Wood is everywhere, be it our bed, sofa, table, or cabinets. Everything around us is made of extraordinary wood that serves unique and essential services. Different kinds of wood provide different facilities and have exclusive characteristics that come in handy in diverse areas.
However, wood is broadly classified into two main groups, hardwood, and softwood. Balsa wood is one such famous wood that belongs to the hardwood family. This wood is also commonly known as Ochroma in different countries. But hardwood doesn’t necessarily mean that the wood is hard or tough. In fact, balsa wood is one of the most lightweight and softwood in the wood world. It has many other unique properties, which makes it suitable for making variant items and products.
Balsa wood Properties
1. Balsa wood is a soft hardwood: When we say hardwood, it does not necessarily mean that the balsa wood is rock hard and tough wood that we cannot slice through. With a Janka rating of 67lbF (300 N), balsa wood is amongst the softest hardwood. That means it is hardwood by nature but is softer and tender than most hardwoods that actually have a firm body. It is less dense than most hardwoods, like an oak with a density of 160 (120-220) kgm3.
2. Color and appearance of Balsa: Normally, balsa wood is not very rich or light in color. Its heartwood tends to be of a pale reddish-brown color, and its sapwood has a somewhat off-white or tan color. Sometimes, the sapwood also tends to be of pink or yellow hues. However, most commercial balsa wood is not seen to be reddish-brown. It is because the blocks of the wood are mostly taken from the sapwood.
3. Grain and Texture: Balsa wood is usually seen with straight grain patterns with medium coarse texture. This texture gives the wood a uniform look and a clean and neat appearance. Moreover, it has a natural but low luster to its surface. This texture makes balsa very versatile and easily adaptable to various designs.
4. Rot Resistant: Regarding resistance from damage and destruction from rot, balsa wood does not stand in the top list. Its sapwood is usually said to be perishable. Moreover, balsa wood is also susceptible to insect and pest attacks and can damage itself if exposed to such environments. Therefore, balsa wood is not highly resistant to rot, unlike other hardwood.
5. Odor of balsa wood: Balsa wood is known to have no characteristic odor. So, whenever it is put to use, no particular kind of smell or odor is produced. That makes it very suitable for indoor products.
6. Workability: As mentioned earlier, balsa wood is amongst the softest and most lightweight wood. That makes it very easy to work with without any dulling effect on cutters. It also stains and finishes well because of its light color and versatile nature. However, since it is very less dense, it cannot be used for holding nails and can cause troubles when fuzzy surfaces are concerned.
7. Cost: Balsa wood is comparatively more expensive than other wood when purchased at hobby stores or special outlets. Its high quality and larger boards are not easy to find, resulting in higher costs.
Balsa wood Uses
Balsa wood’s unique properties make it usable in various areas. Some of the common uses of balsa are
1. Aircraft building: Ever since balsa wood was used to build the de Havilland Mosquito aircraft during the second world war, it has become one of the most commonly used wood in the aircraft industry. It is lightweight but strong and stiff. This property makes it very suitable for making light wooden aircraft. Even in modern planes, it is used to produce passenger compartments.
2. Model building: Balsa wood is very popularly used in model building. Its light and soft nature make it very flexible and durable. Along with added strength, balsa wood becomes highly suitable for bridge tests, model aircraft. Since they are strong and not prone to major damage, aeronautic modeling and balsa wood go hand in hand.
3. Furniture: Balsa wood is nowadays commonly used in the furniture-making industry. Wood makers are seeking more and more balsa wood furniture mainly because of its fast growth rate. Balsa is a hardwood that is very sustainable with a higher growth rate than others. Their availability makes it easier to find for the makers, reducing any extra time and effort. Above that, its exquisite properties make it highly suitable for light indoor as well as outdoor furniture.
4. Excellent insulator: Balsa wood has singular thermal properties. That means it is a very good insulator. Wood is usually used in the walls and the ceilings of the house to keep a warm temperature. It is because of their thermal properties. So, balsa having a good insulating property is popularly used as house insulators and also refrigerators.
