The scientific name for the balsa tree is Ochroma lagopus. Balsa grows in the rainforests in Central America and South America. Balsa grows quickly and is ready to cut in about six to 10 years; however, it also grows sporadically. The wood is lightweight, yet very strong, making it a favourite in many products. The natural beauty of the wood has increased its popularity in recent years in products like surfboards and model aeroplanes.
Small model aeroplanes are often made of balsa wood, because of its lightness and durability. Model planes that will be hung from a ceiling may be made of this material. Most hobby shops, like Michael's or Hobby Lobby, will carry model aeroplane kits made up of pieces of balsa and instructions for putting the model together. The models need to be glued or put together with some type of putty and the model would then be painted. The result is a miniature aeroplane that is very light in weight but is still durable.
Balsa wood is available in sheets and blocks at hobby stores and also online through many different balsa suppliers. Some online suppliers will even custom cut the balsa for your project, but thinner sheets are easily cut with a utility knife. Balsa is also quite flexible.
In addition to elementary and high school projects for building small-scale models and dioramas, architecture and engineering students may also use balsa for their course projects as well.
Karate and Martial Arts
When you think of martial arts, you might not immediately think about balsa wood, but the truth is that balsa is often used by experts to show their strength as they seek to break through the wood with a chop of the hand or foot. Thin sheets of balsa can be perfect for beginning or younger students to teach the techniques of breaking wood without the danger from working with a harder wood. However, even with balsa, you'll want to use caution as the wood can splinter or flex a little too much. Stress proper technique and supervise practicing with wood at all times.