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Tiger maple roars with renewed popularity

Curly maple

Curly maple

Often used for historic reproductions and musical instruments, and now becoming a go-to for contemporary designers, tiger maple is in demand in the U.S. and abroad, according to suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News.

Also known as curly or flame maple, this figured version of the maple tree species is unique for the wavy stripes that form against the grain during growth. Tiger maples are rare and grow sporadically, accounting for only a small percentage of all maples.

“They grow randomly, with no rhyme or reason,” says Skip Kise of Good Hope Hardwoods in Landenberg, Pa. “You only know when you potentially might have a good log is when the sap is running because the bark peels off. They must be identified by the ripples in the live edge.”

The softer version, red leaf tiger maple, is a better seller than the hard tiger maple because of its more prominent curly figuring, says Kise. He explains that because the hard maple is a denser, slower growing tree, the growth rings are tighter and less apparent.

“Tiger maple, for me, is always steady. I’m noticing an increase in it for instruments right now, but it’s still very popular among all genres of woodworking, from contemporary to reproduction. A large majority of it’s getting shipped to China,” adds Kise.

“I think it’s more popular now than a year ago, it’s just harder to find,” says John Sliney of Vienna Hardwoods in Vienna, Va. “That hasn’t really affected the price, it’s just a lot of suppliers don’t have it.”

Sliney says customers are using it for decorative countertops, cutting boards, and drawer fronts on maple tables and chests. “Sometimes they mix it in with regular maple for accent pieces like drawer fronts. The curly maple and bird’s-eye are very popular for that.”

Greg Engle of Certainly Wood, a veneer supplier in East Aurora, N.Y., says when it comes to figured maple, rotary cut curly maple is his biggest seller.

“With rotary, the trees are peeled, not sliced. What that does is it accentuates the curl by giving it evenness across the entire face, as opposed to slicing,” Engle explains.

“I would say sales have been steady but haven’t been out of this world for figured maple lately. It’s primarily used for furniture, conference table work and custom kitchen interiors. We did work for a custom yacht interior last year that needed 24” wide components in a single veneer piece, which is where the rotary comes into play.”

At the retail level, expect to pay about $5/bf for 4/4 soft tiger maple and $6/bf for 4/4 hard tiger maple. Prices start to soar with thicker, wide and highly figured stock. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.

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