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Thread: Hard Maple / Soft Maple ??

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Florida
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    899

    Question Hard Maple / Soft Maple ??

    Other than hardness or softness, is there a difference between Hard Maple and Soft Maple?

    • Are the trees the exact same species or close relatives?
    • Is it just some is hard and some is soft?
    • Can one get hard and soft from the same tree?
    • Is it where (or how) they grow? Age?
    • Is figure (curly, flame, birdseye) more likely in one than the other?


    Inquiring minds want to know......

    Thanks, Tony
    Tony

  2. #2
    .close relatives
    .nope
    .nope
    .nope
    .hard maple

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    Brentwood & Altamont, TN
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    2,334
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Falotico
    Other than hardness or softness, is there a difference between Hard Maple and Soft Maple?
    • Are the trees the exact same species or close relatives?
    • Is it just some is hard and some is soft?
    • Can one get hard and soft from the same tree?
    • Is it where (or how) they grow? Age?
    • Is figure (curly, flame, birdseye) more likely in one than the other?

    Inquiring minds want to know......

    Thanks, Tony
    Hi Tony,

    My understanding is that hard maple is a different species than soft but, as you surmise they are both from the family Acer. Now, hard versus soft is very subjective. Ambrosia maple (soft maple infested by the ambrosia bettle larva) is a soft maple but, it is very hard. All maples can have curl, flame (curl) and bird's eye.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Squamish BC
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    143
    Yeah they're different species, but as Chris said they all fit into the Acer family. My understanding is that most hard or rock maple is from the Sugar Maple (A. saccharum), but other eastern hard varieties can fall into that loose catagory. Out where I live soft maple is almost always Western Bigleaf Maple (A. macrophyllum). On the East coast I'm not sure what they market as soft maple.

    Out here we keep our eyes peeled for standing deadwood that is just starting to decompose to get that amazing spalted maple look.

    Kris

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Tacoma, WA
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    519
    As far as figure goes, out here the big leaf variety (A. Macrophyllum) is where you get most "quilted" maple. "Birds eye" and "fiddleback" are mostly out of sugar (hard) maple. I believe that while most people call maple either hard or soft there is quite a difference in hardness between eastern soft maples and big leaf maple.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Location
    Westphalia, Michigan
    Posts
    425
    Silver maple is considered a soft maple. All Maples are hardwoods. Boxelder is in the Acer family. (acer negundo) I think. Curl is quite common in soft maples. Most have some compression curl, usually in the buttress. Some are curly throughout the main trunk. Basicly the hardness of the wood varies all over the map in regards to species. Quilted maple of the bigleaf variety is quite soft. From what I've seen it's softer than most maples that grow in the midwest. If you're wondering about useage for furniture, soft maple is popular for cabinet drawers. I just looked at some drawers that had a lot of curl and stain which I happen to like.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Location
    Eastern PA
    Posts
    180
    Around here, red maple and silver maple are marketed as soft and black and sugar go as hard maple. In my experience, soft maple has curl in it in certain areas in most boards, but hard maple boards are either straight grained, or amazing looking curly.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Southeast MN
    Posts
    33

    Question

    Hope it's okay to bring up an old topic, but I have some related questions and some input.

    From my understanding and talking with a local saw mill, "hard maple" is generally sugar maple. It can be a relatively straight tree, although its trunk has many bumps/curves/etc. that give the inner wood the figure/curl.

    In contrast, "soft maple" is generally silver maple around here (although "soft" seems to be a broad category for fast-growing maples). Around here, silver maples grow two to three times faster than sugar maples, and they grow much straighter, although their bark twists as they grow.

    In a forest that was clear cut ~55 years ago, I have both sugar and silver maples. The sugar (hard) maples are about 15-20" in diameter, and the
    silver (soft) maples are about 30-40" diameter.

    Now for the questions:

    With silvers/softs growing so much faster, I expect the grain to not be quite as tight as the sugars/hards; any truth to this?

    I haven't worked with either wood very much; is there much difference in cutting, shaping, and finishing them?

    When given a slab of either variety, is there an easy/clear way of identifying which one is which?

  9. #9
    Hard maple trees have smooth bark, soft maple has rough bark.

    I asked at a local sawmill how to tell the difference between the two once they are sawed and dried. They said that there is no definitive way but you can be pretty sure by looking at the growth rings. Hard maple grows slower so the rings are much tighter than soft maple. I've also found that you can get a good feeling by the weight, hard maple is quite a bit heavier per board foot.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Central Indiana
    Posts
    437
    Quote Originally Posted by scott kinninger
    Hard maple trees have smooth bark, soft maple has rough bark.

    I asked at a local sawmill how to tell the difference between the two once they are sawed and dried. They said that there is no definitive way but you can be pretty sure by looking at the growth rings. Hard maple grows slower so the rings are much tighter than soft maple. I've also found that you can get a good feeling by the weight, hard maple is quite a bit heavier per board foot.
    I agree with Scott. The weight differential will help you tell the difference. Once dried, in my experience, soft maple is about the same weight as cherry, and machines about the same. The hardness is pretty close as well, with soft maple being a little harder than cherry in my experience. I haven't worked much hard maple, so I can't give a fair comparison there.

    I am quite surprised that red maples (Acer rubrum) is considered a soft maple. Around here, the 'Crimson King' variety is a popular yard tree, and is not a fast growing tree whatsoever. Silver maples, on the other hand, can grow to 12 feet tall from seed in less than 4 years. I have the trees to prove it. After sawing up some old silver maple last year with magnificent spalting throughout, I'm going to save some more of the seedlings that are so prolific around here and start my own stand of silver maples to harvest in about 10 or so years.

  11. #11
    This one is always good for conversation, eh? Example: Do you mean hard wood as in 'dense and hard to the touch' or hardwood as in 'from a deciduous tree (usually)' as opposed to "soft wood" like balsa (which is a deciduous tree - - - OH the confusion). Sorry couldn't resist.
    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” -- George Orwell


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