The Tree: Tilia Americana
Basswood is more commonly referred to as "American Whitewood" in
the lumber industry, it is often confused with other whitewoods
like poplar and various components of the tulipwood family. In the
landscaping industry, the sales staff would refer to it as an American
linden, or lime tree. It grows most commonly in the eastern, central
part of North America, particularly around the great lakes. There
are approximately 30 different types of basswood in this part of
The young basswood trees have smooth gray bark, that darkens and
becomes deeply ridged as it ages. It is a fast growing tree that
loves to grow along the sides of rivers. Trees can easily grow 80'
tall and more than 2' in diameter.
The bark was boiled to make a treatment for burns.
Basswood is most notable as a wood for carving, particularly because
it is commonly found in thicknesses of up to 4". Chip carvers use
it extensively in basswood boxes, trays, and clock faces.
A lot of my folk art customers are equally excited about basswood
as a craft & hobby wood for their painted projects. It is frequently
used for food containers because it imparts no odor or taste onto
the finished product. Basswood has been used for musical instruments,
matches and blind slats.
In our area, it is chipped extensively for pulpwood, in fact we
have to fight with the paper makers to get enough logs to use for
all our paint grade trim and planks. Often, basswood is used for
box making, and then covered with exotic veneers. Its dimensional
stability shines in these applications.
Basswood is not a very exciting wood species to look at, with little
grain and mostly pure white in colour, but it's wonderful carving
characteristics put it ahead of the class as a carving wood for
use in intricate projects.
It is a very soft wood, similar to eastern white pine, but without
the strong grain structure. It does not bend well, but does dry
easily with little downgrade. It does shrink alot on drying though,
but remains stable afterwards . Heart stock can show brown streaks
and/or thin black seam lines, both of which paint over easily if
used in paint grade projects. The wood has no taste, and a slight
sweet grass smell when cutting.
Weight: approximately 26 lbs/cu.ft.
Basswood is a great wood to paint. It has very little sap and/or
pith pockets that are common in pine, so it is not necessary to
seal with oil based primers. It finishes easily with latex paints.
Basswood can be stained but shows little grain pattern. The stain
can blotch, so try a test piece first to see if you can get your
desired results. A wood conditioner used in advance of the stain
will encourage more uniform absorption. It takes a polyurethane
Basswood is extremely easy to cut with both hand and machine tools.
It carves very easily both with and across the grain. It does tend
to burn, if your router bits are dull or you move too slowly, but
the marks do sand off fairly easily.
It is "kind" to all cutting edges and can be nailed without predrilling.
It has enough structural integrity to allow for intricate designs
and is very dimensionally stable so it holds its shape. It turns
easily, but you must work your way down the sand paper grit line
to effectively eliminate the scratches. It glues well.