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A real low and short no-spin serve can give you some easy points in matches, as they are difficult to flip hard, and they require good timing to push hard. Mix it up with a heavy backspin in the same spot. Remember to get it short, the ball should bounce short on your side close to the net...

 Balsa Table Tennis Blades

Balsa Blades

There appears to be a growing trend for player to use blades with Balsa layers. So whatís so special about Balsa wood? Balsa has some very unique properties that make them suitable for both defensive and offensive styles blades.

Physical properties of balsa:
Balsa is a very light and low density type of wood. It is very soft, so soft that you can easily dent it with your fingernail and leave a permanent dent. Since it is not very strong by itself, itís usually sandwiched between some stronger and harder plies or composite layers which gives the blade strength.

Itís very low weight is one important reasons for the popularity of balsa blades. There are balsa blades that weigh less than 50g, and combining these with some light rubbers, make it possible to make complete bats of weights in the low 100g! Some players with physical constraints may prefer such a bat, and others that use a lot of wrist movement in their strokes will find itís much easier and quicker with a low weight bat.

Characteristics of a balsa blades:
Low impact:
Since balsa is usually used for the inner or centre ply of a blade, the feel of the blade is obviously effected by the outer plies as well. In general balsa gives the blade a very soft feel, which makes it feel slow and offers good control and touch, particularly on low impact strokes, such as return of serves or pushes.
This properties makes it particularly attractive for long pimple (with no sponge) players as the touch for drop shots or short balls is often critical to their game.

High Impact:
The property of the Balsa layer changes depending on how hard the hits the blade, it is not linear like most other types of wood. The higher the impact, the quicker the rebound of the balsa. In contrast to the low impact property, where slow balls are held by the balsa giving it long dwell time, on high impact the balls is rebounded very quicky giving it very short dwell time. Although this can be seen as a disadvantage, since low dwell time generally means less control and less ability to generate spin, the major advantage is for blocking and counter hitting, where low dwell time means much reduced sensitivity to spin, and the ball comes back much quicker to your opponent.

This picture, courtesy of the German site noppen-test.de illustrates the principle described above, where the red curve shows a traditional blade, and the blue curve a balsa blade. (Tempo refers to ball speed and Schlagstarke refers to how hard you hit the ball)

Thickness of balsa layers and stiffness of the blade.
The thickness of the balsa layer, and the combination of this layer with other wood or composite plies, allows manufacturer to make different balsa blades to suit different styles. A thick layer tends to make the blades stiffer and fast, which promotes the high impact property, whereas a thin layer tends to promote the low impact properties.

Examples of different type Balsa Blades
A few different blades, and the style that they suit are given as examples below:

1. TSP Balsaplus Award 2.5/3.5
These blades are slightly oversize, and have a fairly thin (2.5 or 3.5mm) balsa layer, with harder outer plies and a glassfibre for both strength and improved feel. The balsa layer on these blades tends to be too thin to make the blade stiff and fast, but it exploits the low impact properties, giving it outstanding feel and dwell time, ideal for tradition choppers or defensive style players.

2. Dr N Firewall+, Donic Cayman
These blades have very thick balsa layers making them quite stiff, but are designed to be medium speed, so that they exploit both the low and high impact properties of the balsa layers. These types of blades tend to be the most popular among long pimple players, particularly for a close to the table blocking/hitting style game. Often a much faster and very spinny rubber is used on the other side of the blade, allowing them to bring a lot of spin into the ralleys, but also allow them to put the ball away when mistakes (high balls) are drawn from the long pimle side.

3. TSP Balsaplus 8.5, Joola Cool, JUIC Air Titanium
These blade also have a thick balsa layer, and are designed to be very fast. Although they still have some good touch for the short game, the main strength of these blade is to generate great pace with little effort, and are ideally suited for a close to the table blocking and counterhitting game. They are also used by long pimple players, but for those that play a fast and attacking game with them. Also very effective with double inverted rubbers.

Although a thinner balsa layer is now commonly used in a variety of other blades, the combination of the other plies tend to dominate the style that the blade is suitable for, so itís too hard to generalise further what style these blades suit.

Disadvantages of balsa:
Weíve covered some of the advantages of Balsa blades, so what are some of the disadvantages, and what style is it generally not suitable for?

Generally for a modern looping style game, especially away from the table, the balsa properties are not ideal. These styles require good dwell time for and some flex in the blade, which gives them more spin at high impact. Also the power of the balsa seems to diminish a little away from the table, so except for defensive styles, balsa is usually not the best choice away from the table, but suits a close to the table style most.

The soft feel of the balsa also does not always seem to provide a good match with very soft rubbers. A very soft rubber already provides good dwell time for spin, and usually needs a harder blade to give it a crisper feel for hitting, so balsa may not be the ideal choice for this. As usual, there are always certainly exception to this, and a lot depends on the style of the player.

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