The Acer genus (maple) family contains nearly 150 species. For the purpose of this feature, we will only focus on hard maple and soft maple. Hard maple includes sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and black maple (Acer nigrum). Soft maple includes silver maple (Acer saccharinum), boxelder (Acer negundo), and bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). Hard maple grows throughout much of Canada and the United States. Soft maple grows throughout much of Canada and the eastern United States.
Commonly used in flooring (gym floors, dance floors, bowling alleys, roller skating rinks, and residentially), furniture, millwork, musical instruments, cabinetry, and for decorative veneers. Sugar maple trees are also tapped for syrup.
Hard maple is generally more of a uniform lighter white to reddish brown color, with very light sapwood. The sapwood of maple is more commonly used than the heartwood. Soft maple is slightly darker in overall color with more brown, red, or grey streaks throughout. All types of maple can have a broad range in color variation.
The grain is closed, but generally straight with both hard and soft maples. Hard maple normally grows slower than soft maple, which results in a tighter growth ring pattern. The grain can also be figured. Figured maple is usually more expensive, and sought after for decorative purposes. Some figuring may be caused by fungus, disease, or insect infestation (such as spalted maple and ambrosia), while other figured maple may be caused by abnormal growing conditions (such as birdseye, fiddleback, curly, quilted, and burl).
- Hard maple averages 1450.
- Soft maple averages 950.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: AVERAGE
- Hard maple has a dimensional stability factor of 4.8 percent (radial) and 9.9 percent (tangential), meaning this species may shrink/swell up to 9.9 percent of its given width, depending on how it’s cut, when going from green (30 percent MC) to oven-dried.
- Soft maple has a dimensional stability factor of 3.0 percent (radial) and 7.2 percent (tangential), meaning this species may shrink/swell up to 7.2 percent of its given width, depending on how it’s cut, when going from green (30 percent MC) to oven-dried.
DIMENSIONAL CHANGE COEFFICIENT:
- Hard maple = .00165 (radial), .00353 (tangential)
- Soft maple = .00102 (radial), .00252 (tangential)
- Hard maple averages .72.
- Soft maple averages .63.
No known issues with nailing maple.
Extra care should be taken during sanding and finishing, as sanding marks may become more apparent due to the tight grain, density, and light color of the species. The wood may also burnish easily, dulling abrasives quicker than with other species. Maple tends to stain uneven, and will appear somewhat blotchy even with use of wood conditioner or water popping. It is often required to bring the sanding sequence to a higher grit to minimize visible scratches.
Sources: The Wood Database; Copyright © 2008-2016, Eric Meier | Wood Handbook (Wood as an Engineering Material), USDA Forest Products Laboratory | A Guide to the Useful Woods of the World; Copyright © 2001, James H. Flynn, Jr. and Charles D. Holder | Missouri Dept. of Conservation.