Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo
In Canada, you will find basswood growing from Manitoba to New Brunswick. It thrives in deep, rich soil, and is most commonly seen throughout the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River area. Basswood grows more quickly than others trees and can reach a height of 70 feet or more. The width of the tree is usually between 2’ and 2 1/2’ in diameter. Overall, basswood is a fairly large species and a valued commercial hardwood.
Basswood is renowned for being a top-notch carving wood. It’s also made into many items including toys, model ships, picture frames, musical instruments, shutters, handles, mouldings and trim work. In addition, basswood is a premium choice for boxes, cutting boards and food storage containers, since the wood has no natural scent or odour. Aboriginal peoples used the fibrous bark to make rope and fabric. Woodworkers will find that it makes an excellent choice for templates and as a secondary wood in furniture, where light weight is a consideration. Additionally, it makes an excellent substrate for veneering.
Basswood is the softest and lightest of our hardwoods. It has low strength and poor steam bending qualities. The wood also has low resistance to shock and decay. It dries rather quickly with some tendency to distort. However, once dried, it is dimensionally stable. Just keep in mind that the wood undergoes a fairly significant amount of shrinkage when drying. The actual colour of the sapwood is a creamy white. The heartwood is more of a light, reddish brown and sometimes has darker lines or streaks. Its texture is uniform and fine, while the grain tends to be straight and doesn’t have a distinct grain pattern.
Woodworkers using hand tools or machines will find that basswood cuts with very minimal resistance. However, it is a good idea to use sharp tools, since the wood causes some dulling. When it comes to nails, screws and glue, basswood is agreeable. The wood also gives you a smooth finish with medium luster. It’s an excellent wood to paint, particularly with latex paint. Staining can be more of a challenge, because the light coloured wood has a tendency to cause blotches. So, if you are planning to stain, experts recommend using a wood conditioner first. Basswood is priced at around $4 per board foot.