Acer is a genus of trees or shrubs commonly known as maple. There are approximately 128 species, most of which are native to Asia, with a number also appearing in Europe, northern Africa, and North America. Only one species is native to the Southern Hemisphere. Fifty-four species of maples meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria for being under threat of extinction in their native habitat.
Most maples are trees growing to 10-45 meters (approx. 30-145 ft.) in height. Others are shrubs less than 10 meters tall with a number of small trunks originating at ground level. Most species are deciduous, but a few in southern Asia and the Mediterranean region are evergreen. Most are shade-tolerant when young and are often riparian, understory, or pioneer species rather than climax overstory trees with a few exceptions such as Sugar Maple. Many of the root systems are typically dense and fibrous, inhibiting the growth of other vegetation underneath them.
Maples are important as source of syrup and wood. Dried wood is often used for the smoking of food. Charcoal from maples is an integral part of the Lincoln County Process used to make Tennessee Whiskey. They are also cultivated as ornamental plants and have benefits for tourism and agriculture.
The Sugar maple is tapped for sap, which is then boiled to produce maple syrup or made into maple sugar or maple taffy. It takes about 40 liters (42 US qt) of sugar maple sap to make 1 liter (1.1 US qt) of syrup. While any Acer species may be tapped for syrup, many do not have sufficient quantities of sugar to be commercially useful.
Some of the larger maple species have valuable timber, particularly Sugar maple in North America, and Sycamore maple in Europe. Sugar maple wood — often known as “hard maple” — is the wood of choice for bowling pins, bowling alley lanes, pool cue shafts, and butcher’s blocks. Maple wood is also used for the manufacture of wooden baseball bats, though less often than ash or hickory due to the tendency of maple bats to shatter when broken. The maple bat was introduced to Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1998 by Sam Holman of Sam Bats. Today it is the standard maple bat most in use by professional baseball. Maple is also commonly used in archery as the core material in the limbs of a Recurve Bow due to its stiffness and strength.
Maples have a long history of use for furniture production in the United States.
Maple is considered a tonewood, or a wood that carries sound waves well, and is used in numerous musical instruments. Maple is harder and has a brighter sound than Mahogany, which is another major tonewood used in instrument manufacture. The back, sides, and neck of most violins, violas, cellos, and double basses are made from maple. Electric guitar necks are commonly made from maple, having a brighter sound than rosewood. The necks of the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster were originally an entirely maple one piece neck, but later were also available with rosewood fingerboards. Les Paul desired an all maple guitar, but due to the weight of maple, only the tops of Gibson’s Les Paul guitars are made from carved maple, often using quilted or flamed maple tops. Due to its weight, very few solid body guitars are made entirely from maple, but many guitars have maple necks, tops or veneers.Maple is also often used to make bassoons and sometimes for other woodwind instruments like maple recorders.Many drums are made from maple. From the 70s to the 90s, maple drum kits were a vast majority of all drum kits made, but in recent years, Birch has become popular for drums once again. Some of the best drum-building companies use maple extensively throughout their mid-pro range. Maple drums are favored for their bright resonant sound.
Recently, maple has been used in drum sticks by Vic Firth®. The product line is called “American Heritage”® and the sticks have the same dimensions of the traditional hickory sticks. Currently, only 7A, 5A, and 5B sizes are made. (April 2014)
As they are a major source of pollen in early spring before many other plants have flowered, maples are important to the survival of honeybees that play a commercially important role later in the spring and summer.
Maple is used as pulpwood. The fibers have relatively thick walls that prevent collapsing upon drying. This gives good bulk and opacity in paper. Maple also gives paper with good printing properties.
Maple – Technical Info
A strong hardwood, with a high wear resistance. Maple is very lightly hued, sometimes with brown colored lines. Maple is easily planed into a smooth surface (unlike Oak), allowing for easy production of work surfaces, desks, tables, and countertops. Maple timber boards are so straight they are perfect as support beams or frames. Some “Soft” Maples have long, brownish-grey stains and have a unique look. The main instances where you would want to stick with Hard Maple would be in applications where hardness and strength are important, such as: butcher blocks, flooring, workbench tops, etc. Hard Maple is roughly twice as hard as Soft Maple because it tends to grow about half as fast as most other Soft Maple: though to a great extent, this also accounts for the difference in cost between the two types of maples as well. Maple is easily machined (subtractive manufacturing) and can be made into veneers and butcher blocks. Its price and availability is similar to Oak. Like Oak, it can be whitened and colored using coating powders.
Some Maple wood has a highly decorative wood grain, known as Flame Maple, Quilt Maple, Bird’s Eye Maple and Burl wood. This condition occurs randomly in individual trees of several species, and often cannot be detected until the wood has been sawn, though it is sometimes visible in the standing tree as a rippled pattern in the bark.
These select decorative wood pieces also have subcategories which further filter the aesthetic looks. Crotch Wood, Bees Wing, Cats Paw, Old Growth and Mottled are some terms used to describe the look of these decorative woods.