Balsa Wood vs. Basswood: What’s the Difference?

Balsa Wood can be classified as one of the densest hardwood, while Basswood is a very soft and light hardwood, and you can use these two wood choices for different purposes.

The Balsa tree (Ochromapyramidale) belongs to the ‘Malvaceae’ family. They are fast-growing trees that are native to America. The trees can grow up to 16.5 feet per year and a 100 feet maximum. The wood has a short lifespan and can only live for about 30 to 40 years in the wild.

The Basswood tree (Tilia Americana) also belongs to the ‘Malvaceae’ family, native to Eastern North America. They are deciduous trees with mature heights ranging from 75 to 130 feet. These trees can live for up to about 150 years.

Basswood is more durable and stronger than Balsa wood because Balsa is lighter. It can resist warping compared to Balsa wood because of its smaller pores. Basswood will not contract when exposed to moisture because of its good moisture resistance.

Balsa Wood vs Basswood

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 Balsa WoodBasswood
DensityBalsa wood has a very low density because of its fast-growth. It has a density of only 0.11 g/cm³This is equally low in density but higher than Balsa wood with a density of32 g/cm³.
ColorThe heartwood color is usually a pale reddish-brown, while the sapwood colorranges from white to off-white with some pink and yellow hues.The sapwood color ranges from white to creamy-white or a pale brown. The heartwood is much darker but not clearly defined. It may have a reddish tinge.
HeightBalsa trees growto about 10 to 12 feet tall and 1 to ½ inches in diameter six months after germination. They reach a height of 60 to 90 feet and a diameter of 10 to 45 inches in about 6-10 years.Mature trees grow up to 75 to 130 feet,with a diameter ranging from 36 to 48 inches.
GrainBalsa wood has a straight grain with a diffuse-porous end grain with large pores.The grain of Basswood is fine, refined, and indistinct.
TextureThe texture of this wood ranges from medium to coarse. It has a low natural luster.Basswood has a delicate and uniformed texture with a moderate natural glow
WorkabilityIt does not handle nails well; glue is the better joining option. It is easy to work with, but the low density can be a problem when using dull cutters.It is easy to work with because of its light weight and soft texture. It is one of the best woods for hand carving. It does not handle nails well but glues and finishes nicely.

Key Differences Between Balsa Wood and Basswood

Uses

Balsa wood can be used to make several things, and some of them are listed below:

  • It is used to make furniture for movie sets so that the chairs and tables are broken easily.
  • You can use it to make musical stringed instruments such as the violin.
  • It is a good choice for carving.
  • It is used in the making of fishing lures.
  • Balsa wood seed fiber is used for stuffing mattresses and cushions.
  • It is used for commercial applications such as model building and model airplanes.

Because of its light nature, Basswood is the perfect option for hand carving. It can also be used for some other things, and they are listed below:

  • It is an excellent choice for making musical instruments such as the bodies of electric guitars, recorders, etc.
  • It is used in making veneers.
  • Basswood can be used to make furniture parts since it is not durable enough.
  • It is a good option for molding.

Durability

Both kinds of wood are lightweight, reducing their durability, but Basswood is a little more durable than Balsa wood. Balsa wood is not suitable for furniture, and it does not do well with water. It is also susceptible to insect attacks and is not heat tolerant. It must be treated for it to be used outside.

The heartwood of Basswood is not resistant to decay, which makes it non-durable in that aspect. It is good at resisting warping and will not bend over time. It also has good moisture resistance, so it is considered durable enough.

Strength

Balsa wood and Basswood are on the lower spectrum for strength as they are both softwoods. They have a very low ranking on the Janka hardness scale, but Basswood is still higher than Balsa wood.

Balsa wood is the softest commercial hardwood and the softest wood globally. It ranks 67 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, which means it is incredibly light and low in density, making it a wrong choice for furniture.

Basswood is soft but harder than Balsa wood, with 410 lbf on the Janka hardness scale. It is a good option for wood carving because of its lightweight.

Similarities Between Balsa Wood and Basswood

They Belong to the ‘Malvaceae’ Family

Balsa and Basswood have in common that they belong to the Mallows family. They are flowering plants with herbaceous plants, trees, shrubs, and lianas.

It contains about 244 genera with 4225 known species such as okra, cotton, cacao, etc.

Lightweight

Balsa wood is used to construct model airplanes, while Basswood is used for carving purposes. Based on the Janka hardness scale, we can tell that both wood choices are lightweight. Because of this feature, Balsa and Basswood are easy to work with and are used by crafters. 

Pros and Cons of Balsa Wood

Pros

  • It is an excellent choice for model making because of its lightweight.
  • It is an affordable choice of wood.
  • The trees have a fast growth making them readily available.
  • It stains well and finishes nicely.

Cons

  • It is not a durable choice of wood.
  • The sapwood is not rot-resistant and susceptible to insect attacks.
  • It is a highly flammable wood.

Pros and Cons of Basswood

Pros

  • Its soft texture makes it easy to work with.
  • Basswood is an affordable choice of wood.
  • The wood has a great appearance.
  • It is high in availability.

Cons

  • Basswood is not rot-resistant.
  • It is low in strength and cannot handle heavyweight.
  • It is not a good choice for outdoor use.

Conclusion

Balsa wood and Basswood are two types of hardwood but are incredibly soft. Their texture has advantages (easy to work with) and disadvantages (lower durability). Despite their soft textures, they can be used to make different things.

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