Basswood is a hardwood but with a very low hardness level.
One of the best woodcarving wood materials is basswood, a hardwood with fair softness and easy to manipulate in one hand with a mallet and chisel on the other hand. Basswood has a Janka hardness scale rating of 410.
If you want to try doing woodcarving, read our blog post to get started.
What is Basswood?
Basswood is known by its scientific name as Tilia Americana. It belongs to a tree species in the Malvaceae family. This tree is endemic to eastern North America, with significant distribution in the southwest to the northeast portion of Oklahoma and southeast Manitoba to New Brunswick.
It also lies on the river banks of Niobrara River towards Cherry County in Nebraska. Basswood has a medium to large size with a height of up to 60 to 120 feet.
This deciduous tree grows faster compared to many hardwood species in North America. Its growth is twice quicker as birch and beech trees. Given the right growing conditions, basswood can live up to 200 years.
Basswood has a gray to light brown bark consisting of well-defined and narrow fissures. The simple leaves are alternating, cordate to ovate uneven at the base, and asymmetrical.
What are the Characteristics of Basswood?
Basswood is a suitable woodworking material, especially for making woodcarvings and solid guitar bodies (ukulele, bass, and guitar) and interior applications because of its low density, light, and soft texture.
Despite its smooth surface, it is still hardwood. Woodworkers easily manipulate their tools on basswood due to its excellent workability properties. The downside of basswood is that it is unsuitable for exterior purposes and prone to rotting.
Here are the characteristics of basswood:
Basswood has a fine close grain with pale brown or nearly white color, a light red tinge, and a natural luster. It is sometimes white, a popular choice in making furniture, woodenware, and wagon boxes. The surface is knot-free, but it does not give way to splitting easily.
Odorless & Chemical-Free
Basswood does not emit odor, which makes it ideal for making woodenware, such as wooden plates, wooden spoons & forks, ladles, cups, coasters, bowls, chopping boards, cake stands, and knives holders, and tea trays. It is also an ideal material for making wooden carriages, furniture, and boxes because it is odorless.
Both sapwood and heartwood do not have harmful substances. Wood dust from basswood has no health risks, such as toxic substances and allergens. It is a good alternative for aspen and poplar.
Basswood has a wood density of 0.45, which is low density. Pine has a density of 0.41, while balsa wood has a thickness of 0.11, which is too low. Maple has a density of 0.63; oak has 0.59; cherry has 0.70.
With its low density and hardness, basswood has low strength and poor steam-bending quality. The inner bark of basswood is ideal for rope making due to its fibrous and tough texture.
The low density and hardness value of basswood make it easy to manipulate in hand carving or woodworking projects. Staining, planing, polishing, gluing, screwing, and nailing are easy to work with basswood, which leads to higher production value.
Woodcarvers do not have to spend extra hours curling and cutting basswood as many hardwoods do. This hardwood is excellent for beginners who want to make woodworking an income-generating pastime.
Since basswood has excellent acoustic quality, it is a common material in making solid-body guitars and musical instruments. The wood is light and soft, which makes it easy to form the body of guitars.
The downside is that the wood lacks unique grains, which means the musical instrument could look unpleasant with an opaque paint color or transparent finish.
Basswood is not ideal for making cabinets and furniture because it is light, soft, and has a low density of 0.45. It has a compressive strength of 4,730 psi with a bending strength of 8,700 psi.
This hardwood is popular among sculptors and woodworking manufacturers in producing hand carvings and wood crafts, such as pulp, excelsior, veneer, boxes, and cooperage. Due to its dimensional stability, the lumber can turn into shutters, millwork, souvenirs, and musical instruments.
Different Uses & Applications of Basswood
Basswood is an excellent material for making musical instruments, carvings, and molding. It is not ideal for external use, such as building structures, beams, and trusses, because it has poor strength. Several cuts of basswood timber turn into furniture parts, toys, and other uses.
Basswood is considered suitable for any interior use. Since it is lightweight and soft, small hand tools like a chisel and mallet can manipulate the wood to your desired pattern.
Take a look at the multiple uses of basswood:
Basswood is suitable for making intricate carvings of various patterns and sizes. Wood carvings made from basswood are available in thrift shops, souvenirs, and online stores. Some of the finished products include statues, figurines, doll houses, model buildings, puppets, marionettes, and wall decorations.
Crates and Containers
The US Department of Agriculture recommends using basswood to make crates and containers. It is not only cheap; it does not split during nailing due to its moderate nail-holding ability.
Basswood has moderate resistance to shock, is easy to work with, and its medium strength is just enough for crate beams. The shipping cost is lower when using crates made from basswood.
Toy manufacturers use basswood in producing toys because it is easy to manipulate using small hand tools. Gluing, nailing, painting, and staining are easy with basswood with simple woodcarving tools.
School projects like making a DIY model craft or puzzle toys are easy using basswood plywood sheets. Laser-cut DIY plywood sheets are available in the online marketplace.
Among the uses of basswood is making an arrow shaft for archery due to its stability and lightweight. Since basswood lacks elasticity, it does not make a perfect material for making bows.
Since basswood has high workability, it is easy to use in making musical instruments like bass and electric guitar bodies. Tilia is popular in making drum shells, recorders, and wind instruments as it creates high resonance.
Scale Model Kits
Basswood is also suitable for making boxes, dollhouses, and model kits, such as model railroads, airplanes, models, buildings, and railroad cars. This hardwood is lightweight and has a soft texture that makes it easy to cut, carve, paint or stain. The model kits can last for years; you only need to clean up and make minor repairs.
Furniture makers choose basswood for making frames, drawers, and interior components of upholstered furniture to hide its light color. Many homeowners do not realize that the walnut bed they sleep on has some details from basswood. Since basswood is inexpensive and has superior dimensional stability, it is easy to produce high-end furniture from other hardwood materials.
How Strong is Basswood as Wood?
Basswood is not strong as other hardwoods. It has lower bending and compressive strength, which is essential in furniture and building materials. It does not cover extensive applications; it is suitable for interior and small woodworking projects.
Can You Use Basswood Furniture Outdoor?
No. Furniture made from basswood needs coating to last for decades. Basswood is non-resistant to outdoor environments and moisture content in the air. Never bring it outside your house to prevent rotting and termite infestation.
We hope you learned a lot from this article to get you started on your first woodworking or wood carving project. Basswood has unique characteristics, which make it special in making some DIY woodworking projects and hand-carved products. If you are interested in hand carving, you need to pay attention to the features of this hardwood and look for a suitable project to avoid wasting your time and effort.