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Chemical modification of wood


Roger M. Rowell



Publication type:

Miscellaneous Publication

Primary Station(s):

Forest Products Laboratory


Handbook of wood chemistry and wood composites. Boca Raton, Fla. : CRC Press, 2005: pages 381-420.


The properties of any resource are, in general, a result of the chemistry of the components of that resource. In the case of wood, the cell wall polymers (cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin) are the components that, if modified, would change the properties of the resource. If the properties of the wood are modified, the performance of the modified wood would be changed. This is the basis of our chemical modification of wood— to change its properties and improve its performance. This idea is applied to both solid wood and wood composites. In order to produce wood-based materials with a long service life, it is necessary to interfere with the natural degradation processes for as long as possible. This can be done in several ways. For example, traditional methods for decay resistance and fire retardancy treat the product with toxic or corrosive chemicals, which although are effective in providing decay and fire resistance can result in environmental concerns. In order to make property changes, you must first understand the chemistry of the components and the contributions each play in the properties of the resource. Following this understanding, you must then devise a way to modify what needs to be changed to get the desired change in property. Properties of wood, such as dimensional instability, flammability, biodegradability, and degradation caused by acids, bases, and ultraviolet radiation, are all a result of chemical degradation reactions which can be prevented or, at least, slowed down if the cell wall chemistry is altered.


Rowell, Roger M. 2005. Chemical modification of wood. Handbook of wood chemistry and wood composites. Boca Raton, Fla. : CRC Press, 2005: pages 381-420.

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