Hard Maple is also known as Rock Maple or Sugar Maple, and as one of its names implies, it is very hard for a domestic wood. Hard Maple is widely used in cabinetry and flooring, and its light blond color makes it a great species for matching any decor. Hard Maple is a fine-pored wood with a very tight grain. The sapwood is almost white, and Maple is one of the only trees for which the sapwood is almost as highly prized as the heartwood.
The wood’s high density and hardness mean that Hard Maple can be harsh on tools’ cutting edges, but Hard Maple will maintain a hard, crisp edge for moldings. The wood is quite stable, thereby making it perfect for flooring applications. Because of the tight grain, however, stains, dyes, and wax will not penetrate very deeply; therefore, surface film finishing options like varnish and lacquer are the preferred finishing methods.
Soft Maple also known as Red Maple is very misleading in name. While the wood is softer than Hard Maple, this is true by only a very small margin. The heartwood of Soft Maple is slightly darker than Hard Maple’s, with reddish-brown latewood lines that can give the lumber a pinkish hue overall. The flat sawn lumber of Soft Maple has wonderful wandering grain lines that contrast with the straight and orderly grain of Hard Maple.
Soft Maple grows in a more limited region mainly on the US eastern seaboard, but it is still readily available and also tends to be cheaper than Hard Maple. The wood’s slightly softer nature does make Soft Maple easier on tools than Hard Maple, yet it still machines and holds details very well. It also finishes nicely, although it does not have the polished luster of Hard Maple.