5. Musical instruments: Wood and the musical instrument will never be separated. They are not only used to produce the correct sound but also to provide the desired design. Due to the soft nature of balsa, it is one of the most commonly used wood in the musical industry. One example would be the violin. In short, it is a helpful and essential wood for making string instruments.
6. Boat industries: One major specialty of balsa wood is that it is strong but lightweight. This becomes very helpful in making a boat light in weight but still durable.
These are some of the common uses of balsa wood.
Balsa Wood Advantages and Disadvantages
Balsa wood, like any other thing, is not perfect. It has its advantages and disadvantages.
Balsa Wood Advantages
● Balsa wood’s light and soft nature add to the first advantage. Its light and soft nature provide high workability. It becomes easier for the workers to carve and produce different balsa wood objects with minimal effort and time.
● Balsa wood is also advantageous because it is very light in color. That makes them highly versatile. They can take stain well and also finish well. That enables them to produce aesthetic furniture for home décor. They are also very adaptable and flexible in nature, so workers find it quite easy to work on different and stylish products with balsa wood.
● Balsa wood has high water absorption quality. It can retain a high amount of water, making it very strong and durable. This quality helps workers to use balsa in model building, aircraft building, and also building boats. It helps maintain the weight of the objects, and its lightweight allows floating.
● Another major advantage of balsa wood is its availability. Unlike much other hardwood, balsa wood has high sustainability. That means balsa wood has a higher growth rate compared to others. The balsa wood trees are easily grown and regrown within a short period of time and with minimum effort. Due to its fast growth rate, there is high availability of balsa wood. And thus, woodworkers find it very easy to work with balsa and never face any shortage while building an object.
● Moreover, the cost of balsa is relatively lower and very reasonable. This becomes another major advantage of balsa wood. However, high-quality balsa can be a little less cheap at stores. Nevertheless, since it is a highly available wood, most large blocks are found at cheaper rates, making them one of the most affordable wood of all time.
● Finally, one unique advantageous property of balsa wood is its thermal properties. Since wood is used to insulate houses and refrigerators depending on their thermal properties, balsa becomes one of the best choices. They are good insulators, and people highly prefer balsa over any other when it concerns insulating their houses.
Balsa Wood Disadvantages
Although very popular and advantageous, there are some disadvantages that one must be careful of while adhering to balsa wood.
● The major disadvantage of balsa wood concerns its durability. Although its light nature provides high workability, it cannot provide durability like other strong hardwood. This means it cannot be used to make big furniture like beds, sofas, etc., that we use in our house. They can break down or damage very easily, and especially, they cannot hold nails. This makes it a little less reliable.
● Another disadvantage of balsa wood is that it is light but also highly flammable. This means it can easily catch fire and burn. So, when one owns a balsa object, one has to be careful about the surroundings. If the wood is exposed to fire, it can burn and cause damage to the property.
● Adding to the disadvantage regarding the durability, the sapwood of balsa is also not very rot-resistant. That means although balsa is used to make furniture, it is not suitable for outdoor use. They are not resistant to insect attacks and can easily damage themselves when kept exposed to an open environment.
Balsa Wood – FAQs
What does balsa wood look like?
Balsa wood normally has a pale reddish-brown hue in its heart, and its sapwood has somewhat an off-white, white, or tan color. However, sometimes the sapwood can have a color ranging from pink to yellow hues. It has a straight grain pattern that provides a uniform appearance to the wood.
What is balsa wood good for?
Balsa wood has many uses because of its soft and light nature. However, it is most commonly and importantly used in commercial applications. That basically includes model buildings and insulation. And also, boat industries have a natural relationship with balsa wood.
Where does balsa wood come from?
Balsa wood is a type of hardwood that comes from a special tree known as the Ochroma pyramidale. This is also the very reason why balsa wood is also known as Ochroma wood. Ochroma pyramidale, the balsa wood, is a large, fast-growing tree that is originally found in the Americas.
Is balsa wood expensive?
Balsa wood is not very expensive compared to other types of wood. It is mainly because of its high availability. However, when balsa that is high in quality and low in density is bought from hobby stores, they become relatively expensive. Nevertheless, large boards of balsa are very reasonable in price.
Why is balsa wood so light?
