In the series of tutorials and how to do things, today we will be asking and answering the question: “what is balsa wood” and other questions about the topic.
Also, I will be going over the pros and cons of this crafting material.
I don’t think there is not much else to say as an intro, so let’s dive right into it;-)
What Is Balsa Wood.
Balsa wood is the lightest kind of wood that is commonly available in craft stores, at six to nine pounds per cubic foot.
I had to do some research myself because I honestly didn’t know exactly what it was. It seems that the word ‘Balsa’ is derived from the Spanish word for a raft. This refers to an early application: it is a light type of wood that floats well.
This wood is made by a deciduous tree, this is why it is considered to be hardwood and is mostly growing and produced in Ecuador.
The core of the wood has a light brown color but usually, the sapwood is used which has a silver-grey-white color with a red-yellow cast. The wood feels satiny.
To avoid blue mold, the tree trunk needs to be sawn and dried after felling.
The reason why balsa wood is so light, according to this website, is because of the bigger cells and very thin walls. And also lignin is at a minimum in this wood.
Are you bored at this point (I can imagine)? Maybe try another blog post of mine, how about plenty of miniature pictures on Instagram and my top favorite designers lol. 🙂
Who Uses it?
Balsa wood is popular in model building, of course, that is because of the importance of it being lightweight.
You might not expect this (I didn’t), but it is also used for real size airplanes. The Havilland Mosquito, for example, was known as the “wooden wonder” and was introduced in the second world war.
Take a look at the video below, where this kid made a model airplane from balsa wood, love it!
This latter had a skin of balsa wood sheets, combined with Canadian birch sheets.
Furthermore, it can also be used as insulation, artificial limbs, splints, table tennis bats, window frames, carving, and in these modern times even in the blades of windmills.
And guess what, our dollhouses and miniatures, of course!
Don’t Get Confused With Basswood.
Basswood is also lightweight and soft, like balsa wood. Here comes the but: it is a hardwood and it is not as light as the latter.
That being said, it wouldn’t crack and split like balsa wood and it doesn’t accept screws either, it just gets glued together.
The reason I am not writing more about basswood is simply that I have never worked with it before. Well, that is actually not true, as my treehouse is made from leftover wood from my real size house lol.
But other than that, I have always used balsa wood, because I tend to find it more easily in smaller quantities in crafting stores (we don’t need much wood for our miniatures, do we?) and of course, a smaller price.
I am not going to say if you should use one or the other, I can imagine that basswood has its advantages as well, like not splintering, aaargghh 😉
The Three Types Of Balsa Wood.
There are three different grain types of Balsa wood.
- Type A-grain sheets are showing long grain lines, and that is because it has the longest fibers. It is very flexible and bendable around corners, but also warps easily. This means that when you soak it in water, you can even form a tube with this type of wood. Without splitting! (nice, heu?)
- Type B-grain wood is the most common and is considered the most suitable for model making.
It is more like a combination of type A and type C.
It kind of feels more stiff than type A and the grain lines are shorter. Do not use this if you feel like the other types would do a better job!
- Type C-grain is very stiff and splits easily, but is the most warp resistent type.
Thé Problem With Balsa Wood When Crafting A Dollhouse Or Miniatures.
This paragraph will be short, very short. Balsawood splinters and breaks easily! Period. 🙂
Anyway: The Pros And Cons Of Balsa Wood.
The good and the bad :
- Very soft wood, but at the same time strong
- is the lightest wood on the market
- you can just ‘push’ a whole in the wood, no need for heavy tools
- it can float
- contains very few liquids
- Balsa wood is quite cheap
- because it comes from a fast growing tree, it is widely available. If you have a crafting store in your neighbourhood, chances are that they have it.
- it is easy to sand. Sometimes to easy, in my opinion. Or maybe I use to much force at once lol
- It is available in a wide range of densities, sizes and thicknesses.
- Balsa wood doesn’t seem to be very sustainable
- it is not bendable or flexible. To bend it, you would need to soak or steam the wood over a boiling pot of water, for example. When it gets wet, the fibre becomes more flexible and only than could you bend the wood.
When it is dried out, it remains the shape that you made from it.
- Screws don’t work all to well on balsa wood, this is the reason why it is mostly glued together.
- As said above, it splits, cracks, breaks, and splinter quite easily. And no, I’m not the only one saying this 😉
- the weight of the wood can vary according to weather conditions, because it can take up a lot of humidity ànd dry out quickly. Even after your piece of work is finished, so you need to keep that in mind.
A Few More Things To Consider About Working With Balsa Wood For Your Miniatures.
- Working with balsa wood doesn’t require the use of heavy powertools like a jigsaw or router tool. Just using a crafting knife, so a very sharp and fine knife can do the trick. (always try and keep some extra blades for your knife, they go dull quite quickly).
You could even use small metal files or a Dremel to mill.
- In theory, any kind of paint can be used for balsa wood, but I mostly use acrylic paint for my miniature furniture and others.
It would be a good idea though to give your model a primer coat, just to close the pores and less paint gets sucked in.
- Another good thing would be to sand in between layers of paint, to get the best result.
- Regarding what glue to use, opinions can vary in the miniature or model-world.
Lots prefer wood glue, but unless you use a small bottle, I sometimes get to much glue at once from a big bottle.
Using super glue is fine, but you have to make sure that you can hold the pieces without glueing your fingers together as well 😉
Personally, I still prefer tacky glue, depending on the fact if pieces need to stick together quickly or not, unless of course if you can use small clamps. (keep in mind that tacky glue needs some time to dry, but it does ‘stick’ together).
- You will need sanding blocks or sanding paper.
Finally, would you like to see this fantastic log cabin in miniature size, made from popsicle sticks and balsa wood sticks? I found it to be amazing!
My Final Conclusion.
I hope that you are now completely informed on the question: what is balsa wood?
If not or if you just would like to add information or have any other questions, please leave a comment below or join me now on my Facebook group.
I wish you happy crafting!