Woodworking Materials

Maple - Go Figure

aple is the hardwood with an alter ego. Most of the time, I use it because it's hard and durable. But there can be a dramatic side to maple, too. Sometimes, it has such striking figure that it can turn a fairly ordinary project into something special.

TYPES OF FIGURE. Figured maple occurs in several different species and is usually the result of some abnormal growth due to adverse conditions, (though the exact cause isn't always known for sure). This figure shows up in a variety of patterns and can be quite pronounced or rather subtie, see photos at right

CURLY MAPLE. Curly maple, also called fiddleback or tiger-stripe, can occur near the bark of the tree in both hard and soft maples, see top photo. (We built the clock out of curly maple.) Here the ribbon-like figure forms tight, light and dark lines.

QUILTED MAPLE. Quilted maple occurs in big leaf maple and is similar to curly maple, see center photo. It has the same rippled satin look, but the figure is not so tight and regular.

BIRD'S EYE MAPLE. Bird's eye maple is altogether different than curly and quilted maples, see bottom photo. The figure consists of tiny "eyes" that pepper a board. These bird's eyes show up in the tree's annual rings and "grow" outfrom the center of the tree.

WORKING CHARACTERISTICS. Working with maple does require some special care. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that figured maple tends to chip out — especially the "eyes" of bird's eye maple. It's all that wavy grain. So if I need to do much planing,

I try to find a local woodworking or cabinet shop that will rent me some time with a thickness sander.

Once you get the stock down to size, you're pretty much home free — until it comes time to finish the wood. Finishing figured maple isn't difficult but it does require a little different approach, see box below.

SOURCES. By now, you're probably thinking you might like to work with some figured maple — if only you could get your hands on some.

The first place to go is your local woodworking store. They may not sell it but may know of a mill nearby that does. You might also ask a professional cabinetmaker.

Another option is to order some boards through the mail. This isn't as fun as picking it out yourself, but there are several sources around the country that carry figured woods. (I've listed some on page 35.) ES

Curly Maple. Sometimes called tiger-stripe or fiddleback maple, this figure is created by the abnormal growth of maple's already wavy grain.

Quilted Maple This figure is also a result of wavy grain, but the patterns aren't as straight or consistent.

Bird's Eye Maple. Unlike the wavy figures shown above, the "peppered" eyes of this figure are formed by small distortions in the annual rings.

If you've ever stained regular maple, then the first thing to know about figured maple is that ifs a completely different ball game. With regular maple, you want an even stain, which is hard because maple's grain is so wavy. With figured maple, you want an uneven stain. This may sound disastrous, but the goal is to highlight the waves—not hide them. This increases the depth and contrast and brings out the figure, see photo above.

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