Telling Hard and Soft Maple Apart

The two types of maple have different densities and different end grain appearance. There's also a chemical test. December 6, 2006

Hard and soft maple - got a good way to tell them apart?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
Weight - hard is heavier.

From contributor M:
Yeah, weight is about the best way. I had a pile of mixed maple that I wanted to glue up a tabletop from. I ripped and cut all the pieces to the same size and then weighed them to sort hard and soft. The difference is significant. After a while, I could pretty much see and feel the difference before actually weighing them, but it's hard to explain - kind of like telling identical twins apart. To me, the soft looks a little greener and the hard a little pinker.

From contributor D:
I can usually tell soft maple from hard by the feel, weight and appearance, but if unsure, you can take a thin slice from the end grain and look at it under a magnifying glass. The pores are different sizes. Having said that, I can't remember which is which. I think the hard has larger pores. Just compare to a known sample.

From contributor J:
I keep mine on separate racks.

From contributor Y:
If you search "Hard Maple Soft Maple" in the search box at the top right corner, it will give several results on this.

From contributor M:
The Oct. Wood Magazine had a piece on this. Ferrous sulfate solution turns soft maple blue-black and hard maple greenish gray. Since I'm fresh out of ferrous sulfate solution, I'll go with the other guys on weight and machining.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Hard maple is harder and weighs more, but such a separation is not 100%, as there is a great deal of variation within a particular species and even a tree. If you use 10x magnification and look at the end grain, you can be 100% perfect, as hard maple will have two greatly different width rays, while soft has only one width. Note that soft maple seems to change color when viewed at different angles, while hard maple does not. This is not so much a technique to separate them, but a reason to separate.

From the original questioner:
Gene, I'll give that a shot. When you say width, you're talking about its short dimension?

From the original questioner:
Dr. Gene, I checked it out with an 8x loupe (all I have) on some known species and they both look to have single width rays. Any trick to this?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
On the end grain, the rays will appear as lines running across the rings perpendicular. You will see the wide ones and also some very narrow ones... hard maple.