What colours (Vallejo, AK, Tamiya) to paint balsa wood?

Hi everyone,

Lately I have started experimenting with balsa wood and successfully built an old rural shed with a shingle roof (for a 1/35 WWII Italian diorama). I’m satisfied with the end result especially considering that it was my first attempt ever.

When it comes to painting it, I’m lost. As for plastic pioneering tools I can paint pretty convincing wooden tool handles but painting balsa seems different to me.
I have maybe two hundred different Vallejo and AK paints (mostly for brush painting) and a few dozen Tamiya acrylics (mostly for airbrushing) and even built balsa wood wall sections to test the different colours but I just can’t seem to get the right colours. No matter which colour I choose, the end result just doesn’t feel right to me.

Can anyone suggest specific colours or colour combinations (i.e. with numbers) to try (preferably from Vallejo’s model colour and AK’ 3rd generation range) as a base colour and colours to add variety to the base colour and / or some kind of “foolproof” technique to paint balsa wood to make it look like old and weathered wood?

I do know that it is a “dumb” request as there are millions of wooden colours in real life depending on several factors (type, age, use, etc.) but basically I’m building an old rural shed.

And as I have never painted balsa wood before I have another question. After applying the base colour(s) am I supposed to varnish the surface to make the application of oil paints (e.g. washes) easier? I’m just asking balsa seems to “suck in” the paint.

Thank you


Just me, but I don’t think I would use paints formulated for styrene on balsa. Rather, I’d go with craft acrylics or something formulated for wood. Balsa, being so soft and absorbant, is particularly tough to get consistent results with. I would probably use something harder, like popsicle sticks or tongue depressors (I’ve read those are usually made from birch, but they seem awfully soft for birch to me). Also, a couple of coats fo sanding sealer before painting might help. You might also try staining the wood first to age it some before you paint it. In the end, it’s probably going to be a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error to find the look you want.


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I woodn’t (pun intended)
If you must, you will need to seal and sand every piece of balsa with balsa wood sealant, or model aircraft dope.
This is because it will look like fuzzy balsa wood after paint & doesn’t look like scale wood.

Use Bass wood, tongue depressors, coffee stirrers, & even then, seal with dope or polyurethane varnish, for a more scale effect, then paint or tint as you wish.


I’m with Jon. If you’re going to scratch build with wood, I’d use bass rather than balsa. It grain is much finer, the wood is a little more dense, and I find that it’s much easier to get straight cuts, especially longer ones without the grain deciding to go it’s own way.


Thank all of you for the suggestions.

For the moment I have diecided to stick to balsa as it seems to me that it would be more complicated for me to purchase other types of wood.

Just for those who are interested, I have purchased some Talens Amsterdam acrylic paints form a local art store and a thin uneven vandyyke brown basecoat followed by very thin burnt sienna and different grey washes and bit of white drybrushing seems to produce the end result that I am satisfied with. It may not look “pro” or perfectly in scale but it is acceptable I think (at least at my level). I will post a photo of the shed when it is complete.

By the way I have tried to follow the painting technique of this video:

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All fair responses above. I’ve used balsa a lot in dios because it’s so easy to work with, but regarding painting it there are some issues. I used to use really thin strips/panels & sure enough it would warp by the time it was dry. Thicker pieces (>3mm) were hardly more expensive but stayed straight. If unavoidably thinner I coated the reverse side with pva (or glued it to a plastic backing) to prevent warping.

Paint – I use successive washes of ordinary kids’ powder-paint. As has been said, trial & error to see what colours work – but before you decide it’s crap, try fine-sanding it back first. I’ve rescued a mess more than once that way. Another point is what’s meant by “wood” in appearance. If outdoors it weathers so fast that any visible wood-grain virtually disappears, overlaid with damp & dirt stains like that Old Barn.

Another option for staining/weathering is to use no paint at all, instead finely powdered pastel-chalk applied with a soft dry brush. This is 100% balsa painted & dry-weathered to resemble cement rendering but same principles apply…


Great video find. Love how he built the barn and gave me an idea for a 1/48 diorama.

Post your work when you get a chance.

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Love the well Tim. :+1::+1:

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Thanks Ryan, I remember now I did sand the roof because I over-did the paint. I’d do a better job of it now except it went to the Great Diorama in the Sky years ago :slightly_frowning_face:

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