Results from an experimental investigation on the compression behavior of balsa wood are presented. Specimens with varying densities, ranging from 55 to 380 kg/m(3). are loaded in the grain (fiber, cell) direction using a screw-driven material testing system at a strain rate of 10(3) s(-1). The results indicate that compressive strength of balsa wood increases with increasing density. Post-test scanning electron microscopy is used to identify the failure modes. The failure of low-density specimens is governed by elastic and/or plastic buckling, while kink band formation and end-cap collapse dominate in higher density balsa specimens. Based on the experimental results and observations, several analytical models are proposed to predict the compressive failure strength of balsa wood under uniaxial loading conditions. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.