Balsa Hardwood


Balsa wood, also known by its botanical name Ochroma pyramidale (Bombacaceae), is a versatile timber that is used for a variety of applications, ranging from model making to rafts and floats. It is characterized by its medium texture, straight grain, and glossy finish, and has a dry weight that can vary from as little as 40-340kg/m^3. The sapwood, which is the commercial part of the tree, is white to oatmeal in colour and can have a pink or yellow tinge. The core heartwood is pale brown in large logs. Balsa is a sustainable and legal source of timber, making it a great choice for many projects.

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Also Called:
Guano, Lanero (Cuba), Cuano (Puerto Rico And Honduras), Topa (Peru), Tami (Bolivia), Polak (Beliza And Nicaragua), Catillo (Nicaragua),

Durability Notes:
Balsa wood is non durable. It is perishable and should only be considered for internal use.

The drying and seasoning of Balsa is dependant on a number of factors; the speed in which it is processed after felling and logging, the method of drying and the specific kilns or location (if air dried). Generally the care taken by those processing the wood will have an impact on its drying and seasoning. As an overview; Balsa - contains 200-400% moisture in its green state. Balsa is a very problematic wood to dry and should be converted soon after felling. Kiln-drying is preferable to air-drying, to minimize splitting and distortion; but poor kilning can cause browning (or 'toasting') and case hardening. Once seasoned - Balsa is stable in service. Please note that all wood is liable to move when in service plus there can be dimensional change. The extent of this will depend on; the stability of the species itself, the conditions it is exposed to, the coating, decoration and protection. You will find more information about the suitability of this wood, for any proposed application, by using our interactive system and the filters shown.

Balsa is the weakest, softest and lightest of all commercial woods, with a very poor steam-bending rating. Balsa is very buoyant and has very good heat, sound and vibration insulating properties. Although strong related to its weight, it cannot be bent without buckling. Balsa is very easy to work with thin, sharp tools. Balsa can be stained, painted and polished but is very absorbent. You will often find Balsa wood in school woodworking departments - this is due to it being so lightweight and easy to work, shape and sand.

Typical Uses:
Model-making, Musical instruments, Lightweight construction, Toy making, Floatation devices, Crafts, Packaging, Insulation.

Moisture Content:
Guide - 10-18% for KD (+/- 2%)

Commonly asked questions about Balsa Wood

Is Balsa a hardwood or a softwood? Balsa is a hardwood. It is the same for; is Balsa hardwood or softwood? - Balsa is a hardwood.

Most groups/families of species share the same characteristics but this normally relates to their life as plants. Individual species do not always share the same characteristics as their relatives, in terms of the wood. Many factors influence how we use the wood and what we use it for, including where it grows, how it is forested, how it seasons/dries, etc. The answers to the following common questions, therefore relate to this particular species/wood and not the Balsa family as a whole. Even more specific – our answers relate to the wood (as we know it) in its form as a useable resource.

What colour is Balsa ? Balsa can be described as light brown, white/cream (very light brown)

Is Balsa good for outdoor use? or is Balsa good for exterior use? Balsa is most suited for internal/interior use. Balsa should not be used as an exterior/external timber (without treatment).

Whether the wood is naturally durable or not we would still recommend that it is decorated and/or coated with a suitable product to provide protection and/or maintain its appearance. This even applies when using the wood internally as, even subtle, changes in temperature or humidity will affect the wood. This will depend on the application/purpose of the wood and the user’s desired appearance. We also recommend that a recoating, care and maintenance programme is adhered to, for the life of an exterior wood. Wood cannot rot if it is kept dry – coatings and decoration can provide this protection. All of that said there are many durable timbers that are often left to weather naturally and will last for many years untreated/coated – movement and visual changes will occur but this is sometimes the desired effect. All wood is hygroscopic (it 'wants' to be in tune with its environment) it will therefore take on water from moisture in the air (or when directly exposed to or submerged in water) and ‘release it’ when dry or exposed to heat. This, inevitably, results in movement and dimensional change. For more about moisture in wood please click here - Moisture in wood

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