Domestic Species Focus: 3 Types of Maple

Maple boards

Did you know that Maple is the North American lumber species with the most widespread growth range? This remarkable tree can be found in almost every region of our continent, and J. Gibson McIlvain keeps two of the most common species, Hard and Soft Maple, as a regular part of our inventory. We’ll take a look at some of the most significant characteristics of both those well-loved species as well as some common and creative applications for which they’re used.

Focus on Hard Maple

Other names for this hardwood species include Sugar Maple and Rock Maple. The Sugar Maple is the one that grows across the greatest area, and the lumber cut from it is used primarily for flooring and cabinetry, this species displays a blonde coloring ideal for many décor schemes and especially for modern Scandinavian and minimalist looks, as well as Industrial trends. With its fine pores and extremely tight grain, Hard Maple is unique in that its white-colored sapwood is nearly as sought-after as its blond heartwood.

Sugar Maple’s hardness, along with its high density, make it ideal for keeping hard, crisp edges for mouldings; at the same time, though, the species can be hard on cutting edges. Its stability makes it ideal for flooring, while its tight grain makes dye penetration difficult and varnish or lacquer preferred for finishing. Once polished, it displays a beautiful luster.

Maple Wood Kitchen

Focus on Soft Maple

Also known as Red Maple, the term “Soft Maple” is actually a bit of a misnomer. While this species is softer than Sugar Maple, it is not actually a softwood; in fact, it’s not much softer than Sugar Maple. While the heartwood of this species is darker than that of Sugar Maple, when combined with the reddish brown latewood, the lumber takes on a pinkish cast. The wandering grain lines of flat-sawn Red Maple offer a different look compared to Sugar Maple’s more rigid grain. While Red Maple has a more limited growing region, generally limited to the eastern seaboard of the U.S., it is still readily available and typically comes out less expensive than its harder counterpart. Easier on tools and yet able to hold details well, Red Maple finishes nicely.

Figured Maple

Both Sugar Maple and Red Maple can display special figured grain. Such effects are highly prized by certain types of woodworkers, particularly those who craft instruments and furniture. At the same time though, figured Maple is far-from-ideal for others, such as those who make flooring and kitchen cabinets; instead, those applications require consistent coloring and uniform grain. J. Gibson McIlvain keeps figured boards separate from the straight-grained variety so we can provide you with whatever kind of Maple suits your needs best.

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J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company ( is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.

As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

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