SEARCH FINESCALE.COM

Enter keywords or a search phrase below:

balsa wood

4527 views
19 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    July 2014
balsa wood
Posted by detailer 1 on Thursday, May 28, 2015 4:00 PM

trying to make a small bend on sheet of balsa wood.is steam the best way and them clamp it

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, May 29, 2015 1:20 AM

My first suggestion is: use some other material.

I have to admit bias: balsa is one of my two absolute un-favorite modeling materials. (The other is lead.) Balsa has exactly two virtues that may - may - be of interest to modelers: it's widely available, and it weighs amazingly little. If you're building a flying model airplane, that weight factor will be enormously important to you; in fact it's likely that nothing but balsa will do the job. But for virtually any other type of modeling, balsa is just about the worst possible choice. It has a coarse grain, breaks easily, crumbles under all by the sharpest cutting tools, and soaks up finishing materials like a sponge.

I should note one additional good quality of balsa: it's amazingly strong for its weight. Quite a few years ago I helped my stepdaughter with a middle school science fair project. (The teacher said she could get as much help as she wanted. Heh heh heh!) The assignment was to make a balsa wood tower, at least a foot tall and weighing no more than two grams - made of components no longer than six inches. The competition was to see how much weight the tower could support before it collapsed. For that purpose a plastic bucket was suspended from the top of it, and the students shoveled sand (by the tablespoon) into the bucket until the tower crashed. After my stepdaughter put eighteen pounds in her bucket, the judges told her to quit. Score one of those rare victories for Stepdad.

But unless you're building a project for a science fair, or building a flying airplane, you'll have much better luck with some other material. Would sheet styrene be a possibility? If it has to be wood, try basswood (the second most common wood in hobby and craft stores). Better yet, if you have a store in your community that sells veneers, check out what it has to offer. (Some veneers are specially treated to be super-flexible.)

My personal favorite modeling subject is sailing ships. When a newcomer to that hobby asks me for suggestions, the first one I offer is, "wipe from your mind all recollection of balsa wood."

If you can be a bit more specific about your model, we probably can offer some better ideas.  Good luck.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    November 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Friday, May 29, 2015 9:15 AM

I agree with Mr. Tilley.  If you must use wood, I find basswood a better material for anything but flying models.  Either balsa or basswood can be bent by immersing in hot water as well as steaming.  Very thin plywood, like 1/64 can be bent to a fairly sharp radius without steaming or wetting.  Such very thin plywood can be found at most hobby shops.

Sheet styrene bends quite well.  For bendable pieces I often use card stock or cardboard.  I try to find to find the glossy stuff- it primes and paints quicker than the uncoated stuff.  Cardboard is an underused, under-appreciated material.

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, May 29, 2015 11:41 AM

I agree with Mr. Stauffer. Cardboard and paper are under-used - at least in the U.S. In Europe there's an entire field of paper modeling, and some of those guys do absolutely amazing work. (There's a paper model section in the FSM Forum; maybe it'll catch on here more than it has so far.)

Again, detailer 1, it would be helpful if we knew more about what sort of model you're building. We may be giving you foul advice because we don't know.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    August 2008
Posted by tankerbuilder on Friday, May 29, 2015 3:32 PM

Actually I have to also agree with these two .

I relegate Balsa to flying planes only . Basswood is my base wood for carving and building ships . The ships for the most part are another non - wood material .  But I do my Custom Speed - Boats in Basswood and Mahogany exclusively .    T.B.

  • Member since
    July 2014
Posted by detailer 1 on Friday, May 29, 2015 4:38 PM

was building the coupla roof on a ho scale caboose

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Friday, May 29, 2015 4:45 PM

To answer your question, steaming balsa won't help much. Actually  I use styrene a lot on my model railroads. It comes in board sizes. I went through my big old pile of bags of styrene strip and wrote on the bags with a sharpie HO 2x4, HO 2x6 etc.Makes it easy.

If you make the front and rear ends with a camber (kind of like a ship) and glue thin styrene down over it, It'll take the shape nicely.

Here's one I kind of got carried away.

 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.

 

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Saturday, May 30, 2015 12:12 AM

I'm no model railroader, but I have the strong impression that serious model railroaders have just about given up on balsa wood. The wood they use most of the time is basswood.

Basswood looks like balsa at first glance. But it's a lot harder, the grain is much tighter, and it's a bit heavier. For model railroading, that's irrelevant. (In fact, many model freight cars have weight added to them to make them stay on the track better.)

Basswood may be a little harder to find than balsa. But any self-respecting hobby shop carries it. So do arts and crafts stores, like Michael's, Hobby Lobby, and A.C. Moore's.

