Is hard maple any better then soft? A supplier gave me a low price for product parts in soft but I already have the other component parts in hard. Would mixing the two be noticeable?
From contributor A:
I regularly use both hard and soft maple in building small end tables and sofa tables. Both species achieve a “curly” or “tiger” figure and the two are virtually indistinguishable. It is not unusual for me to have 8/4 stock in one and 5/4 stock in the other. If I run out of one, I switch to the other with absolutely no problem. I prefer soft maple because it is easier to work. Also, it is less costly. In my area it is also easier to obtain wormy soft maple than wormy hard maple and I use that as well.
Soft maple takes stain (actually, I prefer aniline dye to pigment stains) more readily than does hard. Therefore, it would not be advisable to mix soft and hard maple in a tabletop, or to have three soft maple legs and one hard maple leg. That, however, is the only area where I am careful not to mix the species.
By the way, if you want to see a truly spectacular wood find some wormy, spalted, curly maple (soft or hard) and finish it with a 1lb cut of amber shellac followed by a good oil finish.
While it's true that individual samples may appear almost identical, it's also true that there can be a difference in color between the two species. Red maple (one of the species designated as soft), for example, may have a grayish color cast when freshly sawed and dried that may darken even more with age. Hard maple, on the other hand, will tend to remain whiter.
I'd say mixing these two is a dangerous game and I'd avoid it unless there is a really compelling reason to do it.
Do customers care about the difference? No. To them, maple is maple.
Second, there are two species of hard maple--sugar (99%) and black maple.
Third, there are tremendous strength, bendability, weight, gluing, machining and fastening differences. Be careful if these properties are important. To say the properties are not important is against all published information and experience in these above-mentioned categories.
Fourth, soft maple, if given a clear finish, will have many more color differences depending on the angle that it is viewed from. These color differences can actually make two adjacent pieces of hard maple seem like distant cousins rather than from the same tree.
Fifth, the separation of lumber into the two groups--hard and soft--is not too easy, but is easily done with 10x magnification. However, weight can be a very good guideline.
Sixth, people buying a maple table may not know about hard and soft, but if you use the words sugar or hard, it better be hard maple. I suspect that most people buying a "maple" table expect hard maple based on the normal practice within the industry throughout the country, so if you sell them soft maple (with its softer, easier to dent surface and lower strength), you are really running the narrow line close to fraud. If it is soft maple, say that it is.
Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
Bottom line is, never mix the two.
Comment from contributor R:
I don't see how the previous contributors could think of substituting soft for hard maple. Hard maple has been used for butcher block and work benches it is so hard and durable. You can dent soft maple with your fingernail easily. Also, hard maple, while tough on tools, machines well while soft maple tears out and splinters.
Additionally, hard maple will take a stain more evenly than soft maple. Lastly, hard maple will hold up much better than soft and is at least twice the price. Substituting soft maple for hard maple doesn’t seem to be the best choice unless you tell your customer and explain the differences between the two.