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Future balsa supplies in UK

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Robin Colbourne20/09/2020 23:13:14
699 forum posts
17 photos

I'm sure when SLEC first started sourcing their balsa from Papua New Guinea they made a big thing about it being from 'their own plantation'; clearly that isn't the case.

With balsa being a fast growing wood, just how long would it take another country to establish a plantation and get it to the point of being able to deliver mature wood?

The SIG site suggests a tree is felled at from 6 to 10 years old, however they are referring to forest grown trees in South America. Balsa Wood Facts - From SIG Mfg

Maybe 'end of life' wind turbine blades will be our new source of wood? Although I rather suspect the end grain wood is used in fairly short lengths, if glider wings are anything to go by.

Nigel R21/09/2020 06:54:59
4201 forum posts
703 photos

A bit less than the 6 or 10 years needed for trees in the thick of virgin rainforest, i assume?

I thought all our wood was plantation grown these days?

MattyB21/09/2020 08:57:38
2325 forum posts
43 photos

I am slightly surprised it has taken this long for this situation to occur; shortages in balsa supply were predicted due consumption in wind turbines at least 2-3 years ago. However it sounds like the C-19 lockdown in Equador has forced Chinese manufacturers to look elsewhere and caused the current situation.

It may not be quite as bad as it looks on the surface though - the industry as a whole is apparently moving away from balsa to PET, so if the Chinese manufacturers can’t get enough balsa they will be forced to change material. Short term though (2, maybe 3 years) we and shops like SLEC and Balsa Cabin will probably have to accept much higher prices.

Edited By MattyB on 21/09/2020 08:58:18

paul d21/09/2020 08:58:54
219 forum posts
27 photos

For sale: 1 sheet of 1/8th balsa, as new, £20...No offers!

Seriously though I heard about a potential shortage of balsa a while back, very worrying.

ken anderson.21/09/2020 09:13:43
8772 forum posts
813 photos

JIm Carss NE23----- wait and see dept.

Hope you have plenty in stock Ken and I know where you live !!!

fear not JC,am your man,we have the turbine testing place not far from me,sure they wont miss a blade or two...

ken J Carrs building dept.

J D 821/09/2020 09:13:56
1631 forum posts
87 photos

Was it the same in WW2 when Mosquito production used up much balsa ?

An old modeller who had served on carriers said that when a Swordfish was wrecked on the deck all useful parts would removed before the remains were dumped overboard. As this was going on any crew who were modelers would be chopping out UC fairings that were large chunks of balsa.

Doc Marten21/09/2020 10:12:39
889 forum posts
18 photos
Posted by Alan Gorham_ on 20/09/2020 20:41:25:

If the loss of the supply of raw material to the UK model building community is not a potential reason to panic then I'm not sure what is. At risk of repeating myself: both SLEC and Balsa Cabin are low on stock and have no alternative supply.

If they cease to be viable as balsa suppliers that could well mean the loss of all the ancillary components they supply such as engine mounts, control horns and linkages, hinges etc. The list is huge.

The UK used to have Solarbo (readers of a certain age will remember that name) and one of their great claims was that they owned their own balsa plantation. Thus while building from plans was so popular, then the UK had security of supply.

Eventually that disappeared as building declined in popularity and modellers are now at the end of a queue for balsa. It cant be a coincidence that SLEC say they were trying to buy their wood supplier for the last few years. They must have had concerns about future supplies.

I've been building models and buying sheets of balsa for nearly 40 years and I really, truly do not want to give that up so perhaps you can see why some if us are not relaxed about this news.

For me, you've pretty much nailed it here Alan, UK model suppliers and associated industries have been decimated by the influence of the rapid and massive expansion of the Chinese economy of the past decade at least and I'll put my hand up and say that I was part of the problem because I supported it, when China wants something, it gets it, regardless of the detriment to the rest of the world, it's the poker player that just keeps pushing up the bet until the other players fold. When it wanted Copper the price rose massively almost overnight, companies went bust and people lost their jobs, same with Steel, they buy the industries and when they are done with them just close the doors and lob the keys into the lake.

