Is Balsa Wood Strong? With Pros and Cons

is balsa wood strong

Balsa wood is considered one of the lightest wood types on the planet. It has a unique heartwood color that turns into pale reddish-brown and sapwood color is off-white or tan. This will add a unique appearance to your woodworking projects. It is a durable wood that can use for both indoor and outdoor woodworking projects. When I was woodworking with Balsa wood, I was always wondered Is Balsa wood strong?

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

No, Balsa wood isn’t strong for many woodworking projects because of its lightweight and low density. Balsa wood has relatively low compressive strength and bending strength than many other kinds of wood.  Because of its poor strength, it cannot be used for furniture, flooring, or large woodworking projects but is excellent for sculpting because of its workability.

But according to the experts, Balsa wood is strong in terms of its weight. So, there’s a lot more to know about the strength of Balsa wood to get the best out of it.

So, in this article, we’ll walk through Balsa wood strong, how strong is Balsa wood, the strength of Balsa wood in tension or compression, and is Balsa wood strong for furniture making, carving, and other woodworking projects as well.

Furthermore, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions about the strength of Balsa wood compared to other wood types as well.

Let’s jump in!

How Strong Is Balsa Wood?

Even though Balsa wood is considered hardwood, it is weaker than most hardwoods and softwoods as well. But the strength is having can be applied to many woodworking projects. The strength of Balsa wood depends on the following factors.

They are,

  • Compressive strength
  • Bending strength
  • Hardness
  • Density
  • Stiffness

So, let’s have a look at the calculated values of the above factors to get an idea about how strong Balsa wood is,

Compressive strength145 psi (1.00 Mpa)
Bending strength2,550 psi – 3,170 psi (370 ksi – 460 ksi)
Hardness67 lbf (300 N)
Density0.16

As you can see compressive strength and bending strength of Balsa wood are significantly less. This is the main reason for its poor strength and poor durability. The density of the wood itself is also pretty low. Therefore, Balsa wood is considered the lightest wood in the commercial market.

The compressive strength of Balsa wood increases linearly up to 10 Mpa with density. Even though Balsa wood has less compressive and bending strengths, the mechanical properties of Balsa wood are high due to the sandwich panels.

When we look at the cellular structure of Balsa wood in terms of its strength, it consists of 75% of fibers, 20% rays, and 5% vessels. Those vessels are long and placed axially along the trunk of the tree. The crystalline structure of cellulose fibers increases the mechanical strength of the wood.

Ultimately Balsa wood is well strong for its weight. Sometimes the wood is 6lb per cubic footlight. The compressive strength is poor sideways, but when it comes to the middle area, compressive strength will increase significantly.

Is Balsa Wood Stronger in Tension or Compression?

Balsa wood is 30% stronger in tension than compression. As a general rule, heavier wood is stronger in compression and lighter wood is stronger in tension under the same cross-sectional area. Therefore, Balsa wood is strong in tension.

Balsa wood has a good resistance against shear force along the wood grain than parallel to the wood grain. it is a composite like carbon fiber that has embedded fibers in cellulose structure. The cellulose fibers are so strong in tension but not in compression.

Is Balsa Wood Strong for Furniture?

Balsa wood is strong enough for furniture. Furniture that is made from Balsa wood is light and fil makers use chairs and tables made from Balsa wood to break while minimizing the damage.

Designers use Balsa wood as furniture material by lauding its sustainability as a fast-growing tree with aesthetic great properties.

Here’re the advantages you’ll get by using Balsa wood for furniture,

  • Balsa wood furniture is light, soft, and buoyant
  • Perfect for model building
  • Affordable
  • Easy to cut, handle and render
  • Strong because of having a high water content

Here’re some pros and cons of Balsa wood to get an idea about is Balsa wood strong.

ProsCons
LightweightLess strong
High tensile strengthNo water resistance
Great for model makingHighly flammable
High workabilityPoor durability
HardwoodCrack easily

As you can see, in terms of strength, Balsa wood has poor qualities. Therefore, I recommend you use Balsa wood only for small woodworking projects that keep indoors and make sure not to apply high force against furniture that is made of Balsa wood because they cannot bear loads like other hardwoods.

Is Balsa Wood Strong for Carving?

Yes, Balsa wood is strong enough for carving. Balsa wood is great for beginners because it’s soft and easy to carve with woodworking tools. It is easy to learn many new things about carving with Balsa wood because of its exceptional qualities and strength.

Even though the compressive strength and bending strength of Balsa wood are poor, it has good tensile strength. Therefore, it is soft and easy to make cuts and shapes. You can make carvings, and sculpts with high details due to Balsa wood’s great carving and whittling qualities.

