The maple we sell is native to the coastal region of Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia. Bigleaf maple, also known as western maple or Oregon maple, is generally fast growing, and is often considered a weed by foresters and loggers because it will send up shoots after it has been cut down. A mature tree has a trunk three to five feet in diameter and averages 50-75 feet in height, though it can exceed 100 feet in certain circumstances. This tree is considered a senior citizen once it reaches 100 years, though some trees will reach 200 years before the trunk rots and the tree falls over.
Bigleaf maple comes from private and public forests, farms, or urban forests. The farm and city trees often hide nails, fencing, swing-set anchors and such. In the past, large lumber companies would discard this tree in the forests, but most contracts now require removal. Because of its relatively small size and low volume, the wood is often sold for paper pulp. It is unfortunate but true that some high-grade, instrument-quality bigleaf maple trees end up being made into paper products--even, in the worst case imaginable, into junk mail.
At Notable Woods, we try to buy maple logs or lumber from people who are engaged in selective cutting or are salvaging trees that are otherwise destined for the pulp mill.
Bigleaf maple is a medium-density hardwood. It falls into the soft-maple group and has an average specific gravity of .48, oven dry. Its color ranges from creamy white to a heartwood with a pinkish hue. The pores are small and do not require filling when finishing the wood.
Bigleaf maple is prized for its figure, with pronounced fiddleback curl being relatively common in older trees. It is also known and sought after for its intense quilted figure in some trees--seen best when flatsawn. The quilt pattern is usually strongest at the outside of the tree and can disappear within a few inches, leaving light-figured or plain-figured maple through the rest of the tree.
In general, our instrument hardwoods are graded by the degree of figure present. Borderline grades get bumped up or down depending on the presence of color and the consistency or the figure. We sell sets that have non-structural flaws within the pattern area; these 2nds follow the grading below but are discounted due to the defect.
From time-to-time we have Master Grade maple which is "off-the-charts" because of its rare, exceptional quilt or curl. Instrument-quality maple is found in, say, one of twenty logs, and the rarest master grade is a small subset of the instrument-quality wood.
Check out our Gallery page for photos of maple sets. Our general grade guidelines: