There are two different varieties of maple, Hard Maple (Acer saccharum) and soft maple. Soft Maple does not mean any one spices however refers to a broad range of different specie including Bigleaf Maple (acer macrophyllum), Striped Maple (acer pensylvanicum), Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), Box Elder (acer negundo) and Red Maple (acer rubrum). Maple is known to be straight grained however fancier pieces can be found to have high figure including burl or bird’s eye grains also having mineral lines in the heart wood producing grey or black streaking throughout.
Hard Maple (Acer saccharum):
The word saccharum is Latin for sugar, thus hard maple is the maple tree that produces syrup when a tap is put in it. Hard maple is also referred to as Sugar Maple, Rock or Hard-Rock maple. When milled it is typically light red to brown in color with cream to white sapwood and is typically straight grained. There is one other sub specie sometime identified as hard maple in the United States and that would be Black Maple (Acer saccharum subsp. nigrum.)
Although called soft maple it is only soft in relation to hard maple and may be used in the place of hard maple in many cases. It is much lighter in density, easier to work with and will not dull cutting edges as quickly as hard maple. This wood is used for furniture, veneer, pallets, cabinetry, plywood, barrels, crates, flooring, and railroad ties among many other things. The sap wood tends to be very white with great curl and definition, the heart wood can be anywhere from grey to tan often showing many different color variations in a small area. On the West Coast the number one specie sold as soft maple is Big Leaf Maple (acer macrophyllum.)