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Maple Wood Characteristics: Total Guide to Hard Maple Wood in 2021

Maple wood is one of the strongest, most durable hardwoods for building furniture, flooring, cabinets – and more. Maple trees grow abundantly in North America and are easily identified in Autumn by their deeply red leaves. Maple is unique among hardwoods for its aesthetic, strength, and more.

Learn about maples characteristics, features, uses – and everything else you need to know when choosing your furniture, cabinetry, or closets. Find out what makes maple hardwood stand out amongst other hardwood species, and how maple stands-up to the test of time. And, see whether maples qualities are right for your functional and aesthetic needs.

The Characteristics of Maple Wood: Your Total Guide to Maple Hardwood

When you want a wood that has high-strength, takes well to stain, and features a smooth grain pattern – carpenters, cabinet makers, and furniture makers choose maple wood. When maple is used in furniture and cabinets, the wood is usually derived from a Sugar Maple or Rock Maple tree, which is also the direct source of maple syrup. The most distinctive characteristic of maple is that no other hardwood comes close in terms of hardness.

Not to be confused with soft maple – hard maple is white or cream and can feature reddish tones and some brown bands. But, by-in-large maple is naturally light in color, differentiating it from other strong hardwoods with dark coloration, like oak and walnut. And, also unique to maple, is that – unlike most hardwoods – the ideal maple comes from the tree’s sapwood

What is the Natural Color of Maple?

When a craftsman uses maple wood in fine furniture or cabinets, the sapwood is the desirable wood – instead of the heartwood. Most hardwood species are used for the heartwood, but maple sapwood has superior features to that of its heartwood. One of the desirable features of maple sapwood is the natural light white color and delicate streaks and flecks of brown and red. 

Unlike cherry or walnut wood, maple is usually finished with a wood stain, instead of a natural finish. The white color of young maple hardwood deepens a little over time, but a coat of wood stain brings out the darker streaks and flecks of brown and red. On the flip-side, maple heartwood has a darker tone when young, and lightens over time. 

How Hard is Maple Compared to Other Hardwoods?

Wood from the Sugar Maple and Rock Maple trees are very hardwoods, scoring higher on the Janka scale than cherry, oak, and walnut. Sugar and Rock Maple have a Janka rating of over 1,400, compared to white and red oak, with a rating of around 1,300 on the Janka scale. Because of maples’ strength and durability, it is the preferred material for hardwood flooring, fine furniture, cabinetry, classic baseball bats, bowling lane flooring, bowling pins – and much more. 

What is the Aesthetic of the Hard Maple Woods Grain Pattern?

Maple hardwood has a straight grain pattern with a subtle and smooth texture. But, maple features unique variants in the grain, producing waving and intricate patterns. The more intricate patterns, known as figures, are used for high-end applications, like fine-furniture, gunstocks, and artisanal work. And, the variations that naturally occur in the grain come from some sort of defect, disease, or damage incurred during the life of the tree.

Is Maple Hardwood a Good Choice for Outdoor Applications?

Maple hardwood is not naturally suitable for exposure to the elements, but that doesn’t mean it can’t go outdoors. For the same reason that maple takes so well to wood stain, it also takes well to the protective wood finish. But, even with a protective finish, maple wood requires care to keep it in good condition if it is exposed to the natural environment.

To seal the wood, a craftsman uses a wood finishing application, such as polyurethane, lacquer, or wood varnish. Maple is very dense, giving the wood fibers a tightly packed grain structure that doesn’t absorb wood oils as well as other hardwood species, like cherry, oak, or walnut. When kept indoors, maple is low-maintenance.

If maple takes-on a yellow color tone, it was likely finished with wood oil and might need to be refinished. Refinishing maple is best left to professionals to keep your tools from wearing-out. Talk to an associate about refinishing or customizing your maple wood cabinets, furniture, or flooring.