(Reasons) Why Balsa Wood Is Not Strong? 2021


Is Balsa Wood Strong

So here is the deal. Balsa wood is classified as hardwood but its physical strength is questionable in regards to when thinking of it as strong as other hardwoods. 

But it’s still a kind of hardwood, though, shouldn’t it be sturdy? If not then why? 

In a word- NO. Balsa wood is not strong. It’s kind of hardwood yet one of the least dense wood you can find on earth. The reason here for this is because their trees naturally grow faster, thus have less density which makes them weaker than many softwoods, such as pinewood.

You still wondering to know more about, sure we’ve more information for you.

Scroll down to look at the properties first.

Balsa wood properties

Let’s start with the properties of this wood. 

It has the following properties.

Tree typeHardwood
Physical natureSoft
Common uses areUsed in packing materials, wood artwork like making planes model, and curving
Tree growing time4-8 years
Density Around 160 kg/m3
Janka Hardness67 lbF (300 N)
Toughness Low – up to 15 Nm
Maximum Crushing Strength4.9- 17.6
ColorWhite, yellow, pale straw,  light brown
Durability(in-ground)In-Ground
Tree Size: 60-90 ft (18-28 m) tall, 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter
Elastic Modulus: 538,000 lbf/in2 (3.71 GPa)

Is Balsa a Strong wood?

In a word- NO. Balsa wood is not strong. It’s kind of hardwood yet one of the least dense wood you can find on earth. 

Although, generally hardwoods like oak wood tend to be heavyweight and denser which makes them ideal for crafting a set of furniture.

But that’s not the case with Balsa wood. Even if its genesis comes from the hardwood species.

The reason for its lightweight and less dense nature is its cells, which are long, turning down the density ratio p = m / V. Its density in numbers is close to Density 160 (120-220)kgm3. Pound for pound, other hardwoods have more than that.

As you know, trees with lengthy cells grow faster, so with that said, we can say balsa wood trees grow faster under required environments.

How strong balsa wood is?

To measure the strength of wood, mainly to identify how much weight wood can hold up.

There is a tool known as the Janka hardness scale. That is used to determine the strength of lumber.

In general, the Janka Hardness test is used to determine whether hardwood flooring can be made from a particular wood species based on its hardness. 

In this experiment, a steel ball measuring 11.28 mm in diameter is formed to penetrate a piece of wood until it is half embedded.

The potential applied force is then calculated and according to that outcome- rank is given to woods.

It should be noted that in the woodworking industry, this method is considered standard for detemining the strength of wood.

Below is the chart showing you some of the weak performance wood species.

Among them, the balsa wood has taken the last slot. You can find the complete chart of the strength of different woods here. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janka_hardness_test

Chestnut 540 lbf (2,400 N)
Wood namePre-break strength
Yellow Poplar, Poplar 540 lbf (2,400 N)
Hemlock 500 lbf (2,200 N)
Western White Pine420 lbf (1,900 N)
Basswood 410 lbf (1,800 N)
Eastern White Pine 380 lbf (1,700 N)
Cuipo[14] 75 lbf (330 N)
Balsa[14]70 lbf (310 N)
Balsa, softest wood ever measured: single unusual example[14]22 lbf (98 N)

How easy is it to break balsa wood?

Balsa wood is very easy to break apart.

Even a little force given by hand is enough to break into parts. That’s the reason it’s not a good wood for crafting any type of furniture.

But there are still questions to be asked. Are we evaluating breaking ability in terms of suddenly impacted force, or are we evaluating elasticity?

Of Balsa, the modulus of elasticity is 538,000 pounds per square inch, while of white oak, it is 1,762,000 pounds per square inch.

The numbers are indicating the required force needed to break a wood- Balsa has scored 2,840 lbf/in2 compared to white oak’s score is 14,830 lbf/in2, (Oak is one of the rough wood to break so used it for comparison)

In simple terms, if you mean test balsa breakability by applying sudden force like hitting the sheet with a hammer, sitting on a chair made of balsa ( usually no one makes this).