If you just plain can't find basswood locally, plenty of web sources sell it. Try Micro-Mark ( www.micromark.com ), Model Expo ( www.modelexpo-online.com ), or Bluejacket ( www.bluejacketinc.com ).

I've never heard of any model builder switching from balsa to basswood and then switching back to balsa. Basswood is just plain better - and easier to work with.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    November 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Saturday, May 30, 2015 9:31 AM

Long time ago- late 50s- while in college I built a model car for the Fisher body contest.  One has to design an original car design and then build a 1:8 scale model. It was worth it, this GM sponsored contest gave away college scholarships for prizes.

The instructions recommended clay then plaster, or hard wood.  They said stay away from balsa.  As an experienced model builder I knew how to work with balsa, so I disagreed.  Model came out very nice (didn't win), but I put on over ninety coats of primer and color paint getting that smooth, glossy finish.  I know today from long working with basswood it would have taken at most about a quarter of that.

BTW, built my own airbrush for final painting, a simple lung-powered affair out of K&S brass tubing and an old baby food bottle.

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Saturday, May 30, 2015 11:02 AM

And huffed through it 90 times!

Any chance you still have the plans? Just for nostalgia's sake.

 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.

 

  • Member since
    November 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Sunday, May 31, 2015 11:30 AM

No, first few dozen coats were spray can.

Never did draw up plans.  Two pieces of 3/32 brass tubes meeting at 90 degree angle, with a short strip of brass plate on each side to reinforce.  One tube has a 1/16 tube section about eighth inch long in end, end of tubes filed to a sort of point (about 45 degree angle.  Later tube stuck in hole of baby food jar lid and soldered.  About two foot length of model airplane fuel line tubing stuck on other tube- that does it.

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    May 2006
Posted by thunder1 on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 12:06 PM

I disagree with the comments on balsa wood construction.

 My scratch built boat models are all balsa planked, it's inexpensive, glues up with Elmers and can be found in most well equipped hobby shops.  Plus the bulk of my models are R/C and measure about 31-36 inches in length. Coating the balsa hull with fiberglass resin (inside and out) makes it a sturdy model.  My 6 foot long CG cutter hull was skinned with balsa strips and is 26 years old with no apparent cracks in the hull. I'll admit I'm old school in my building techniques but for me balsa is still a viable building material in certain situations. If it wasn't so cumbersome to post pictures of my boats on here I would just to illustrate my point.

I'm an analog man in a digital world....

  • Member since
    November 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:55 AM

Flying models, which includes RC, are the exception that some of us mentioned. Indeed for any flying model I'd use balsa.  Don't see any reason to use it on non-flying models, however. It is not cheaper than basswood.  Indeed resin and fiberglass do help fill in the wild grain, but I suspect most people do not want to put that much effort into a smaller shelf (non-operating) model.

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 10:22 AM

I've seen lots of beautiful R/C ship and boat models with fiberglassed balsa hulls. Lots of kits are made that way, and good modelers get fine results from them.

But I always wonder: is there some attribute of balsa that actually makes it better than other woods for that purpose? Or is the fiberglass a means of compensating for the deficiencies of balsa?

It's probably true that, in the grand scheme of things, more stores sell balsa than basswood. But these days it seems like I see more and more basswood on the shelves. The three arts and craft chains with which I'm familiar, Michael's, A.C. Moore's, and Hobby Lobby, carry decent assortments of both. So does Hobbytown USA. And really good hobby dealers sell more sizes of basswood than balsa. They also sell pre-milled moldings (dozens of different shapes and sizes) and sheets. If there's such a thing as scribed balsa deck planking, I've never heard of it.

In a particular store balsa may be a little cheaper - but not much. And fiberglass isn't cheap. And I can't recall encountering a non-operating ship or boat model with a fiberglassed hull.

I respect modelers who get nice results from balsa. But I still have trouble seeing what makes it preferable to other materials.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    September 2012
Posted by GMorrison on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 10:35 AM

Most of the Ace Hardware stores I go to sell basswood as well.

 Modeling is an excuse to buy books.

 

  • Member since
    January 2007
  • From: Long Island, NY
Posted by Intruder38 on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 3:47 PM

The simplest way to bend balsa is to wet the piece with ammonia (if you can stand the fumes) or Windex, let it sit for a few minutes then clamp (or glue) it down. Let it dry and you have your permanent curve.

  • Member since
    July 2014
Posted by detailer 1 on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:08 PM

wow a lot of great ideas will try the windex for sure thanks guys

  • Member since
    September 2009
Posted by Cobra 427 on Monday, February 1, 2016 10:35 PM

jtilley

My first suggestion is: use some other material.