Balsa wood is popularly known for its lightweight nature. It is light because of a reason that is only possibly seen through a microscope. It has cells that are big and very thin-walled that make the ratio of the solid matter to the open space very small. Simply put, it is light in nature because it is full of air. It has an open cellular structure with light cells held together with less lignin.
Is balsa wood strong?
Balsa wood might be amongst the softest and lightest woods, but it is popularly known for its strength. Yes, balsa wood is one of the strongest woods for its weight. It is as light as 6lb per cubic foot, but it is still stronger than many other kinds of wood, such as pine. This makes it highly suitable for boat making.
Where is balsa wood grown?
Balsa wood is extracted from the balsa tree scientifically known as the Ochroma pyramidale. They are fast-growing trees that majorly grow in humid rainforests. Its roots range from central America to the west and north coast of South America. Precisely, they grow on high grounds between tropical rivers.
Why is balsa wood used for model making?
Balsa wood is highly used for model making mainly because of its light and soft nature. These qualities make it very easy to cut and carve. And also, it has high bending qualities that make it even more flexible and efficient. Moreover, it has high strength with low density. Thus, model making becomes easier and faster.
Is balsa wood sustainable?
Yes, balsa woods are amongst the most fast-growing, sustainable, and renewable wood, unlike some hardwood. They come from sustainable plantations that are grown with care and responsibility to the environment. Balsa wood produces no toxic substances making them very useful and essential.
Is balsa wood waterproof?
Balsa wood is highly water absorbent. It absorbs a high amount of water that makes the wood strong. But it can be effectively made waterproof. Different water seals and paints come in handy when it concerns waterproofing balsa wood.
Is balsa wood good for carving?
Balsa wood is one of the lightest and softest woods in the wood world. This very nature makes it easily usable for carving. It is soft and porous enough for workers to use a knife and carve the wood efficiently and effortlessly, producing pleasant outcomes.
Is balsa wood safe for hamsters?
Balsa wood leftovers or any balsa wood pieces are not harmful to hamsters. Hamsters can chew on balsa wood and still be safe. It is because there are no toxic substances produced from balsa. It is a sustainable, renewable, and non-toxic wood that is safe for any animal.
Is balsa wood safe for rabbits?
Balsa wood is a type of wood that has no odor or taste to it. Moreover, it is a non-toxic wood that has no poisonous effect. Thus, we can say that yes, balsa wood is safe for rabbits and other animals to chew on. They do not cause any harm or damage to animals.
Can balsa wood be stained?
Balsa wood is a light-colored wood that takes stain well. However, balsa wood does not stain as easily and evenly as other hardwood. But with the application of wood conditioner or sealer and proper coating of paint on the surface, the problem can be easily solved.
Can balsa wood be cut with scissors?
While balsa wood might seem very light, soft, and thin enough to cut it with scissors, one should be aware of tearing or splitting. Dull blades can easily destroy the structure of the wood. Therefore, it is necessary to use sharper blades.
Can balsa wood be bent?
When it concerns projects that require bending or curves, balsa wood is the go-to option. It is a highly flexible wood with high bending qualities. And if a project requires normal bending with a large radius, balsa wood can be bent even without any special methods.
Can balsa wood be painted?
Although balsa wood is said to be stainable and is used in model buildings, it cannot be easily painted. It is mainly because of its spongy nature that absorbs paint. However, if one sands the wood thoroughly and applies the required sealer and conditioner, painting can become easy.
Can balsa wood be recycled?
Balsa wood comes from a fast-growing tree. It is highly sustainable and can be recycled. When we cut balsa, the tree contains seeds in a cotton wool pod. These pods, when hit the ground, scatter the seeds that can germinate. Thus, balsa wood can be recycled.
Can balsa wood be used outdoors?
Although balsa is used for making various furniture and objects, they are not recommended to be used outdoors. It is mainly because balsa is not very rot-resistant, and it absorbs a high amount of water. So, expansion and rotting can occur when exposed to open environments outdoors, causing damage to the property.
Does balsa wood float?
Woods float in water when the density is less. Balsa wood is filled with air, has a very low density, and has large water cavities. So, balsa wood is less dense than water, making them floatable. Also, other woods will similarly float as long as their density is less.