Maple sales are up, according to lumber distributors interviewed by Woodshop News who say the market condition is a reflection of increased consumer demand for lighter woods in furniture and cabinetry products.
Rick Hearne, owner of Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, Pa., sees maple sales of all variations improving.
“Our main sales in maple are based on figured maple, which is a curly version of hard or soft maple and they have been fairly constant. We are definitely seeing a trend towards lighter woods. Walnut is still hot, but we saw only dark woods in demand years ago and now lighter woods are coming into passion with designers and hard maple is becoming particularly desirable. But soft maple has also been in demand as a secondary wood in the housing market, which has recently improved,” Hearne says.
Hard maple, also known as sugar maple (Acer saccharum), is whiter than soft maple (Acer rebrum) and is a tougher wood that can display a more figured appearance because it grows in harsher climates and often on hills. In the U.S., good quality maple grows mainly from Pennsylvania up throughout the New England region and in Canada because it favors a colder climate.
Steve Wall, owner of Steve Wall Lumber Co. in Mayodan, N.C., says most of his maple is sold for custom furniture and cabinets. Hard maple is usually specified for high-end projects, while soft maple is primarily used as a stain-grade or secondary wood.
“Anytime somebody is looking for a lighter, less-grained wood, the maple is the way to go on something like that. We sell both the hard and the soft variations and some of the subspecies of it. We also sell quite a bit of figured soft maple and also what we call the ambrosia maple, which is a wormy soft maple. So sales have been good for all types,” Wall says.
“We’ve kind of developed a market for the flitch-cut, wormy soft maple where they leave the natural edge on the board. That’s very popular for people making custom tables, bars and that kind of thing. We’ve seen somewhat of a price increase on the wholesale basis on both the hard and soft maple since the early spring. But I think it has stabilized recently.”
Matt Gilland, owner of Spicy Sheet Veneer in New Albany, Ind., says he’s sold more maple this year than last. His veneer customers want hard maple.
“Hard maple is preferred because it’s white. At least with our customers, they seem to want the whitest maple possible,” Gilland says. “Some are just applying a nice clear coat. I’ve had a couple people who’ve painted it, which just kills me because we go to this effort to give them a really premium grade, but that’s their choice. We sell a lot of unusual sizes, too; a lot of 5’ wide and 12’ long sheets.”
Soft maple is selling for $2.60/bf (4/4), while hard maple fetches $3.65/bf, according to averaged quotes from lumber dealers. That’s down from $3.90 and $4.50/bf reported earlier this year.
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue.