The unique properties of Balsa Wood in Table Tennis Blades


There appears to be a growing trend for player to use blades with Balsa layers. So what’s so special about Balsa wood? Balsa has some very unique properties that make them suitable for both defensive and offensive styles blades, which are described below.

Physical properties of balsa:

Thick layers of balsa in the Re-Impact Tachi blade

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, it’s usually sandwiched between some stronger and harder plies or composite layers which gives the blade strength. There are more than 50 types of balsa woods, all exhibiting subtle but significant variations in characteristics.

It’s 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 a pair of light rubbers, makes it possible to make complete bats with weights in the low 100g, or possibly even below 100g if an OX long pimple rubber is used on one side! Some players with physical disabilities or constraints may prefer such a bat, and others that use a lot of wrist movement in their strokes will find it’s much easier and quicker with a low weight bat. However there are more unique characteristics that need to be considered.


Characteristics of a Balsa Blades:

At 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 with low catapult, and it offers great control and touch, particularly on low impact strokes, such as return of serves or pushes.
This properties also makes it particularly attractive for some defensive styles or player that like to vary the pace, as the touch for drop shots or short balls is often critical to their game.

At High Impact:
The property of the Balsa layer changes dramatically depending on how hard the ball 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 quickly 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 below illustrates the basic principle described above, where the purple curve shows a traditional blade, and the yellow curve a balsa blade:

Other wood-types will impart speed to a ball in a more or less one to one ratio to the force used (or the speed coming in), but not balsa. If force or impact is below a certain level, balsa’s catapult will be lower than the catapult of most other woods – much lower if the force or impact is small, less so if greater.

However if the force or impact is above this level, the balsa’s catapult will be more than that of the average wood, initially a bit more, but increasingly more if the force or impact are increasing. So, when play is slow, the balsa is extremely slow, but when play is speeding up, the balsa will speed up even more, which is illustrated above.


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 faster, which promotes the high impact property, whereas a thin layer tends to promote the low impact properties. Shown below are 2 TSP Balsa Plus blades with have virtually identical construction but the much thicker layer of Balsa in the 8.5 blade makes it a very fast blades, whereas the 2.5 is a very slow defensive blade:

Thin Defensive blade: TSP Balsa Plus 2.5

Thick Offensive blade: TSP Balsa Plus 8.5


The Throw of the blade:

The throw of a bat refers to the angle at which the ball comes off when you loop or block the ball. The exact angle is not important, but it’s a useful concept to know if your bat is high or low throw, as each one can benefit certain styles and strokes. High throw means the ball comes off at an higher angle, meaning that the ball will go higher over the net and will go longer compared to a low throw bat.

As far as balsa is concerned, the change in catapult effect in the balsa wood also means that the throw of a balsa blade changes with the speed. At low speed or in defensive blades, the balsa generally contribute to a higher throw, but when things speed up or the balsa layer is thicker, the catapult increases and dwell time decreases cause the throw to be lower.


Styles that suit balsa blades:

The properties described above makes balsa blades so suitable for a blocking and counterhitting style game (particularly with pimples). When you block a loop or hit softly (loose grip or it’s a low impact shot), the balsa has a low catapult and thus a braking effect, allowing you to take the pace off the ball very effectively. However when blocking solidly or against fast loops or hits, the low dwell time and low throw, means the bat will be much less affected by spin, and produce a low and fast ball, making it much harder for the opponent to attack. This is one the main reasons that long pimple players like balsa blade, as the properties are almost ideal for a blocking style play, but it’s certainly not the only style that can take advantage of these unique property!


Styles that don’t suit balsa blades:

We’ve 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 and some flex in the blade, which gives them more spin at high impact which helps land the ball on the table. 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.


Some Unique Balsa blades:

I though I’d just mention a few special blades from a variety of manufacturers that might be of interest below.


TSP Balsaplus series

TSP Balsaplus & Fitter series

These TSP Balsa blade are different from other balsa blades because the balsa wood layer is cut horizontally, so that the rings of the balsa wood are in the same plane as the blade face. This unique and patented feature, coupled with the elastic fibre-glass layers gives the blade a softer and springier feel.


Re-Impact Blades:

Well these custom-made German blades are really in a league of their own, which not only use balsa in the majority of blades, but they’ve also developed some unique technologies to further enhance the blades for specific styles. The details are well beyond the scope of this article, but you can read more about the technology and range on the Re-Impact Blade Technology website.


Super Balsa II

Very Fast Balsa blades:

TSP Balsa Plus (or Fitter) 8.5, Joola MC1, JUIC Air series of blades, Giant Dragon Superbalsa II are all very thick balsa blade and even though most are below 80g, they are very fast, among the fastest blades on the market.


Specialised Balsa blades:

Many of the Dr Neubauer balsa blades (eg Firewall Plus) and most of the Re-Impact blades (eg Tachi) are specifically designed to work well with long pimple rubbers, particularly in OX (no sponge). With these blades the low catapult helps take the pace off the ball, the outer hard layer improves spin reversal, and the low throw aids in blocking against fast loops.


Donic Cayman

Others Balsa blades:

Most manufactures have at least one balsa blade in their range, because there’s always demand for light weight blade, even if the other features are fairly all-round. A few examples are Donic Cayman, TSP Versal and I’m sure you can find one for most brands.