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:
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.
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
Thickness of balsa layers and stiffness of the
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
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.