Balsa wood is a pretty soft and light timber. In fact, it is so soft that you can mark it using your fingernails. This property makes Balsa wood ideal for sculpting, especially for wooden details, structures, or architectural details, like scale models of houses. You can get balsa wood in stick form or sheet form. However, your choice will depend on how you want to model or use it.
Balsa wood, of course, is a hardwood, but it is one of the lightest hardwoods you will ever find. It is also one of the least dense hardwoods you can find. One of the most versatile aspects of Balsa wood is its ease of engraving and detailing. It is also relatively easy to glue using regular white glue.
What Is Balsa Wood?
Balsa wood came from the Balsa tree, with the scientific name of Ochroma Lagopus. This tree is easy to grow and is native to the South and Central Americas. It grows best when in rainforests in mountainous terrains, or between rivers. Besides, it is the softest and lightest timber utilized commercially and features high buoyancy. It also provides high insulation efficiency against sound and heat. These properties are adaptable to various applications and particular usages.
Balsa wood has oatmeal-to-white hues, tinged sometimes by pink near its heart. However, most commercially available Balsa woods get derived from sapwood. An even coarse texture characterizes its wood due to its infrequent large sap-conducting vessels. Moreover, it features straight grain. It is also a short-lived and fast-growing Central and South American tree.
Balsa trees can grow up to 30 meters with a maximum diameter of 1.2 meters or 4 feet. It can grow to 21 meters within seven years with a .5-meter diameter and can reach maturity within twelve to fifteen years. Then, it deteriorates with added density, leading to hard and heavy wood formation, with its heartwood waterlogged.
How Hard is Balsa Wood?
Balsa wood’s Janka Hardness rating is 100 lbf. It is a hardwood but is weaker than many hardwoods and softwoods. Its compressive strength is 145 psi, while its bending strength is 2,550 to 3,170 psi. Its density is around 0.16.
It is obvious that its compressive and bending strengths are less than other woods, so it has poor durability and strength. Besides, its density is relatively low. Hence, it is the lightwood commercially.
The cellular structure of Balsa regarding strength consists of seventy-five percent fibers, twenty percent rays, and five percent vessels. These vessels are lengthy and axially placed along the tree trunk. The cellulose fibers have a crystalline structure that enhances their mechanical strength. In the last analysis, Balsa wood is strong relative to its weight.
Advantages of Using Balsa Wood
- Balsa wood is perfect for model-making or sculpting or carving.
- It is suited for making fishing lures.
- The tree, from which it comes, proliferates well.
- You can buy this wood in sheet or stick forms.
- Not susceptible to water damage compared to other woods of the same properties.
Disadvantages of Using Balsa Wood
- Balsa wood is not suitable for furniture making because it will break easily.
- Too much water might damage it.
- It is lightweight and highly flammable, burning quickly when exposed to fire.
- It is not resistant to insect attacks.
Primary Uses and Applications of Balsa Wood in Woodworking Projects
If you intend to use Balsa wood, you will need to know the following different uses of this wood to ensure you’re using it the correct way:
- Because Balsa wood is of low density, but with high strength, it is a good material for stiff structures like in model buildings, bridge tests, and model aircraft construction.
- It is also suitable for lightweight construction like shipping containers and model buildings.
- It is easy to carve using woodworking tools, and you can bend it sans sacrificing strength.
- You can use it for makeshift pens.
- It also gets used as core materials for composites like table tennis bats.
- It gets used in laminates with glass-reinforced fiberglass.
- It gets used in Balsa surfboards and decks for many boat types.
Common Questions on Using Balsa Wood for Making Furniture
Once you’ve known the pros and cons of using Balsa wood, you can quickly figure out whether it is the ideal wood for your requirements. Nevertheless, it will also help in your decision-making to know the following FAQs about Balsa wood, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:
Is Balsa Wood Durable and Strong?
Balsa wood is a hardwood, but it is not durable, strong, and unsuited for many woodworking projects. It is also lightweight. Besides, it features low-density levels. Balsa wood also exhibits low bending and compressive strengths than many wood types.
For these reasons, you can’t use it to make furniture. You can’t also use it as flooring and for other woodworking projects. Nevertheless, it is easy to work with, making it ideal for sculpting and scale modeling.
Experts, however, concur as to the strength of Balsa wood relative to its weight. So, further studies are needed to know more about Balsa wood. As a wood, Balsa is light and has a unique tone in its heartwood. Its heartwood color turns pale reddish-brown, while its sapwood has a tan or off-white color.
Is the Use of Balsa Wood Sustainable?
Balsa wood is sustainable because Balsa tree is a fast-growing tree, and it stores carbon. Since it is fast-growing, it can be farmed, and a continuous supply of Balsa wood can be made available without endangering the forests. Cutting Balsa wood will not tip off the ecological balance making the use of Balsa wood sustainable.
After reading this post, you would conclude that Balsa wood is not strong enough for most woodworking projects because it is low-density and lightweight. It also has a lower compressive and bending strength than other wood types. Thus, you can’t use it for flooring, furniture, and other large woodworking projects.
Nevertheless, its lack of strength and other properties make it suitable for use in sculpting because it is easy to work with. Balsa wood has poor stability. As such, it is best used for small woodworking tasks and projects that you would keep indoors.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.