Sponsored by: Northwest Hardwoods: Lumber that’s Graded For Yield®.
Pacific Coast maple is a commercial hardwood, with a wide range of uses, including furniture, flooring, cabinetry, veneer, turnings, musical instruments and interior millwork. Popular applications for Pacific Coast maple showcase the wood’s many attractive figures, which include quilted, curly and bird’s eye figure.
Myles Gilmer, owner, Gilmer Wood Co., Portland, OR, said the hardwood, also known as big leaf maple, Western maple and Oregon maple, is one of the soft maples. Almost all that he carries is figured lumber. “Big leaf maple can yield stunning figures. Curly and quilted big leaf maple, for example, can appear three-dimensional with a built-in brightness. It is gorgeous when at its best. Plain big leaf maple is just as popular and in demand for cabinetry and other uses,” said Gilmer. “It is one of those woods that can take a lot of different finishes well. Our market is more figured woods, which also finish very well.” Gilmer said another popular end use is musical instruments, especially guitars. “Bigleaf maple offers a decent tone and the figures, which can be mesmerizing to look at, have long been a staple for electric guitars.”
Pacific Coast maple, Acer macrophyllum, ranges in height from 50 to 100 feet, making it the largest maple species in North America. PC maple, as it is also known, is the second most abundant hardwood species in the Northwest after alder, Alnus rubra of the Family Betulaceae.
Pacific Coast Maple is so named because its range extends from southern California to British Columbia. The name big leaf maple is another true to form name as leaves from Acer macrophyllum are routinely 12 inches across although some grow to double that.
Stephanie Happer, marketing manager for Northwest Hardwoods, said Pacific Coast maple has very little difference between the heartwood and sapwood. “Pacific Coast maple or PCM has a color that ranges from pale pinkish brown to almost white. One of the wood’s key attributes is its uniform, light color. Other maple species often display substantially different tones between heartwood and sapwood along with mineral or gum streaks.”
Happer added that PCM is in the medium range of densities, which is the range “most preferred by many furniture and cabinet manufacturers. The wood machines well and provides excellent workability and its strength and machining attributes surpass Eastern soft maples, while having a price that is on average half of Eastern hard maple.”
Happer said while PCM has a somewhat limited growing area, it is becoming well known outside of the Western U.S. The trees regenerate naturally and some PCM comes from managed forests.
Ron Wilson, sales manager for Cascade Hardwood Group, Chehalis, WA, said the primary usage for Pacific Coast Maple is furniture and musical instruments. “The wood is also a popular export to Asia and it is a popular species in the Northwest and beyond. It has a very small growing area but it is a fast growing wood.”
Various sources list Pacific Coast maple as a fast growing species, with rapid early growth that can produce sawtimber-sized trees in as little at 25 to 30 trees in prime growing areas. The lifespan of the trees is reported at an average of 200 plus years with some trees living to 300 years.
Wilson said that the fact that there is little difference between the heartwood and softwood is another plus for Pacific coast maple. “You don’t have to do much color sorting with this wood, which makes it easier for buyers. It is also easily finished with a variety of treatments, paints or stains. With the plain wood, you can do almost anything with it and get whatever look you want. Pacific coast maples also yield some of the best figures in the world,” said Wilson.
Some sources report that bigleaf maple sap, like sugar maple sap, can be made into syrup with the flow of sap adequate for syrup production in January and February, while others report the tree’s sap is not suitable for sugar maple or is of a lesser quality.