|Maple - unfinished|
Maple - it's a stalwart wood in America. It's abundant, cheap, hard, strong, stable, and versatile in design.
|Flame Ghost Maple - finished with polyurethane|
More info and pictures after the jump...
Maple is a common name for a group of tree species. I use it as shorthand too, but really it can refer to hard maple, "soft" maple, or others. Most often, it's referring to hard or soft maple.
Hard maple is a term referring to the lumber from the sugar maple tree. It is aptly named, it's damn hard. It makes great chopping blocks or hardwood flooring because it is so hard. It's commonly very light in color with very little visible grain pattern verging on uniform whiteness. In fact, if you are looking for white color for design purposes, you can pay a premium and buy "white" hard maple.
"Soft" maple is a term referring to lumber from a number of species, typically red maple or silver maple in the eastern United States. Unlike hard maple, which is well-named, soft maple is not soft. It too is very hard. However, compared to hard maple, it is softer. It also has more figure, more visible grains, and more brown coloration. It also tends to be cheaper than hard maple.
Telling the two apart can be difficult, because their grains can appear very similar.
Comparing hard and soft maple's hardness quantitatively can be done using something known as the Janka Hardness Test. Hard maple rates 1,450 lbf; soft maple rates 950 lbf.
Maple has a tight closed grain. If you look at it closely, it looks more like a solid surface than does red oak, which has a much more porous grain.
From a design perspective it is well suited for cutting boards or chopping blocks, work benches, and flooring, all of which benefit from maple's hardness. It also makes for a good material to use as a light color to contrast a darker material, which is something I've done before.
Maple can end up with unique "figure" or patterning -
|Veneer-quality Birdseye Maple|
|Ghost Maple - unfinished, showing wormholes|
Flame, Curly, or Tiger:
|Flame Maple - finished with polyurethane|
Figured maple adds significantly to its cost, but, when used effectively, can be striking and change a something from a well-made but visually plain piece into a one-of-a-kind, high quality piece.
And just because ghost maple looks cool and has a sweet name, here's another picture of ghost maple:
Maple can also take on spalting as well:
|Spalted Maple - finished with butcher's block oil|
Spalting is the black coloration that you see along the grain pattern. Effectively, spalting is the name given to the effect of a kind of fungal rotting process that is stopped at just the right time so there is a gorgeous visual effect, but not a weakening of the structural integrity of the wood. Spalted maple creates a vivid color contrast between the light colors of the original maple and the crisp black lines caused by the spalting. Because the spalting process is unpredictable, lumber yards charge a premium for spalted materials.