Botanical name: Principally Acer rubrum, A. saccharinum
Common/commercial names: Red maple, silver maple
Distribution & Availability
Wide distribution throughout Eastern USA, however, Pacific coast/big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) grows exclusively in the Pacific Northwest. Availability is improving as demand increases in export markets.
In most respects the wood of soft maple is very similar to that of hard maple, although due to its widespread growth it may be more susceptible to regional colour variations. Generally the sapwood is greyish white, sometimes with darker coloured pith flecks, and the heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. The wood is usually straight grained. The lumber is generally sold unselected for colour.
Physical & Mechanical Properties
Soft maple is about 25% less hard than hard maple, has medium bending and crushing strength, and is low in stiffness and shock resistance. It has good steam bending properties.
Soft maple machines well and can be stained and polished to an excellent finish. It glues, screws, and nails satisfactorily. It dries slowly with minimal degrade and has good stability which means there is little movement in performance.
Non-resistant to decay. The heartwood is moderately resistant to preservative treatment but the sapwood is permeable.
Furniture, panelling, interior joinery, kitchen cabinets, mouldings, doors, musical instruments, and turning. Soft maple is often used as a substitute for hard maple or stained to resemble other species such as cherry. Its physical and working properties also make it a possible substitute for beech.
Eastern soft maple: Typically red maple in the North and silver maple through the Midwest and Southern USA. It is essential to discuss this with your supplier, as they are very different in appearance. The red maple tends to resemble hard maple and is much more consistent in colour, while the silver maple has a wide range of colours and can have a slightly softer texture. Both species can produce a highly figured wormy variety which is sold WHND or Worm Holes No Defect. All soft maple varieties can be sorted for colour according to the NHLA specifications in The Illustrated Guide to American Hardwood Lumber Grades.
Pacific coast / big leaf maple: This Pacific Northwest species follows the grading guidelines for red alder. The main lumber grades are Select & Better, No.1 Common, and Frame. It is sold kiln-dried, surfaced, and graded from the better face with naturally occurring pin knots, which are not considered a defect. For best results, consult your supplier for the grade that will suit your needs.