Hard Maple is currently used for furniture, cabinets, decorative
woodwork, flooring, veneers, cutting surfaces, bowling pins, utensils,
and bowls.. Ideal for ballroom and gymnasium floors as well as cutting
boards and countertops. We think of fiddleback maple as the wood
of choice for violin makers. It looks beautiful and resonates sound
to perfection. The soft maples are often used as a cheaper substitute
for hard maple mouldings, or in applications where the trim is painted.
It is used extensively in the box making industry, and often soft
maple boxes are then covered with decorative wood veneers. Generally
speaking maples are a great all round woodworking lumber.
The Tree: Acer Family
There are some 200 species of trees and shrubs worldwide. Acer means
hard or sharp in latin, somewhat appropriate for many of the family
members. The American species are actually divided into two groups:
hard and soft. Sugar maple (or rock maple:acer saccharum) is the
most common hard maple, the most commercially important and the
most abundant type found in the U.S.
Silver, Red Maple and Boxelder are the most common soft maple species.
They grow extensively across North America, on both coast. The commercial
species grow tall with relatively decent diameters. The farther
north you go the larger the hearts are in the trees and the more
colour variation in the wood.
Hard Maple: Tends to have cream
to white sapwood and light reddish brown heartstock, usually straight
grained and sometimes found with high figured bird's eye or burl
grain. Bird's-eye resembles small circular or elliptical figures
and only found in sugar maple. Clusters of round curls that grow
into balls on the sides of trees, are known as burls. They are common
in the big leaf maple of the west coast. Hard maple is heavy, hard,
strong, tough, stiff, close grained and possesses a uniform texture.
It sands to a beautiful tight finish. Excellent resistance to abrasion,
indentation and shock. Often the heart stock, shows black mineral
lines and darker grey streaking, particularly in wood milled in
the northern part of its range. Commercially it is usually sorted
Soft Maples: These trees tend
to be very similar to the hard maples but much lighter in density.
The sapwood can be very white and often show nice curl. The heartwood
is tan to gray in colour, often with extreme colour changes on one
board. Soft maple is almost never sorted by colour.
Both species are relatively stable once dried
correctly, but can pose problems in their green state. Maples are
notorious for staining when they are first cut. Most mills cut maple
and then immediately dry it before it has the chance to stain.
Weight: Hard maple:42-45 lbs./cuft. Soft: 35
Maple is a beautiful wood to apply a clear coat. The tight grain
makes pore filling unnecessary and it is easy to get a glass like
finish if you have taken the time to work down the grit and sand
with the grain.
Staining maple on the other hand can be a nightmire. It just doesn't
like to accept stain uniformly, especially dark stains. Fanatical
sanding to 400 can, I'm told, eliminate many of the problems, I'm
not sure that I believe it though.
The wood can look perfect and then with the application of a little
stain a blotch can appear for no visible reason right smack in the
middle of a wide plank. It has been commmented on extensively but
little understanding of its cause or appropriate solution.. Some
suggest that the use of a conditioner may make your results more
consistent. Try aniline dyes. Many of my customers use a combined
spray on stain or top coat + stain combination to try to avoid these
strange maple habits.
Soft maple is less likely to do this.
Hard Maple is probably the most difficult North American species
to work with. It is dense and difficult to cut without good sharp
carbide tools. If it has not been dried properly the wood can have
a lot of tension in it and be very inclined to pinch your blade
as it goes through the saw.
It has high dulling affect on most tools. Prebore for nailing and
remove shavings frequently. Watch for burn marks with routers. They
are hard to remove after the fact. Always note the direction of
feed on planers and jointers. If it tears out, reduce the depth
of cut and change the feed direction. Reduced cutting angle for
planing or moulding on quartered surfaces. Maple, is though, an
excellent turnery wood and requires little sanding if cut with sharp
on the other hand, works much like cherry. It is relatively easy
to machine but can tearout on boards that exhibit curl. It sands
beautifully. Soft maple holds edges well for corner joinery.
Birdseye and other figured maples never like to be planed and always
work better with sanders rather than planers. Always move with caution
with these woods. All Maples glue relatively well, but the hard
maples are so hard that they do not absorb the glue easily, so use
a "thick" high viscosity glue, that you are less likely to squeeze
out of the joint on clamping. If you tighten excessively, it forces
the glue out of the joint and causes "joint failure".