Maple wood is incredibly strong, looks great, and stains nicely. Woodworkers and furniture aficionados gravitate towards maple for its light, creamy color, smooth grain pattern, and impressive durability.
Although there are dozens of species of maple trees around the globe, the species most common among American woodworkers is Hard Maple (aka Sugar Maple or Rock Maple).
Sugar maple trees grow abundantly in Vermont and throughout the Northern US and Canada and are also the source of maple sap, the sole ingredient in pure maple syrup.
With so many maple wood products on the market, people are often curious about its many uses and how it compares to other wood types. A few of the most common questions are answered below.
What Color is Maple Wood?
Whereas many trees are prized by woodworkers for their heartwood, it’s usually the sapwood of maple that’s used in fine wood furniture. It tends to be a white hue with pitch fleck and mineral streaks adding some reddish-brown tints to it, though the color will deepen some with age. Stains bring out the mineral streaks more, so you’ll not only see them more often in a stained piece, but they’ll be darker too.
The heartwood, on the other hand, is brownish-red, which can sometimes be quite dark, though will naturally become mellower with age.
Why Does Maple Wood Change Colors Over Time?
Virtually all hardwoods change color as the years go by. Light-colored wood, such as maple, will naturally darken due to exposure to UV light and oxygen. As the years pass, even a white maple piece will develop a honey-gold patina. For this reason, it’s generally best to purchase sets all at once versus building a collection a little at a time, as pieces added later will have a slightly different hue.
What are the Common Uses of Maple Wood?
Maple wood is commonly used in high-end furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and kitchen accessories. Because of its durability and strength, maple can be found used as flooring in bowling alleys and for bowling pins. It was also once a popular choice for wood baseball bats before being largely replaced by Ash, which is equally as strong but more lightweight.
It’s unique color, smooth grain, and strength make maple a popular choice among woodworkers of all types. In its natural state, it can totally brighten a room, yet stained maple looks equally gorgeous and can be dressed up to suit any preferred style. Maple wood also tends to get chosen when durability is a concern because it can take a beating.
What Does the Grain Pattern of Maple Wood Look Like?
Maple wood has a fine, uniform texture with generally straight grain, but variations such as birdseye, tiger, flame, curly, wavy, rippled or fiddleback grain occur and are often selected for specialty custom artisan furniture. When the grain has added character like this, it’s referred to as “figured.” Figured wood usually results from some kind of strain, injury, or disease in the tree as it grows.
Ambrosia maple wood, for example, gets its name from the ambrosia beetle. The small beetle bores a network of tunnels and short galleries called cradles. A fungus is responsible for the blue, gray and brown streaks and decorative patch work that accompany each tunnel and adjacent wood.
Another figured maple wood is spalted maple, which has dark veins caused by a pattern of rot or bacteria in the wood. Spalted maple wood is very decorative as it often looks like a pen and ink drawing through the wood. Unless specified, however, our furniture will be made with hard maple that has a generally straight grain, rather than with figured maple.
Is Maple a Hardwood or a Softwood?
Hardness is arguably one of the most misunderstood things about wood in general, but maple wood adds to the confusion.
Technically, hardwood refers to wood harvested from a dicot tree, such as a broadleaf variety. A softwood, on the other hand, comes from a gymnosperm tree, such as a conifer. It’s not a reference to the wood’s ability to withstand force, scratches, or dents.
Softwoods include things like fir, pine, and cedar. Hardwoods include cherry, oak, walnut, and maple, among others.
What gets confusing about maple is that it can also be described as both hard and soft.
What’s the Difference Between Hard Maple and Soft Maple?
The term “soft maple” is used as an umbrella term to describe several different species of maple trees. “Hard maple,” on the other hand, refers to lumber that comes from the species acer sacharrum and is synonymous with “sugar maple.” Besides acer sacharrum, the only other species in the maple family which is sometimes referred to as hard maple is the Black Maple (acer nigrum). In fact, the two species are so similar that some consider the black maple a subspecies of acer sacharrum.
Both hard maple and soft maple are harvested from dicot trees, so both types are technically hardwoods.
Hard maple, or sugar maple, is the most durable of the maple species with a janka value of 1,450, which makes it one of the hardest domestic woods used in furniture making.
There are many varieties of soft maple wood, though the most common are the striped maple, silver maple, red maple, bigleaf maple, and box elder. Although called “soft maple,” it’s really only about 25% softer than hard maple wood and is still harder than wood from a Douglas fir, southern yellow pine, or California redwood.
How Dense/Hard is Maple Wood?
The durability of wood is usually measured using the Janka Test. This involves pressing a steel ball into a block of wood and measuring the amount of force required for the ball to become embedded halfway. The result can either be displayed as pounds of force or as a number followed by the word “Janka.”
