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Soft maple gives hope to wood dealers

Domestic wood dealers have a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to forecasting how wood markets will perform in 2010. The majority of suppliers agree that wood markets have bottomed out and may actually be slightly on the rise. But any mention of a substantial rally taking place was greeted cautiously by even the most optimistic of dealers.

One bright spot - or maybe just a glimmer - is the soft maple market. The lumber retails on average up to $1.50/bf less than hard maple and dealers report fair-to-good sales.

"We do pretty well with soft maple," says Dave Harris of Parkerville Wood Products, a retailer and manufacturer in Manchester, Conn. "The appearance of it is close enough to hard maple, but the price is substantially less. They call it soft maple, but it isn't really soft [specific gravity .49]; it's not like poplar."

Soft maple (Acer rubrum), also known as red maple, silver maple and swamp maple, grows mainly in Canada and the eastern United States, and is not as heavy as hard maple. The creamy-white sapwood is valued for its clarity. The heartwood varies from light to medium reddish-brown. Soft maple has traditionally fallen in the shadow of hard maple (Acer saccharum), but because of the higher price of hard maple, the two woods have grown closer in popularity in the cabinetry world.

Soft maple is usually available in 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 and 8/4 thicknesses. Although the bird's-eye figure occurs in hard maple, soft maple occasionally provides some curly figure. Retail prices for 4/4 Select & Better soft maple, surfaced on two sides, ranges from $3.20 to $3.80/bf.

— Brian Caldwell

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