Know your maples

A primer on different types of maple lumber. August 23, 2000

Where do the different types of maple come from? Is big leaf maple just maple? How about rock and hard maple? Is there an easy way to distinguish between the different types?

I dry a good bit of soft maple, both red and silver leaf. It comes
mostly from the upper Midwest and up into Canada.

The red leaf is a bit more expensive and has little worm track in it. The silver has the worm track, and is therefore cheaper and less desirable.

Having lived on the West Coast and the East, I know big leaf maple is a soft maple. Rock or hard maple is the maple that they make maple syrup from. Break a small branch off a sugar (hard) maple in spring, and it will leak gallons of sap.

All other maples are soft maples (almost). Vine maple is at least as hard if not harder than rock maple, but too small for anything but tool handles, where hickory and ash are not available.

If you want to sort hard and soft maple, you can look at the end grain under 15X magnification. Hard maple has two distinctly different width rays; soft maple, just one size.

In the East, there are three species in the Acer genus -- soft maple (red and silver), hard maple (sugar and black), and boxelder. Out West, Acer macrophyllum is big leaf maple. It generally falls between red and silver maple in properties, but it is probably incorrect to sell it as soft maple.
Gene Wengert, forum moderator