Then, according to the numbers we got from the Janka hardness tool, it would break apart easily.

However, when it comes to the elasticity of balsa wood. Which is actually different from strength in the woodworking world.

Why is balsa considered a hardwood, when it’s not strong?

Inf you look for the real definition of softwoods and hardwoods.

You will be surprised knowing that, it’s not about their physical nature, instead there are other factors on which basis woods have been classified.

A common property of balsa wood which classifies it as hardwood is the process of how the trees are produced- their seeds.

The seeds of balsa trees are covered in a shell which is a property of hardwoods. They are called angiosperms.

Seeds of softwoods like pine are a kind of softwood. They are not covered in a shell. They are called gymnosperms.

Balsa Wood uses: What is good for?

Though balsa wood has very specific uses, bear in mind that it isn’t sturdy or durable wood, so the uses too, do not require these properties. 

Balsa wood is good for making sculptures because it’s easy to carve, and requires minimum effort to do so.

Also, being lightweight makes ideal artwork like crafting a model of airplanes. This wood is great for artwork, no matter what you do to it.

Speaking of industry-level uses of balsa wood, for which the wood is actually popular.

Here are the following good uses of balsa wood.

  • It’s used to make In wind turbine blades.
  • It’s used for artwork, making wood models.
  • It’s used as veneers, to give natural flavors.
  • It’s used In packaging materials.
  • It’s used for insulation.
  • In Spain, It’s used as floatation devices ( in Spanish, balsa means float).
  • It’s used as stuffing for mattresses, cushions, and pillows.

Balsa wood: advantages and disadvantages

Here are some pros and cons of balsa wood.

Advantage 

  1. Model-making or curving is easy to do with this wood.
  2. Since this wood floats in the water for a long time, it is used to make fishing lures.
  3. Balsa trees grow rapidly by nature. 20 meters in 7 years.
  4. This wood is easily found in the form of sheets at reasonable prices.
  5. It is less prone to water damage than others of the same kind.

Disadvantage

  1. Not suitable for making furniture, it’s less sustainable and easily breakable.
  2. Too much water can damage the wood.
  3. Due to its lightweight and flammability, this wood burns readily when exposed to fire.
  4. It does not have any natural anti-insect ability to keep bugs away.

Can balsa be used for making furniture?

Even though it can be used for making furniture, no carpenter on earth will prefer using balsa for this purpose.

No, Furniture made out of balsa wood is not durable, cannot hold up more weight, and is easily breakable because of its lightweight nature. Neither balsa has any uses in flooring.

Saying that would not be wrong that there is no furniture made from balsa wood

Where Do Balsa Trees grow?

Tropical rainforests of Central and South America are home to balsa trees and readable trees.

And Most of the balsa wood production on earth comes from Ecuador. 

Do the trees take a long time to grow?

Actually not, when compared to other hardwoods. For a balsa tree to be capable of being used, it takes anywhere between 4 and 8 years. 

How much does balsa cost?

You might have to pay $10 per square foot for a balsa wood sheet measuring 3/16 inches thick. For increased thickness, you will have to run over more cost.   

One thing to note here, unlike other woods balsa is not available in blocks, instead, they are found in manufactured plywoods, in the shape of sheets or veneers.

Therefore, the price depends on the thickness of the plywood of balsa you will buy.

Thickness of sheets Price
3/16  inches$10.00
¼ inches$5.63
5/16 inches $6.33
⅜ inches$7.03
⅝ inches$9.84

One thought on “(Reasons) Why Balsa Wood Is Not Strong? 2021

  1. Hello, and thank you for this article. I do agree that balsa isn’t as strong as most other woods, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t strong. I think you’ll see this for yourself in this brief video on YouTube:

    https://youtu.be/9PcgKEz31q0

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