Editor's Note: This Wood of the Month column is sponsored by Northwest Hardwoods
Pacific Coast maple — Acer macrophyllum — goes by a variety of terms, among them big leaf maple and Oregon maple, but by any name the domestic hardwood is known as the soft maple of the Western United States and Canada. This “big leaf” maple is a wood of importance in the Pacific Northwest, second to red alder among native hardwood species in abundance and commercial importance.
The species has a wide range of uses, including as a substitute for cherry. Pacific Coast maple is used for many of the classic applications for hardwoods, such as cabinets, furniture, mouldings and flooring. It is also used for countertops, paint brush handles, picture frames, gift boxes and coat hangers. The highly figured maple is used for the manufacture of electric guitar bodies and other musical instruments.
The wood is one of the few commercial hardwood species on the Pacific Coast and the only commercial maple of note on the West Coast. Small compared to its conifer associates, most mature big leaf maples are 50 to 60 feet tall, although large trees can reach heights of 100 feet with diameters of 36 to 48 in. The name big leaf maple comes from the fact that its leaves are typically 12 inches across, although some can have widths of 24 inches. Big leaf maple is an excellent shade tree.
While the East Coast maples are the more predominantly used wood for maple syrup, the sap from Pacific Coast maples also can be made into syrup. Considered to be moderately long-lived, some of the Pacific Coast maples live to 300 years of age.
Most of the estimated volume of standing saw timber in the United States is found in Washington and Oregon, while in Canada, big leaf/Pacific Coast maple is predominant in British Columbia. The name “Pacific Coast” also comes from the fact that the trees often grow near the ocean and rarely more than 186 miles inland.