But when you’re carving with Balsa wood, make sure to carve simple designs because Balsa wood does not have much strength to hold carves with fine details. Also, make sure to use sharp tools because the wood tends to crack so easily.

Read: Super Simple Beginner Wood Carving Projects

Why Is Balsa Wood Strong for Model Making?

Balsa wood is great for model making because it is so light and easy to cut and shape with a craft knife with a decent amount of strength.

For example, here are some models that are mostly made from Balsa wood.

  • Model airplanes
  • Musical instruments
  • Boats
  • Rafts
  • Packaging models
  • Surfboards
  • Blades of wind turbines

After making models with Balsa wood, mostly they’ll get laminated with glass-reinforced plastic. Even though we normally consider Balsa wood is weak in strength, it is exceptional in terms of weight to strength ratio. This is why it has been a really good material in model making. For models, the strength of Balsa wood is well enough to live for a long time.

Models made of Balsa wood can live long until they’re not faced with high pressure or stress. Because Balsa wood is soft and fragile. It will easily break or get cracks on the surface under pressure.

How Hard Is Balsa Wood?

Even though Balsa wood is considered hardwood because of its cellulose structure, it is lighter, softer, and weaker than many hardwoods and softwoods as well. In terms of hardness, Balsa wood ranks way below most other types of wood with a 300 rating for the Janka Hardness test value.

Janka hardness test is a standard technique that is used to measure the hardness of any wood according to its resistance to wear and tear. Woods with high wear and dent resistance, score higher ratings on the Janka hardness rating scale.

Here’re the Janka hardness ratings of the most popular wood types. From this scale, you can get a clear idea about the strength of Balsa wood compared to other wood types.

Wood speciesHardness value
Brazilian Walnut3,684 lbf (16,390 N)
Red Mahogany, Turpentine2,697 lbf (12,000 N)
Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba2,350 lbf (10,500 N)
Golden Teak2,330 lbf (10,400 N)
Hickory, Pecan, Satinwood1,820 lbf (8,100 N)
Hard Maple, Sugar Maple1,450 lbf (6,400 N)
White Oak1,360 lbf (6,000 N)
Ash (White)1,320 lbf (5,900 N)
American Beech1,300 lbf (5,800 N)
Red Oak (Northern)1,290 lbf (5,700 N)
Yellow Birch / Baltic birch1,260 lbf (5,600 N)
Teak1,155 lbf (5,140 N)
Black Walnut, North American Walnut1,010 lbf (4,500 N)
Cherry995 lbf (4,430 N)
Black Cherry, Imbuia950 lbf (4,200 N)
Red Maple950 lbf (4,200 N)
Douglas Fir710 lbf (3,158 N)
Silver Maple700 lbf (3,100 N)
Redwood420 lbf (1,868 N)
Engelmann Spruce390 lbf (1,735 N)
Sugar Pine380 lbf (1,690 N)
Red Cedar350 lbf (1,557 N)
White Cedar320 lbf (1,423 N)
Balsa Wood67 lbf (300 N)

As you can see how soft Balsa is wood.it is the softest wood on the planet. Its hardness value is significantly lower than all the woods that we use in our day-to-day lives.

So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions regarding is Balsa wood strong.

Is Balsa Wood Stronger Than Basswood?

Basswood is stronger than Balsa wood. but Balsa wood has better strength to weight ratio than basswood. Balsa wood is lightweight and used for airplane model making and boat making, plus it is perfect for carving as well.

According to the measurements, the compressive strength and bending strength of basswood and Balsa wood are given below.

Wood TypeCompressive StrengthBending Strength
Balsa wood145 psi2,550 psi – 3,170 psi
Basswood4, 730 psi8, 700 psi

As you can see basswood is significantly stronger than Balsa wood. But no wood can compete with Balsa wood in terms of strength to weight ratio which is pretty much important in small woodworking projects. That’s what makes Balsa wood so special.

Did I cover all you wanted to know: Is Balsa Wood Strong?

In this article, we have deeply talked about is Balsa wood strong and how strong it is.

We have discussed the properties of Balsa wood with pros and cons and how it can be used in furniture making, carving, and model making.

As a woodworker, I recommend Balsa wood only for small woodworking projects that do not get affected by pressure. For carving and modeling Balsa wood is perfect but your woodworking tools need to be sharpened well. Ultimately Balsa wood is considered a weak wood with poor compressive and flexural strength.

We’ve also answered some frequently asked questions about the strength of Balsa wood compared to other wood types as well.

Hope you’ve gained good knowledge about Balsa wood strong. So, let’s start your next woodworking project with Balsa wood to get practical knowledge about its strength. Practice makes you perfect in woodworking!

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