Choosing the right materials for your project is essential to ensure that they will suit their intended use. If you use the wrong wood type, this can result in a finished product that is poorly constructed.
Thus, our woodworking pros created this basswood vs balsa comparison guide so you can carefully choose the material that will better suit your need.
All About Balsa Wood
Although it is a softer wood, the balsa wood tree is a deciduous hardwood. The heartwood is pale reddish brown and the sapwood is typically a pale yellow or pink with a whiter hue.
Balsa wood is light and has a medium to coarse feel and a low natural gloss, and its grain runs in a straight direction.
Besides its lightweight, a balsa tree is distinguished by its thin walls, wide pores, and its fuzzy growth rings. Balsa wood has a short lifespan due to its weak rot resistance and insect vulnerability. However, it’s feasible in practice and does not warp if glued together.
Only a small percentage of commercial balsa trees survive sufficiently long to reach maturity.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Balsa Wood
Model airplanes, carrying cases, musical instruments, skateboards, and fishing lures are common uses of Balsa.
All About Basswood
Trilla, or basswood, is a genus of trees that includes more than 30 different species found in the temperate regions of the Western and Northern Hemispheres. Hence, it is widely distributed throughout the Americas and Europe, except for a few isolated plantations in Asia.
It is a dominant tree type, with light brown to pale white color, rapidly spreading and taking over new areas. The tree’s natural ability to produce hybrids is credit for this. Basswood can reach 20 to 40 meters.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Basswood
Since basswood is soft, it is widely used for various purposes, including boxes, carvings, wood pulp, musical instruments, crates, veneers, plywood, molding, fiber goods, and tiny woodworking items.
You might want to know check out: Disadvantages of Rubber Wood Furniture
Side-by-Side Comparison of Balsa and Basswood
Origin, Leaves, Flowers, and Growing Requirements
Although both balsa and basswood are indigenous to America, they originated in distinct regions of the continent. Balsa wood, for instance, is primarily found in South and Central America.
In Ecuador, they grow in valleys and along the rivers between the many mountain ranges.
Basswood trees can be found throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada. The American basswood, native to eastern North America, is one of the most well-known species.
Yet, you may find both trees in many other places worldwide, especially in Central America and Asia.
Basswood offers flowers in a very short period. They can show up in May or June (it depends on the climate), but they’re gone by July at the latest.
On the other hand, Balsa wood produces flowers at an unusual time of year, specifically December and January.
In terms of climate, basswood trees aren’t too demanding. It thrives in Zones 3-8 and prefers moist, well-drained soil.
The difference between balsa and basswood is that balsa wood requires very certain conditions to flourish, like waterways such as rivers and streams. They require Zones 10–11 and thrive in consistently wet conditions.
Availability and Pricing
Balsa wood is pricey when purchased at a craft store. You can pay $10 per square foot for a 3/16-inch thick sheet of balsa wood.
At the same amount, you may buy pine wood that is 6ft long and 10in wide. The cost of balsa plywood, with a thickness of 1/20 inch, can reach $60 per square foot.
On the other hand, basswood lumber is less expensive which means you can get more wood for your projects. The price per board foot is approximately $6.99. However, it is not the cheapest since you can get pinewood for roughly $2 per board foot.
Hardness and Strength + Are They Prone to Bending?
Balsa and basswood are hardwoods, although neither is as hard as genuine ones. The common misconception is that these are softer woods.
Unlike other woods, balsa wood is strong but it’s the weakest hardwood on the planet, with a Janka rating of only 70 lbf. A few years back, a piece of balsa wood achieved a record-low of 22 lbf on the Janka hardness scale.
On the other hand, basswood has a Janka rating of 410 lbf, making it nearly as strong as alder wood. Basswood and balsa wood are easily scratched, dented, and otherwise damaged due to their poor strength.
Density and Weight
Due to their unique cellular structures or internal structure, basswood and balsa are among the lightest woods or softwoods. Basswood and balsa wood are notable for their weight, shape, density, large cell sizes, and thin cell walls.
This results in light trunks with lower density than those made of other types of wood. Also, large holes result from the low levels of lignin in these two wood species .
Balsa is thicker but lighter than basswood. Therefore, a smaller piece of the same weight is required if lightweight wood is a primary requirement for a project, such as in construction competitions featuring model bridges, rockets, boats, or bridges.
Workability and Sanding
Balsa wood and basswood are incredibly versatile because of their low densities and supple textures. Balsa, for instance, is easy to sand and hardly ever dulls hands or power tools.
It also takes stains and finishes beautifully, and it is durable. The only drawbacks are that it absorbs a lot of stain/paint and doesn’t retain screws and nails very well.
Basswood is nearly as straightforward but holds nails better and absorbs less dye. For these reasons, it is often considered the top choice among woods if you want to create hand carvings.
Rot and Insect Resistance
Insects and other pests easily chew through both basswood and balsa. Like basswood is susceptible to decay and dampness, balsawood does as well.
Generally, both need intensive maintenance to prevent moisture and delay deterioration.
In terms of sustainability, there is really no difference between the two because both balsa wood and basswood are excellent choices. For starters, their growth and reproduction are organic and are rarely planted for their timber.
It’s also worth noting that both trees develop rapidly. As we’ve seen, balsa trees can be harvested in six years.
Is balsa wood or basswood better for Cricut?
Basswood is better for Cricut than balsa wood because it is denser, and has a clean, uniform wood grain, making it easy to cut and an excellent material for making models, puzzles, miniature gift packages, and other cricut woodworking projects.
Is basswood or balsa wood better for carving?
Basswood is better for carving than balsa because it is a soft wood and has a lighter texture. It is a good material for making small woodworking projects but not suitable for furniture, except as a minor material in furniture components.
(For ideas, check out these beginner carving projects to start!)
In our balsa vs basswood comparison guide, we explained that several variables determine which wood is preferable.
Basswood and balsa are excellent materials for building a sturdy and functional model bridge. None of them is necessarily superior to the other as each has advantages and disadvantages that you can utilize for optimal performance.
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