Monday, March 19, 2012

National Balsa is the Blended Corn Drink of Wood Providers

No sodas are involved here, if you are seeking humorous soft drink reviews please move along.

Summary: I bought a specialty plywood from a place called "National Balsa", little one by two foot sheets. They sent me warpy, crappy wood undoubtedly laboring under the misconception that I wanted to build a miniature half-pipe for my extensive "finger board" collection. Unfortunately, I wanted straight boards and not a fun house mirror and they should've known that because all of my finger boards are MINT IN BOX and I'm famous for that. That the plywood had "MADE IN FRANCE" printed on the good facing was just icing on the shit pie.

Rather than make you read the whole stupid thing, I'll cut to the chase - I got two responses from two different employees, one of them acknowledged that they'd had problems with other deliveries of the quality of the ply I'd bought and the other said that their ply was fine. Both of them told me that since it was 38 days since placing the order that they wouldn't accept a return, even if the plywood had been in transit fourteen of those days.

These guys acted like jerks. I'm going to share my letter so as to heap opprobrium upon them in the public internet sphere of you guys:

Two responses to an initial email sent within ten minutes of each other from the company:

11:54 AM (12 hours ago)

to me
Hi Tim
The lite ply is not manufactured here, it is the norm for the plywood we have
The made in France stamp is nothing we have control over.
The original email date of March 6th is well past our 30 day return policy and I am sorry there is not anything we can do about it at this point
Thank you
National Balsa

11:41 AM (12 hours ago)

to me


I am very sorry for the delay in responding to the email.

We did have a problem with some of the lite ply. And i am very sorry you received less then satisfactory product. This is partly the reason we inform people to check their order when it is delivered. It is well past the 30 day mark for returns, even at the march 6th email.

We order the lite ply from another company, not sure why it said made in France?

I will check with the appropriate people and get back to you

Here's my response to which I never received a response. I'll bold what I think are the clever bits:

Hey there,

I'm not asking for a refund, I knew I wouldn't be getting a refund when I was forced to use the wood at the laser studio. I was foolish to trust your product, I should have checked the wood before I went to cut - the fault was mine. Lesson learned. I do take a bit of issue with "This is partly the reason we inform people to check their order when it is delivered", at no point did I receive an instruction to do so that I know of. No such instruction in an email confirmation because I never received one, the invoice doesn't say it, the box doesn't say it. I won't argue that point though.

Rather I'll be a little horrified that a rep from your company says "
We did have a problem with some of the lite ply" and you folks didn't check it before it was sent out. Wow. That you acknowledge the problem and in the same paragraph state that you refuse to replace it shows a certain lack of customer care. That there is "nothing you can do about it" is a dodge, of course - you can do whatever you want about it. You could replace it, or refund my money, or have said on your website "we have problems with the lite ply and it might come with Made in France stamped on the clean face". Saying that "The lite ply is not manufactured here, it is the norm for the plywood we have" is not an answer because it indicates that ALL of your lite ply is bent like a cartoon canoe and you shouldn't be selling it.

Instead you say that "
It is well past the 30 day mark for returns, even at the march 6th email" - if you'd read my email properly you'd know I wasn't returning anything as I'd used it and had it fail already. I never once asked to return anything, I was simply pointing out that you sold me an inferior product. Maybe I was just looking for an apology. And you know what, even though I wasn't asking for it I'm going to point out that eight days after the refund cut-off deadline is not "well past". Especially after you took two weeks to ship it to me. But this whole paragraph is an aside, do not be distracted by it.

Yep, I should have checked the order - unboxed and unwrapped the sheets the moment I got 'em. Unfortunately, I trusted a company selling something akin to a precision wood to sell me something akin to a precision wood. You folks sent me junk which I tried to make work and which, for the most part, didn't work - costing me more money and time.

I am thinking that in a business like yours it's foolish to ruin a possible relationship with a first time customer, what sort of casual consumer buys ten sheets of a specialty plywood once and never again? Over what was probably $25 worth of stock and $10 worth of shipping you've guaranteed that I'll never order from you again. You also make me give voice to anyone who is listening about your product, people who buy specialty plywoods tend to run in packs and give each other references. I was referred to you by [an architecture college] fabrications guy, he saw the lite ply and made fun of it. He found out where it was from and apologized. That was a while ago, earlier today I read him both of your companies email responses and he was no longer disappointed - he was angry.

Apparently you folks sold some bum stuff to more than one of his students, and then were rude about it on the phone to a girl who called to complain. The [college] sources list, he said, is being amended.

I'm not sure how much business [the college's] architecture school provides your company, probably not a whole heck of a lot, but you've driven generations of inept model building architects to different wood providers.

I didn't expect a refund, I didn't expect replacement, I no longer expect an appropriate apology. I'll take my $55.69 out in pot shots at you folks on the internet.


tim h

PS - I included BOTH of your companies responses to my last email below in bold to help allay any confusion, I excerpted from both and don't want anyone thinking I'm putting words into mouths. Next time you might want to have the nice, competent person handle the customer responses and tell the balsabug responder to hush up. Or tell the other responder to be quiet and not reveal the disingenuousness concealed in the balsabug response, one of you admits lite ply problems and the other says it's just how it is. Not so smooth.
I'll confess that my email seemed a little funnier when I wrote it at midnight many weeks ago. And I never got a response.

So if you are a model maker or an RC plane enthusiast or a model train dude or a dabbling architect or a laser cut fiend or an art guy who likes expensive plywood, avoid National Balsa. They suck bals, eh?

I'll be trying a place called "Lone Star" next time around.


  1. Huh. I bough a shit ton of stuff from them - dowels, balsa and thin ply - that were all perfectly fine. Maybe the just send the crappy stuff to the east coast.

    1. I complained to them about an order fuck-up on the phone and they were dicks.

  2. That should have been a new comment: They were dicks on the phone.

    1. I think I covered that in my letter, that a student called them to complain was treated rudely.

    2. Although I sort of like the idea that "they were dicks on the phone" is some sort of regional dialect and you are actually trying to say "there were dicks on the phone". As if people were touching their penises to the phone, or were draping their penises over the earpiece.