Buying soft maple will save you about 60 cents/bf at the retail level over hard maple, enough to sway many shops, according to lumber dealers interviewed by Woodshop News.
“Price is important,” says Rocky Mehta of west Penn Hardwoods in Olean, N.Y. “Unless they need to use hard maple for a specific project, people are using soft maple right now because it’s less expensive.”
Several years ago, hard maple was at its peak of its popularity, making it difficult and expensive to get. The smart buyers switched to soft maple while the hard maple cooled. Those market conditions are repeating in 2014, Mehta explains.
“Now the bigger furniture companies are using a cherry stain on soft maple and making it look like cherry, so they’re killing three birds by buying soft maple,” Mehta says.
Soft maple (Acer rebrum) resembles hard maple (Acer saccharum) but is not as heavy and is much easier to work. Hard maple is a tougher wood and can display a whiter and more figured appearance.
Bob Laurie, who does most of the purchasing for L.L. Johnson Lumber Mfg. in Charlotte, Mich., says hard maple is usually more popular than soft maple. But when the prices for hard maple get too high, customers routinely shift to buying soft maple. Happens every time, he says.
“It’s interesting. You don’t see that with other species. Prices for walnut and red oak are going up right now, but nobody’s switching.”
Laurie says soft maple is a better wood to finish. “The grain is different than hard maple, and it can be sorted for white, unselected, or even brown because a lot of people will buy it to paint it.
“Another thing about soft maple is you can also get the wormy look out of it. That’s also popular right now. I’m seeing a strong interest in things like rustic hickory and rustic maple, so there’s a lot of interest in rustic things right now. We’re definitely moving quite a bit of soft maple right now, but sales of that and hard maple are both pretty good.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.