Basswood vs. Balsa – Key Differences

Basswood and balsa are two types of wood commonly sought after by crafters thanks to their lightweight, workability, and multiple uses. While both share some inherent traits, they have many features and characteristics that differentiate one from another.

What is Basswood?

Basswood is a genus of more than 30 species of trees. This light, soft hardwood tree can grow 50 to 80 feet tall, but a few can grow up to 124 feet tall. Some species names of Basswood include White Basswood, Carolina Basswood, American Basswood, and many others. The species are commonly known as American lime in Northern America and Linden in European.

Basswood’s softness, lightweight, and workability make it ideal for use in carvings. Its bark is used for making mats and ropes. Besides carvings, Basswood is also used to make furniture, musical instruments, blinds, window shutters, plywood, veneer, and wood pulp.

What is Balsa?

Balsa is a type of tree that falls under the Ochroma genus. The tree is native to America. It is the most popular and sought-after wood species in Northern America, thanks to its wide range of uses. Balsa wood is tall, lightweight, light in color, and has thin walls. The tree grows fast and is ready for harvest in less than six years.

The wood’s strength and bending properties are great for model aircraft, bridge tests, and module building. Its lightweight nature makes it ideal for making boats. Other uses of balsa include making interior applications and furniture and insulating ceilings and damp walls.

Basswood vs. Balsa – Main Differences

This section will discuss the differences between Basswood and balsa in terms of hardiness/softness, thickness, strength, and uses, among other factors.

Bending capabilities

Basswood is easier to bend, making it a great choice for molding projects such as building an arch bridge. Balsa can bend, but it’s a bit stiff when pending. However, it has some advantages over Basswood because, after bending, the wood is thicker and can only break under extreme compression forces. It is, therefore, a good choice for projects that need low mass/density.

Hardiness/softness

Basswood is a fairly soft and relatively light hardwood with a fine grain with a texture with no taste. On the other hand, balsa wood is very light in weight, soft,  has high buoyancy, and has a straight grain with a medium to coarse texture.

Waterproof

Let’s agree first that no wood is 100% waterproof. However, balsa wood is a hardwood that tends to be more waterproof when sealed by polish and paint. The wood performs well in moisture thanks to its close grain and high density. That’s why balsa wood is a preferred choice for crafters who wants to make boats.

Strength

Basswood wood has low strength properties, so it might not be a great choice for heavyweight projects. Items made of balsa wood, such as furniture, might not be stable and strong. This is because balsa wood tends to have inconsistent strength—it may be stronger in one end than the other. Basswood also has inherent inconsistency, but it’s not to the same degree as balsa wood.

Uses

The most common uses of basswood wood are carvings, veneers, lumber, musical instruments (guitar bodies), furniture, blinds, window shutters, plywood, and wood pulp. Its bark is used for making mats and ropes. Balsa, on the other hand, is a good choice in mode-making. It can be used in model aircraft, especially the wings, bridge tests, module building, boats, interior applications, furniture, and other model projects that can be painted to look like any item. 

Durability

Both balsa and Basswood don’t have rot resistance properties. When it comes to durability, Basswood is a bit more durable and less prone to warping compared to balsa wood. When it comes to insect attacks, balsa wood is more susceptible compared to Basswood. So you will need to use treated wood and practice regular maintenance to better durability. For instance, you can use paint and polish to seal off the open pores on balsa wood. Sealing the pores prevent dust and moisture accumulation on the wood.

Workability

Basswood and balsa have great workability properties because they are lightweight and soft. This means they can easily work with hands, tools, and machines. For instance, you don’t need to drill the woods before applying screws and nails. This saves a lot of time for crafters and carpenters using these woods in their projects.

Pricing/availability  

Basswood and balsa are available in the market in various grades such as grades A, B, C, and so on. Usually, A grade of Basswood or balsa is free from knots and other defects. So, the prices differ depending on the grade you are purchasing. Other factors that will determine the price include the wood type, length, quantity, and place of purchase.

When it comes to availability, all grades of Basswood are easily available in the market. Unfortunately, grade A of balsa is rare in the market. They are a bit expensive if you find a local or online store selling them. 

Basswood vs. Balsa: Comparison

#BasswoodBalsa
Scientific NameTiliaOchroma Pyramidale
Tree size20-37 meters18-28 meters
Color / Appearancewhite to light brown colorpale reddish-brown color to white to off-white
WorkabilityEasy to workvery easy to work
DurabilityDon’t have rot resistance propertiesDon’t have rot resistance properties. Can easily get attacked by insects
WaterproofHas low waterproof propertiesSlightly waterproof properties
UsesCarvings, lumber, musical instruments (electric guitar bodies), veneer, etc.Buoys, surfboards, rafts, model airplanes, musical instruments,  packing/transport cases, etc.
AvailabilityWidely availableOverall

Woods similar to balsa

Balsa wood has a high demand, especially in North America, but it is becoming a little short in supply.

So, some of the woods with similar features and characteristics as balsa include paulownia wood, eco foam board, albezia wood, and carbon fiber.

Woods similar to basswood 

There are woods similar to basswood when it comes to wood carving. They include birch, soft maple, and pine. Carving features similar to basswood they have include softness and low grain content, sustainability, fire and weather resistance, tensile and sheer strength, and a lesser number of shoots and branches.

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