Maple has long been a favorite in North America, where its uses include furniture, cabinetry, floors, sporting goods, architectural woodworking, butcher blocks, musical instruments and specialty items.
Scott Wright, of the domestic woods sales staff of the David R. Webb Co. Inc. of Edinburgh, IN, agrees that maple is especially popular. "It has been in demand for the past four to five years along with the other 'light' woods."
Wright said clean, hard maple veneer is in demand by his customers who use it for high-end office and residential furniture. "There is a big demand for really clean maple - material without pin knots and sugar markings." The figured maple they sell comes from both hard and soft maple species, Wright said.
Maple's popularity in the United States and Canada should come as no surprise. Home grown and plentiful, maple offers good looks, strength and resistance to wear. Plain or fancy, the wood has an innate luster and can be easily stained and finished. Figured maple also yields some of the most beautiful veneers, including the dramatic bird's-eye maple, fiddleback, curly, blistered and mottled figures. In Europe, maple is used in place of pear, alder and European sycamore.
Hard maple supplies come from the Great Lakes states, Appalachians and the Northwest United States and Canada. Maple is a so-called "cold-weather tree" favoring a northerly climate.
Hard maples yield wood that is cream-white in color with a reddish tinge. Some of the largest of the trees can have a dark brown heart. Hard maples or rock maples as they are also called, often have a straight grain. However, they also can have a curly or wavy grain that produces a wonderful grain pattern.
In the Encyclopedia of Wood, the species of Acer are noted for being easily stained woods. "More plain grained timber from the Aceraceae are favored for their acceptance of stain, not just in the grey-stained veneer known as harewood, but also in more dramatically bright and unusual colors; these have found popularity among some contemporary furniture designers, and of course they always work well in children's toys and furniture."
Botanists divide the maple family of North America into two subcategories: hard maple and soft maple. "In the United States more than 20 different species of maple can be found, including black, broadleaved, fig leaf, hard, Oregon red, rock, fiver, rough, scarlet, silver, soft and sugar. Of the many species of maple, sugar maple is the most abundant and important of the maples found in the United States," according to Albert Constatine Jr. in Know Your Woods.
The Hardwood Export Trade Council in its booklet Hardwoods of the United States, notes that five of the maple species native to the United States are important commercially for timber - "two are in the hard maple category; three are in the soft maple category." Acer saccharum and Acer nigrum are the hard maples. The soft maples of note for commercial purposes include red maple (Acer rubrum), silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and boxelder (Acer negundo). Boxelder is the least-used of the soft maples.
The well-known sugar maples get the name because they are the source of maple sugar and syrup. A single sugar maple tree can produce up to 12 gallons of sap a year. Thirty-five to 40 gallons of sap will produce one gallon of pure syrup.
Soft maples grow throughout the Eastern United States and also on the West Coast, where they are known as bigleaf maples. In many ways, soft maple is the equivalent of hard maple, although soft maple is routinely about 25 percent less hard than hard maple. Soft maple is used as a substitute for hard maple and beech. According to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees by Herbert Edlin and Maurice Nimmo, maples constitute a "large and important genus, of about 150 species in the north temperate regions."
In the Encyclopedia of Trees by Hugh Johnson, maples are praised for offering the "most beautiful and varied foliage of all the broadleaves."
Another maple of note is the Japanese maple, which is also known as Acer mono. The tree is native to Japan and is used for a variety of purposes, among them excellent flooring material ideally suited for high traffic areas, industrial settings, roller skating rinks, dance halls, squash courts and bowling alleys. Japanese maple is also used for rollers in textile mills, piano parts, sporting goods and shoe lasts.
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