The complacent, 'wait and see' attitude is ineffective with global giants, it actually works to their advantage, the ONLY way to make them listen is through your wallet, make a stand, suffer in the short term for the sake of the long term, supply feeds demand. 150% increases on balsa could deter newcomers and be the final straw for current modellers wavering on leaving, Balsa will now be in short supply just when we finally see a revival of traditional builds, the legs will well and truly be cut off that with increased prices and limited supplies of poor quality balsa.  We watched this happen in the model engine industry and look where we are now. How much longer will we accept parts of the hobby being monopolised unopposed? Last year modellers were up in arms about a £16 charge on their hobby that was reduced to something grudgingly acceptable, if we had just sat back to wait and see the full cost would've been implemented and more modellers may have left. . It can't be allowed to carry on unopposed. Copper and Steel yesterday, Balsa today, what tomorrow?

I'm another under the impression that SLEC were the owners of their own plantation in PNG? I also read on here that they supplied the wind turbine industry. 


Edited By Doc Marten on 21/09/2020 10:39:35

Alan Gorham_21/09/2020 10:17:45
1339 forum posts
146 photos
Posted by McG 6969 on 20/09/2020 21:00:50:


It's really not about being 'relaxed about this news' or not.

The point simply is 'YOU CAN'T HAVE AN INFLUENCE' on this matter.

So, no point of having 'sad' or 'worried' feelings/concerns about it right now.

SLEC, the boss, their staff and Tina know a lot better what are their possible actions than you even after 40 years of buying wood and building toy models... please... wait for their actions/decisions to be communicated...



Sorry Chris: you must not have read the release from SLEC and Balsa Cabin. They currently have NO future supplier of balsa. I currently want to buy balsa from them.

Please don't tell me how I should feel....

GONZO21/09/2020 10:48:06
1392 forum posts
14 photos

So how long before the Chinese(and maybe Tesla) restrict the supply of lithium(used to make our batteries) and Neodymium(used for the magnets in our electric motors) by commercial means? After all, the drive(pun) to do away with hydrocarbon fuel and go electric for transport will create a bottomless pit of demand. I'm minded to recall an old saying; "Be careful what you wish for!" (meant for all those environmentalist/extinction rebellion supporters)

Jim Carss21/09/2020 10:50:47
2127 forum posts
81 photos

Aye Mr Mainwairing we're doomed. sad

GONZO21/09/2020 10:52:12
1392 forum posts
14 photos

Jim, "many a true word spoken in jest"

Peter Miller21/09/2020 11:02:38
11512 forum posts
1370 photos
10 articles

I have only one thing to add to all this


Graham Davies 321/09/2020 11:27:15
145 forum posts
52 photos

Some interesting comments and thoughts on here.

Whilst I agree that this is a very big issue, we have to be realistic here and keep some perspective.

If anyone thinks that we can influence the worldwide supply of a resource that is predominately industrial, they are very, very much mistaken. We are, and always will be, a very small part of the demand, and as such, largely irrelevant. If we retain any supply in the future, be grateful for what you get, at whatever price you have to pay. The only alternative is to sit in a throne and yell at the waves...

Our options are to either make do with however the supply chain ends up, or be resourceful and find other ways to enjoy our hobby. Or moan about it. Or perm two from three. I can guarantee that the moaning won't make much difference to the outcome though.

Things have a habit of moving on, and we really ought to find ways to adapt. One day, things will look very different as our natural resources dwindle, and model fuel is scarce or banned, and Lithium Ion is no longer tolerated or available. Should we stop enjoying our hobby? Sure, some will, but a new generation will show us the way by using new methods and materials.

Let's keep supporting SLEC and Balsa Cabin so they stand a chance of still being there to support whatever future we end up with, and lets remember that for most of us on here, it is a hobby and not life and death!


Barrie Lever21/09/2020 11:36:48
371 forum posts
53 photos

Well I have just put a £200.00 order into SLEC for wood that should see me through the winter. When that runs out I will figure out alternative materials.

I guess the outlook in the short term is a little bleak, but Balsa is a cash crop now and someone will start growing it in other places apart from PNG or Ecuador.

You have to remember with the Chinese, that no one owns anything apart from the state. IP, data etc of Chinese companies can all be demanded by the state for inspection or use elsewhere.

I expect some poor sucker in PNG sold the plantations to the Chinese and then the product was just diverted.

I kind of feel sorry for you guys who have put all your faith in the Chinese supply, I think you will be ultimately let down. For me it makes no difference, yes I have a small Chinese content in my models but I would willingly de Chinese my models if they promised to never send any of their product over here again, we would all be a lot better off.

I was modelling without even the smallest piece of Chinese equipment whilst they were working out how to feed millions of starving people in the early 1970's, I and others like me will be able to make models way off into the future without the Chinese. Do you know how they got over the famine, just authorise the people to eat anything with legs or wings and where did that ultimately end up? I will tell you it is called 'Bat Flu' !!

