The Differences Between Hard Maple and Soft Maple

The Differences Between Hard Maple and Soft Maple

In the world of woodworking and table making, selecting the right type of wood is paramount to the success of your project. Two commonly used varieties of maple wood, hard maple (Acer saccharum) and soft maple (Acer rubrum), often present themselves as options. Understanding the distinctions between these two species can be critical when it comes to crafting the perfect piece of furniture, table, or any woodworking endeavor.

Hard Maple: The Stalwart


Hard maple, scientifically known as Acer saccharum, boasts a reputation for its durability and strength. Often referred to as rock maple or sugar maple, this species is indigenous to North America and is widely recognized for its exceptional qualities. Accessibility makes it a great choice for domestic woodworking manufactures such as us at Design 59. 


Hard maple features a pale, creamy-white sapwood, coupled with a slightly darker heartwood that ranges from pale to light reddish-brown. One of its distinguishing characteristics is its uniform texture, making it an ideal choice for projects where consistency is key. This wood is dense, heavy, and sturdy, making it an excellent option for high-stress applications.

Mind map illustrating the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), including sections on Taxonomy and Classification, Physical Characteristics, Habitat and Range, Ecology and Importance, Life Cycle, Cultural Significance, and Threats and Conservation.

Common Uses

  • Flooring: Hard maple's durability makes it a preferred choice for hardwood flooring.
  • Furniture: It's a top pick for crafting robust, long-lasting furniture pieces.
  • Cabinetry: Known for its resistance to wear and tear, hard maple is often used in kitchen cabinets.
  • Woodworking Tools: Tool handles and cutting boards often incorporate hard maple for its durability.

Notable Advantages

  • Exceptional hardness and resistance to wear.
  • Fine grain structure for a smooth finish.
  • Takes stains and finishes exceptionally well.
  • Impressive longevity, making it an investment for the long term.

Soft Maple: The Versatile Alternative


Soft maple, scientifically known as Acer rubrum, is often overshadowed by its harder counterpart but should not be underestimated. This species provides a versatile option for various woodworking projects.


Soft maple displays a range of colors, including light brown, reddish-brown, and even gray. Its grain pattern is typically straight, with a fine, even texture. While not as dense as hard maple, it is still moderately heavy and quite durable.

Mind map of the Red Maple (Acer rubrum), showing details on Taxonomy and Classification, Physical Characteristics, Habitat and Range, Ecology and Importance, Life Cycle, Cultural Significance, and Threats and Conservation.

Common Uses

  • Furniture: Soft maple's moderate hardness is suitable for crafting indoor furniture, luxury upholstery frames and table legs.
  • Cabinets: Ideal for cabinets where aesthetics and durability matter.
  • Mouldings: Its workability and finishing qualities make it a preferred choice for decorative trim and intricate sofa legs.
  • Musical Instruments: Soft maple is occasionally used in the construction of musical instruments.

Notable Advantages

  • Easier to work with due to its softer nature.
  • Accepts stains and finishes well, offering versatility in design.
  • More affordable compared to hard maple.
  • Suitable for projects where extreme hardness is not necessary.

The Key Differences

Density and Hardness

The most significant difference between hard and soft maple lies in their density and hardness. Hard maple is notably harder and denser, making it a top choice for applications that require strength and durability. Hard maple, with a Janka hardness rating of approximately 1,450 pounds-force (lbf), exhibits a significantly higher hardness level when compared to soft maple, which typically registers around 950 pounds-force lbf on the Janka hardness scale, highlighting a substantial difference in hardness between the two maple varieties.

Color and Appearance

While both types of maple share a range of colors, hard maple's sapwood is typically lighter, giving it a more uniform appearance. Soft maple can exhibit variations in color, providing unique aesthetic options.


Soft maple is easier to work with due to its softer nature, making it a preferred choice for intricate designs or projects that involve carving, woodturning and shaping.


Soft maple is generally more budget-friendly than hard maple, making it an attractive option for those looking to balance cost and quality.

In conclusion, the choice between hard maple and soft maple ultimately depends on the specific requirements of your DIY woodworking project. Hard maple excels in strength and durability, while soft maple offers versatility and affordability. By understanding these key differences, you can make an informed decision when selecting the ideal wood for your next masterpiece.

Remember that the success of your woodworking project often hinges on choosing the right materials, and in the world of woodworking, knowledge is the key to creating beautiful and enduring pieces.

Parawood vs. Maple Wood: Choosing the Ideal Material for Table Legs

When it comes to selecting the ideal material for table legs, parawood, also known as rubberwood, emerges as a superior choice compared to both hard maple and soft maple. Parawood's sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and workability make it a standout option. Harvested from rubber tree plantations, parawood is not only environmentally friendly but also budget-friendly. Its moderate hardness and fine grain structure allow for easy shaping and carving, making it perfect for intricate table leg designs. Additionally, parawood's versatility in terms of finishes and stains, coupled with its durability, ensures that it not only meets but exceeds the expectations for quality and customization in furniture projects.

FAQ: Hard Maple vs. Soft Maple

Q1: Is hard maple more expensive than soft maple?

  • A: Yes, generally, hard maple is more expensive than soft maple. This is due to its higher density, durability, and the demand for its use in high-quality furniture and flooring.

Q2: How do you identify a hard maple tree?

  • A: A hard maple tree, typically the Sugar Maple, can be identified by its leaves, which have 5 lobes with smooth edges and a distinct U-shaped valley between the lobes. The bark is also a helpful indicator; it's usually gray and becomes furrowed as the tree ages.

Q3: What is hard maple best suited for?

  • A: Hard maple is best suited for fine furniture, hardwood flooring, cabinetry, and high-end woodworking projects. It's also the primary wood used for making bowling alleys and basketball courts due to its durability.

Q4: What is the difference between hard maple and soft maple drawers?

  • A: The main difference lies in their durability and weight. Hard maple drawers are more durable, heavier, and resistant to wear and tear compared to soft maple drawers. Hard maple also tends to have a finer, more uniform grain, making it more desirable for visible surfaces.

Q5: Which is better, hard or soft maple?

  • A: The choice between hard and soft maple depends on the application. Hard maple is better for applications requiring durability and hardness, like flooring and heavy-use furniture. Soft maple is suitable for lighter-duty furniture and is easier to work with due to its softer nature.

Q6: What are the pros and cons of hard maple wood?

  • Pros:

    • High durability and resistance to wear.
    • Attractive grain and color, ideal for aesthetic purposes.
    • Holds finishes well and is easy to maintain.


    • More expensive than soft maple.
    • Can be difficult to work with due to its hardness.
    • Heavier, which might be a consideration in certain applications.
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