Hard maple (from a sugar maple tree) rates 1,450 Janka. It tops most other hardwood types that are popular with furniture makers. For example, white oak is the next in line at 1,360 Janka. This is followed by red oak at 1,290 Janka, walnut at 1,010 Janka, and cherry at 995 Janka.
With that in mind, red maple, which technically is a “soft maple wood,” is not far behind, coming in at 950 Janka. Box elder, along with bigleaf, silver, and striped maple, all fall from about 700 Janka to just over 800 Janka. Again, that means it takes 700 or more pounds of force to embed something the size of a BB in the wood, so it’s still quite durable.
There are hundreds of types of maple trees across the globe. The wood used for furniture available through Vermont Woods Studios is usually from the sugar maple tree, unless otherwise specified.
Where Do Sugar Maple Trees Grow?
The sugar maple, or hard maple, is only native throughout the northern United States and parts of Canada. It grows as far west as Minnesota, brushing down through Missouri, then dips as low as Tennessee before sweeping back upward toward the east coast. The greatest concentration of sugar maples is in the Great Lakes area, though there’s a great many in Vermont as well. In fact, it’s the official state tree and is native to the Green Mountain Forest. Because it grows in abundance here, most of our craftsmen source wood locally.
How Big Are Sugar Maple Trees?
Sugar maple trees can exceed 120 feet in height. One of the oldest known ones is the “Comfort Maple” of Canada. It’s estimated to be more than 500-years-old and is 80 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 20 feet.
How Can I Tell if the Furniture I Have is Maple Wood?
It’s somewhat rare for manufacturers to pass off other wood types as maple simply because it’s one of the most reasonably-priced options due to its abundance. However, maple wood is often stained to look like costlier options, such as mahogany or cherry. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to detect unless you’re a wood expert, so it’s always best to purchase wood furniture from a reputable and well-established company.
Can Maple Wood Furniture Go Outside?
In theory, you could put maple wood furniture outdoors if it’s properly sealed and maintained on at least an annual basis. However, the elements would ultimately take their toll and the upkeep to minimize weathering and aging would likely deter most from trying. That said, Vermont Woods Studios also offers pieces specially-designed for outdoor use. Our all-weather Polywood collection mimics the look and feel of real wood but is crafted with recycled high-density plastic, so it’s maintenance-free and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Is Maple Wood Eco-Friendly? Are Sugar Maple Trees Endangered?
Maple wood is an amazing option in terms of eco-friendliness. Not only do the trees grow in abundance, but those used by our craftsmen are also typically sourced locally and are always harvested in a sustainable way. That means there’s minimal shipping involved, the carbon footprint is very small, and our forests will remain protected for generations to come.
Moreover, maple wood can be stained to look like other wood types, such as mahogany. Unlike maple, mahogany harvesting is responsible for a great deal of deforestation throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America, and is considered “vulnerable.” Much of the mahogany trade today is still illegal. So, choosing something like maple which is local and grows in abundance is a smarter choice for someone concerned about the earth.
What to Look for When Purchasing Maple Furniture
Finding high-quality maple wood furniture isn’t always easy, simply because some manufacturers cut corners and/or don’t use natural solid wood. If you’re shopping for maple wood furniture, look for the following:
Eco-Friendliness: Is the wood sustainably-sourced?
How to Care for Maple Wood Furniture
The care guidelines for maple wood furniture are mostly dependent on the type of finish used to seal the wood. Because maple wood has such tightly knit grain, it doesn’t absorb oil finishes as well as other furniture hardwoods. Oil finishes also tend to cause maple to yellow slightly over time. For this reason, maple furniture is often finished with a lacquer or varnish. These finishes are low maintenance and generally care-free.
Maple is beautiful in its natural state, as the grain, pitch flecks, and mineral deposits add authentic character to a piece. That said, it can easily be stained many different hues to suit any preferred style or decor. You can purchase wood samples on product pages.
Where to Buy Natural Maple Wood Furniture Online
If you’re looking for quality maple wood furniture, Vermont Woods Studios is the place to shop. Not only is our furniture made locally here in Vermont by expert craftsmen, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee and is typically made-to-order, so you can customize to your heart’s content. From ethical practices such as sustainable harvesting and using eco-friendly finishes through volumes of positive reviews and testimonials, a purchase from Vermont Woods Studios is one you count on to make you smile for years.
Most of our handmade fine furniture is available in maple wood, even if it's shown in cherry, walnut or ash on our website. Just select maple in the product's wood choice drop-down menu or call us to ask if we can build a given piece in maple.