NDE Applied to the Conservation of Wooden Panel Paintings

  • A. Murray
  • R. E. Green
  • M. F. Mecklenburg
  • C. M. Fortunko


Various nondestructive methods for determining the condition of wooden panel paintings have been investigated. Methods are being developed to detect voids, hidden cracks, and fine fractures that are often a source of premature failure in such objects. Computer analysis shows that cracks in wood promote severe stress concentrations which are aggravated by the mechanical constraints imposed on the wood by the construction of a panel painting.1 The panel’s structural condition needs to be mapped in a nondestructive fashion in order to predict how these objects will mechanically respond over time or in different environments. Decisions can then be made as to whether an object can be safely removed from storage, if it can withstand conservation treatment, if it can be continuously displayed, or if it can be safely shipped to special exhibitions. We have demonstrated the NDE capabilities of different techniques by examining standard panels of white oak (Quercus sp.), tulip poplar, hard maple (Acer sp.), true mahogany (Swietenia sp.), black cherry, and western fir (Abies sp.). The panels contain voids between 0.15 and 0.6 cm in diameter and cracks smaller than 0.02 cm. The techniques for investigation included x-ray radiography, xeroradiography, and ultrasonics. Results show that both x-ray radiography and xeroradiography techniques can easily find voids at least as small as 0.15 cm. Xeroradiography has benefits over x-ray radiography because its edge enhancement property enables flaws to be displayed prominently. At certain angles, cracks less than 0.02 cm were easily seen. The results of using these two techniques on a panel painting are discussed. Ultrasound techniques using an all-air coupled system and a hybrid air-coupled/dry-coupled system have shown promising preliminary results for finding voids and cracks.


Infrared Thermography Black Cherry High Density Wood Promising Preliminary Result Panel Painting 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Murray
    • 1
  • R. E. Green
    • 1
  • M. F. Mecklenburg
    • 2
  • C. M. Fortunko
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Center for Nondestructive EvaluationThe Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.The Smithsonian InstitutionThe Conservation Analytical LaboratoryUSA
  3. 3.National Institute of Standards and TechnologyBoulderUSA

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