Bass or Balsa Wood Fins

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Boosterdude

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I use 3/32" and 1/8" basswood in all my kits including monocopters. The properties of basswood such as grain and strength are more consistent than balsa. This is important to me because I buy it in quantity from wholesalers so I'm not able to select individual pieces as I would if I were buying from a hobby shop.

Basswood is a "greener" product than balsa because it's renewable, and it's grown in the USA in tree farms, so no rain forests are destroyed in the process.
Never thought of it this way, but a good point. Basswood is great to work with and overall a much better choice for fin material.
 

MarkII

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Harvesting balsa does not involve destruction of rain forests. Balsa trees do not grow in stands, but rather grow singly in scattered places in the forest. Because of this, they cannot be harvested through industrial logging methods. Clearcutting an area where they grow will yield very few balsa trees, thus it is not economically feasible to obtain them that way.

Balsa trees grow very rapidly, reaching maturity in just a few years. The rapid growth is the reason for the very light density of the wood. The seeds of the balsa tree are air-dispersed and the seedlings sprout like dandelions. Balsa trees are short-lived; soon after they reach maturity, they begin to die, rotting from the inside out.

Harvesting balsa does not reduce the forest canopy, and due to their haphazard and widely dispersed distribution, constructing a large logging infrastructure within the forest to obtain them is not feasible. Most balsa is obtained in Ecuador, on the western coast of South America. Individual balsa trees are harvested by Ecuadorans working individually or in small teams, cut down by hand, and then dragged down to a nearby river or stream by donkey and then floated down to a collection point. This is a textbook example of sustainable low-impact wood harvesting that preserves the health of the forest.

https://www.mat.uc.pt/~pedro/ncientificos/artigos/techbal.html
https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/50863/balsa
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ochroma_pyramidale

MarkII
 
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Micromeister

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Marks got some good points there LOL!
In Costa Rica Balsa trees grow at Weed like rates, several "balsa tree farms" supply lots of the ballast wood used in the holds of large cargo vessels and some of it also ends up as hobby wood. I have a Friend who's father's mission in Costa Rica has balsa trees on the property and every so often I'll get a package of balsa logs to keep me in nosecone material LOL!! it's sometime very interesting to see the varience in density within the same log.
It's my understanding most folks in the balsa growning countries consider it a nuisance tree as it growns so fast but has a very short life span.

All that said: I still prefer Basswood for all the reasons we've already discussed, it's just a better choice for fins. I also REALLY Like the fact it's grown right here in the good Ole USA.

Balsa Trees of Costa Rica-c_2-pic (128dp)_02-06.jpg
 
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shrox

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Isn't most commercial wood farmed now? I know there are exceptions, like the giant redwwods in northern California, and other woods from other places.
 

Peartree

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Isn't most commercial wood farmed now? I know there are exceptions, like the giant redwoods in northern California, and other woods from other places.
Some, certainly not all. Many hardwoods are not particularly suitable for traditional "farming." Walnut trees are still immature at 50 years. I *have* heard of a man gradually planting his "back 40" with walnut trees in a farming operation, but it was with the expectation that it would be his grandchildren who would be harvesting them. Some other hardwoods grow even slower.
 

MarkII

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Because of the way they grow, balsa trees traditionally were always gathered "in the wild." But apparently that has changed. Some balsa is now grown on plantations in Ecuador. Here is an excerpt from The Ranforest Alliance's "Sustainable Forestry Update" for Fall, 2009:

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Ecuador's Biggest Balsa Plantation Earns FSC Certification

There's good news in Ecuador's Los Ríos province -- so named because a number of rivers flow toward the Río Guayas and Pacific Coast -- where more than 19,000 acres (8,000 hectares) of balsa plantation (Ochroma pyramidale) have been certified in recognition of responsible management.
Plantaciones de Balsa S.A. (PLANTABAL S.A.) is the first Ecuadorian forestry company to earn Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which was awarded by the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program.
PLANTABAL S.A. is a leader in the industrial production and processing of balsa wood, which it exports to China, Europe and the United States for use in the construction of boats, wind turbines and other products.
"I'm certain this certification of PLANTABAL, Ecuador's largest balsa exporter, will serve as an example for other exporters and will motivate them to work toward certification," said Freddy Peña, regional manager of the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program. "I expect other balsa companies to enter the process." For more information contact Plantaciones de Balsa S.A. (PLANTABAL).
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The linden tree (called the lime tree in Britain), which is the source of basswood, grows wild in mixed hardwood forests and it can also be cultivated on plantations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia
https://forestry.about.com/library/silvics/blsiltilam.htm

MarkII
 

luke strawwalker

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Never thought of it this way, but a good point. Basswood is great to work with and overall a much better choice for fin material.
Meh... from what I've read, balsa isn't a "non-green" choice...

About the only things that grow faster than balsa is bamboo and kudzu...

Not against basswood, but for most things I like balsa just fine.

At one point, NASA was going to use balsa as insulation in their Saturn V rocket stages inside the hydrogen tanks... OL JR :)
 

MarkII

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I also REALLY Like the fact it's grown right here in the good Ole USA.
Very true. The linden tree requires a temperate climate, and it grows wild from the upper Midwest through the Northeastern US, in northern Europe and northern Asia. The balsa tree requires a moist tropical climate, i. e., it grows in tropical rainforests in Central and South America. I use plenty of both species of wood; they are both available in more than enough quantities to meet the needs of the hobby market. From a trade perspective, I don't think that there is a downside to the use of either one by hobbyists. There is a big worldwide demand for both types of wood, so whichever one that hobbyists prefer won't cause the overall market for either to rise or drop by all that much.

I have made good use of each type of wood in my rocket building so far, and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In applications that require moderate strength and light weight, balsa is my choice. I have yet to see a boost glider made from basswood. In applications that require greater strength and where weight is not quite as critical, I often use basswood. For applications that require great stiffness and hardness but a thin profile, I most often use aircraft plywood. So far in my rocket building, nearly all of my fins have been constructed from wood. I have not had any real need yet to use any composites or other non-wood materials. So in order to answer the question, "balsa or basswood for fins?" I would say, "Yes." ;)

MarkII
 
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