I have to admit bias: balsa is one of my two absolute un-favorite modeling materials. (The other is lead.) Balsa has exactly two virtues that may - may - be of interest to modelers: it's widely available, and it weighs amazingly little. If you're building a flying model airplane, that weight factor will be enormously important to you; in fact it's likely that nothing but balsa will do the job. But for virtually any other type of modeling, balsa is just about the worst possible choice. It has a coarse grain, breaks easily, crumbles under all by the sharpest cutting tools, and soaks up finishing materials like a sponge.

I should note one additional good quality of balsa: it's amazingly strong for its weight. Quite a few years ago I helped my stepdaughter with a middle school science fair project. (The teacher said she could get as much help as she wanted. Heh heh heh!) The assignment was to make a balsa wood tower, at least a foot tall and weighing no more than two grams - made of components no longer than six inches. The competition was to see how much weight the tower could support before it collapsed. For that purpose a plastic bucket was suspended from the top of it, and the students shoveled sand (by the tablespoon) into the bucket until the tower crashed. After my stepdaughter put eighteen pounds in her bucket, the judges told her to quit. Score one of those rare victories for Stepdad.

But unless you're building a project for a science fair, or building a flying airplane, you'll have much better luck with some other material. Would sheet styrene be a possibility? If it has to be wood, try basswood (the second most common wood in hobby and craft stores). Better yet, if you have a store in your community that sells veneers, check out what it has to offer. (Some veneers are specially treated to be super-flexible.)

My personal favorite modeling subject is sailing ships. When a newcomer to that hobby asks me for suggestions, the first one I offer is, "wipe from your mind all recollection of balsa wood."

If you can be a bit more specific about your model, we probably can offer some better ideas.  Good luck.

 

God bless you for saying that, Sir!!! I couldn't agree more with you. I hate balsa except for the fact that it has wood grain to it when you want to do a clear, or transluscent finish without having to simulate it. It makes for great dashboard. SANDING SEALER is a painters' best friend! This is what I use for filling in deep wood grain. I used it on I don't know how many guitars. Just recently I used it on an ash Fender Telecaster style body made by mighty mite. This filled the wood grain perfectly after only two coats. But balsa is something that I would only use for very special projects. It does have the tendency to warp, and bend unforgivingly, and it's no less expensive than basswood which is just another species of white pine. I Used this on a 63 Ford Cobra dash that I made for my dad over a dozen years ago. It came out beautifiully, but I've been painting for over thirty years! The trick is to cut, or sand it REAL THIN so that it doesn't break, the glue it to the surface like styrene, or aluminum to keep the shape.

 

I'm working on my four foot X-wing at the moment and it's been a nightmare trying to keep everything straight so that there's no asymmetry! The only good thing about balsa is that it can glued, and broken apart if need be as long as you don't use Elmers brand glue - of any kind. You can put the balsa in a pan of hot water, then wrap it around a tube, and hold it with rubber bands. This also works for polystyrene too.  I did this with my 1/48th scale X-wing, and now I have to do this with my four foot version too. I had to redo a few parts as I didn't realise that one end was slightly higher than the other at an angle until I sanded the bottom today. It still needs a little rework, but not much now. Since this is already here I'll just ask my own question while we're on the subject. Is balsa different densities in the same thickness? I mean that I have several pieces that are the same thickness, and length, but one piece feels softer, or more maleable than the others. Is this something any of you here have experienced? Don't get started about how hard it is to get balsa to cut, and fit perfectly straight!

~ Cobra Chris

Maybe a picture of a squirrel playing a harmonica will make you feel better?

 

 

  • Member since
    November 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 9:17 AM

Yes, balsa is available in several densities, but since freeflight aircraft models are declining in popularity it is hard to find it already sorted.  You need to deal directly with a balsa source- good luck finding it presorted at LHS.  What most guys do these days is sort it themselves at hobby shop- just go through the stock at the store and feel for the lightest, or whatever weight you are looking for. It is all dumped now into same bins, by size.

 

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    September 2009
Posted by Cobra 427 on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 10:58 AM

Yes, Sir I realised that this was the case when feeling the coarseness, and bendability of each piece also noticing that quite a few of these pieces are GLUED together at the factory! This too makes me wonder about quality control, and the ability to get quality lumber in any sizeable amount.  I also wonder if they have trouble with drying the wood to a certain density? There are so many mitigating factors when choosing wood, and sizing up usable resources that can allow for it to be a viable, or feasable product when finished. What makes it worse is the fact that it's so soft that it makes getting perfectly square, and straight lines very difficult especially when you have to butt things together!

 

~ Cobra Chris

Maybe a picture of a squirrel playing a harmonica will make you feel better?

 

 

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

SEARCH FORUMS
FREE NEWSLETTER
By signing up you may also receive reader surveys and occasional special offers. We do not sell, rent or trade our email lists. View our Privacy Policy.