After carving with a wide variety of woods over the years, I have found some wood that is an absolute joy to carve while some are stubborn or just difficult to work with. These differences can be extremely important to a beginner or young wood carver that wants to start whittling wood.
Balsa wood is perfect for beginners who want to start whittling or wood carving as it soft enough to carve with the most basic tools. Carving a softer wood like balsa wood is a great way to build a new carvers confidence and teach them the basics.
Once you start building up your confidence by carving with balsa wood, you may want to try carving with harder woods like basswood or butternut.
Is Balsa Wood Easy to Carve?
While Balsa wood is still considered a hardwood, it is the softest of its category with a Janka Hardness of 90. Comparing this to eastern white pines score of 380 and american basswoods 410, it is substantially easier to carve when compared to other popular carving woods.
There is one consideration to keep in mind when carving with balsa wood, because it is so soft it can easily deform. This will prevent you from adding intricate details and having long term durability that you will typically see in harder woods like basswood.
That being said, balsa wood is a great option for those of you who want to see what wood carving can be like or wish to introduce a younger child into whittling and wood carving.
Tips for carving with Balsa Wood
Since balsa wood is so soft, you have to handle the wood properly and know how to cut into the wood to allow for the most detail. Here are some of my must do tips for carving balsa wood:
- Carve simple designs. Simple shapes and designs go a long way with balsa wood as you won’t be able to create fine details that will last.
- Slice with the blade. Carving with balsa wood feels like cutting into a firm block of foam. If you simply press the blade in, it will deform the wood and then cut into it. Slicing allows for smoother, deeper, and less deformed cuts.
- Use thin knives. Since balsa wood is so malleable, thicker knives may cause more drag and make it harder to cleanly cut the wood. Use thin blades designed for whittling and wood carving like these Flexcut Carving Knives on Amazon.
- Use sharp blades. If you use a standard pocket knife with the manufacture edge, it probably won’t be sharp enough to create a clean. If at all possible use well sharpened, purpose made whittling knives for best results.
How does Balsa Wood Compare to Basswood?
While basswood (also known as lime wood or linden wood) is the next obvious step up from carving balsa wood, there are some notable differences that one needs to keep in mind.
Balsa wood has a slightly spongy texture to it, where that if you squeeze the wood or drop it on a hard surface it will start to deform. Basswood is more than 4 times harder than balsa wood and requires a much larger impact for deformations to occure.
Basswood is capable of holding finer details and are best for both small and larger designs. Balsa wood is not ideal for carvings smaller than 1″ tall as you will not be able to add much detail and may easily deform.
Basswood carving blocks are much more widely available than balsa wood blocks. Most balsa wood is sold in strips for creating models and is harder to find in carving block formats.
Where to Buy Balsa Wood For Carving
The majority of hobby stores or online stores only sell balsa wood in thin planks or very small blocks. I have only found one good source on Amazon that sells carving blocks big enough for whittling and wood carving. Click here to pick up a small variety pack for carving.
More Whittling Tips and Tricks!
If you are ready to start whittling and wood carving today, check out my complete resource page complete with beginners guides, tool guides, and project ideas by clicking the link below.