical performance. Based on these results, a procedure to establish the stiffness properties of the Vasa oak in terms of MOE was suggested, using a combination of data from previous measurements, in combination with extended tests on Vasa oak specimens and an X-ray-based density calibration procedure. The general complexity of the Vasa warship can be mainly attributed to large variations in the properties of Vasa oak due to surface degradation, chemical treatment and the disintegration of the cell-wall structure originating from centuries of waterlogged conditions. That causes difficulties when assessing mechanical and physical properties on a structural level. A combination of visual inspection together with X-ray investigation is of great importance to evaluate those properties and to obtain more accurate estimates. The results from evaluating mechanical properties can serve as input in a numerical model and serve as a foundation for decision-making relating to the modification of the support system.

On-site assessment

Mechanical properties

Non-destructive testing (NDT)

Polyethylene glycol (PEG)

Vasa oak

Timber structures

Vasa warship


Thomas Lechner

Chalmers, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Structural Engineering

Ingela Bjurhager

Uppsala University

Robert Kliger

Chalmers, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Structural Engineering

Heritage Science

2050-7445 (eISSN)

Vol. 1 35 35

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)

Subject Categories

Other Civil Engineering



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