About Maple Wood - Spalted Maple Wood and Maple Variations - Autumn Summer Co

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Maple - Nature's Wonderland

July 07, 2015

          As a woodturner, I sell my products through many different streams, one of those being local art and craft festivals. Many of my customers ask about the different woods that I use, and most of the answers are pretty straight forward… “this is Redheart wood, it’s from South America”… and that’s pretty much it. However, it’s when someone asks me about Maple that my inner nerd really comes out. 

     It still blows my mind every day how many species and variations of Maple there are, and I have been working with the wood every day for over 10 years. When people think of Maple, they generally think of the “normal” Maple’s, which can simply be broken down into Hard Maple and Soft Maple. Generally speaking, Soft Maple is a category of a few different species (Big Leaf, Boxelder, Silver) and Hard Maple is a species itself. 

     The magic doesn’t necessarily happen in different species of Maple, but in the variations that can happen to the Maple, such as Curly Maple, Maple Burl, Ambrosia Maple, and my personal favorite: Spalted Maple. Those who only know about plain-old-white Maple are really missing out on one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful creations…

     Let’s start with the basics. If you’re not as much of a geek as I am, you may want to skip this part, but here are your basic facts. The variations that I will discuss can happen in any type of Maple, but we will stick to Hard Maple as a control because hard maple is where we get maple syrup… and who doesn't love maple syrup! 

Hard Maple (aka Rock Maple or Sugar Maple)

Scientific Name:

Acer saccharum


Eastern North America

Average Max Tree Size:

115 ft.

Trunk Diameter:

2-3 ft.

Janka Hardness:

1,450 lb/ft.


     So why is this single colored wood so exciting? The magic is in the variations that can happen within these species. Let’s just dive in!:

Spalted Maple

     When a Maple tree begins the rotting or decaying process, it is attacked by a fungus which leaves black lines and striations through the grain of the wood. This is called spalting, and if the tree is harvested at the right time, it can create a beautiful contrast to the almost-white Maple.


(Above: Spalted Maple in the Vertex Rollerball Pen)

Figured Maple

     Saying that a piece of Maple is “figured” could mean a few different things, and may vary depending on who you ask. Generally speaking, there are two different types of figuring: Curly, and Quilted. How the trees gets these different figurings is debatable, but each makes a 3-D effect when the piece is moved. 

Maple Burl

     The way I usually describe a Burl (or “burr”) in lames terms is “The big lumps on the side or bottom of a tree.” That’s the basic idea of a burl. A burl forms when the grain of the tree grows in a way it isn’t supposed to, causing a deformation. It is also worth noting that burls can grow on just about any tree species, but are the most common on Maple trees. 

(Below: Virage Rollerball Pen with a Stunning Maple Burl)

Ambrosia Maple

     Ambrosia Maple describes any Maple wood that has been infested by ambrosia beetles, which go into the tree and leave a fungus which in turn discolors the wood. 


(Above: Ambrosia Maple in our Bolt Action Pens)


Boxelder Maple

     Boxelder Maple is a species of soft Maple, which is even softer than most. The magic comes form something known to some as “flame” boxelder, which gives the wood bright reddish pink streaks throughout the wood. The best pieces are those that have a strong contrast between the pink streaks and white wood, and boxelder can also be figured, which just adds to the value. 

     There are two different theories on why Boxelder Maple gets its flame figuring: the first is the same as Ambrosia Maple, where boxelder bugs enter the wood, bring a fungus, and discolor the wood. The second, is that the fungus is naturally occurring in the wood itself, which is why it only happens in the Boxelder species of Maple. Either way, I think we can all agree that this is a stunning wood. 

(Picture Coming Soon! Sorry!)

Final Thoughts

     In my opinion, the greatest types of wood are those that are different. Whether that means knots, cracks, growths, or fungi, its the things that we’re supposed to happen that make it the most beautiful. I may be getting a little bit out there, but I think that makes a pretty good metaphor for life. Sometimes its the things that are different and unplanned that are the most beautiful. 

     Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something new! 

     Feel free to check out my products that feature all of these types of Maple, as well as over 20 other wood species! You can see my handmade wood gifts here

Click here to go back to our about the woods blog!

Check out a really cool website, wood-database.com for even more wood species!


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