MODERATOR- Notice how I have not used any derogatory racist terms or implied that Chinese goods are low cost and low quality but readers feel free to insert those words at the appropriate places wink


Nigel R21/09/2020 11:38:04
4201 forum posts
703 photos

Covid-19 won't stop the world forever, one assumes... and at some stage Ecuador (which, if MattyB's link is true, supplies 95% of the world's balsa) will be back to normal commercial operation again. In the meantime it seems we will likely have raised prices and supply shortages to suck up.

Perhaps worth remembering balsa is not the whole of a model. If my records tell me anything useful here, it is that a £100 - covered, finished, kitted out with hardware, etc - airframe probably has £35 of wood in it. Maybe for a couple of years, that will be a £120 airframe with £55 of balsa.

Or perhaps I can figure a way to use harder or less preferable wood. Maybe I build more with open trusses instead of cutting out big sheet sides. Use more liteply and foamboard in a built up structure, or as suggested veneered foam wings, tail, fin, decks.

Where there's a will...

Doc Marten21/09/2020 11:38:57
889 forum posts
18 photos

@Graham Davies 3:

This is an issue for us on this forum because it is what we focus on, that's the whole point of a specialist forum, the perspective is far bigger though and intertwined into our daily lives so unless we wake up and smell the coffee we will regret that we just stood back and let it all happen.


Edited By Doc Marten on 21/09/2020 11:41:05

Barrie Lever21/09/2020 11:41:35
371 forum posts
53 photos
Posted by Graham Davies 3 on 21/09/2020 11:27:15:

it is a hobby and not life and death!



I think it was Bill Shankley who said that football is far more important than being a matter of life or death.

Some people myself included would say the same about Aeromodelling, you are quite right about adapting.

Materials will change etc but there will always be something to make models with and we will always be able to find something to make fuel from, Maybe I should buy that big farm I saw in Wales and start making Bio fuel crop etc.


Graham Davies 321/09/2020 11:52:34
145 forum posts
52 photos

Right idea Barrie.

I earn my living dealing with Chinese supply, and have done for nearly 2 decades. I have watched their economy grow, and watched the Chinese nation learn how to make things in a more western manner. I have also watched the world become utterly reliant on Chinese supply, or more accurately, Chinese costs. I cannot blame anyone for this. We can moan about every product disappointment we get, but for many people the low costs have ALLOWED them into a hobby that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive.

But to think we have much option is a little optimistic, to say the least. For example, if you are fed up with buying Chinese computers, good luck trying to find much alternative. And spending your way out by taking the higher cost option won't help you. Most are, and have been for some time, made in China.

To take a stand and buy european only, at industrial level, is commercial suicide. Whilst one chap takes a stand, the rest of the world will continue to buy cheaper product, undercut the price, and slowly win the business with the inevitable consequence. To stand up and say "but my European product is better quality, so you'll be sorry" is also mis-informed. There are a great many very, very good Chinese companies.

I buy European where I can, but not exclusively. If I did, I would probably not be in the hobby, because I could not afford otherwise. I have to be realistic.

But again, whilst we can and should be passionate about our hobby, I think we will waste our energy trying to change the industrial picture.


Jesus Cardin21/09/2020 11:57:16
102 forum posts
22 photos

Preference of Chinese wind turbine blade manufacturers for balsa is a good indication of their quality value!

It is decades that experienced and quality composite manufacturers worldwide rather prefer synthetic core materials against balsa due to the differences of density of the natural wood. Furthermore regarding blades that if different in weight need static and dynamic balance! The composite manufacturers I know though of using balsa as core for their parts ONLY when oil prices highly rose taking up related products like plastics and, we have to reckon that oil had not been cheap lately.

I think things now may greatly change as these days worldwide consumption of oil has fallen and it is clear that nowadays trend for electric powered cars will add to that reduction, thus favouring lower prices of synthetic materials and making even more attractive it´s professional use even for Chinese manufacturers!

So, perhaps, balsa availability is not so endangered as we might think at this moment.

Tim Flyer21/09/2020 12:58:52
1337 forum posts
239 photos

Interesting to hear ... I’m sure it will all be resolved...I just checked the web and saw the biggest producers are in Ecuador and it sounds like there is also increasing demand there... just as well the trees are fast growing!  **LINK**

Edited By Tim Flyer on 21/09/2020 13:01:17

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