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Difference Between Basswood & Balsa Wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Hobbyists use both basswood and balsa wood, although for widely different types of crafts. Considerable differences also exist in the habitat of the trees and the general physical traits of the wood. Do-it-yourselfers can find both woods in craft outlets. Understanding the differences allows crafters to choose the right materials for their projects.

The Trees

The basswood is native to North America, while the balsa tree is native to South America. Basswood is also grown as an ornamental landscape tree, while the balsa has a spiny trunk and is of limited use other than for lumber. Both have large trunks formed into straight columns.

Wood Properties

Balsa wood is known for its light weight and buoyancy. Basswood is also relatively light, when compared to other woods, but is known for its light and even texture and grain, as well as its lack of taste.

Wood Uses

The most common use of balsa wood is in mode-making. The lightweight wood is shaped into wings and other components for model aircraft that are light enough to fly. Crafters also use balsa for other model projects because of its weight and straight grain that can be painted to look like any item. Basswood is used for furniture and woodcarving projects. The texture allows the wood to be formed with carving knives into any shape. Basswood is also used for musical instruments and, because of its lack of taste, for wooden cooking utensils.

Other Uses

Basswood is sometimes called the "bee tree" because of its attraction to the insect. The honey produced from the nectar of the basswood is considered a premium product. Bark is also used for ropes and mats. The seeds of the balsa wood tree are known as kapok, and have been used as filling for life vests in the past.

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About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.