Sunday, 29 September 2013

Where has all the balsa (wood) gone?

When we moved to Spain seven years ago we made a lot of scenery for our new wargames table, particularly model houses.   But we had brought a good selection of balsa wood and thick card with us from UK.  

Last month I decided that we needed slightly smaller buildings for our 28mm figures, similar to Hovels in size.   We had lots of card left, but very little balsa wood or thin soft wood baton.   We tried the local toy shops, armed with the few off cuts we had left, but they had never heard of it.   We also tried “do it yourself” shops, but met with similar lack of success.   But we were not worried, because we had booked our annual visit to visit the grandchildren.
They live in a small village about 20 miles north of Newcastle, and a regular feature of our visit was a trip to Marks and Spencer for Jan to restock.   I knew that they had an excellent model shop called Models Zone in the centre of Newcastle.  I had visited in the past, and though had not needed balsa wood at the time was sure that they would have some.   So it was a big disappointment when we found that it had closed, not moved – just closed.

Too late to do any internet search, as we only had one day in Newcastle.   I thought a visit to the tourist information might help, but they told us that there were no other model shops in the city, but that a large toy shop might be able to help.   My hopes were raised when I spotted a model railway section, but no luck.  The middle aged assistant had heard of balsa wood, but no idea where we could get some.

A visit to a games shop, mostly computer games, met with a similar result.  The owner had not seen balsa wood for years.   She also confirmed that there were no model shops in Newcastle or even the surrounding area.

Fortunately I also needed some more thick card, which I had bought last time from Blackwells, a large bookshop which specialises in text books for students at the university.    Better still there was the old box in one corner with a large selection of balsa wood.

Strange how things you take so much for granted just disappear as styles change.   We had a similar problem four or five years ago trying to find thin wood for stands.   We never did find them!

So we returned to Spain with a good selection of balsa wood, more than enough to complete our new project.  

This experience reminded me of the old saying “if you don’t use it – you lose it”.   Seems to apply to model shops just as much as anything else in this ever changing world.


  1. The demise of the Model Zone chain came as a big shock. They represented the only access to raw materials within striking distance for me and I live in Manchester! How can you buy balsa etc over the internet?

    I'm not a happy chappie!

  2. Hi Gary

    I thought that I would have to rely on the internet, and was not looking forward to trying to select right size etc. Fortunately I found a not so obvious shop who had it in stock. Perhaps there is something similar in Manchester?

    Suggest you raise the subject on TMP. The membership seems to have a great deal of knowledge about all things model soldier.

    Good luck


  3. while not attempting to directly plug one store, well OK I will:

    Imperial Hobbies in Richmond, BC (near Vancouver, BC, Canada) has such a supply and selection and they are mail supplying to all over the BC, Alberta and Washington (US) State areas.

    Possibly there are UK shop(s) that are also doing such mail order services?

    If not then I am sure Francis of Imperial Hobbies will become such a source.


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