Soft maple is used for furniture, kitchen cabinets, paneling, moldings, doors, musical instruments, and for turning. Drying soft maple adds to the woods worth by increasing its bending strength, crushing strength, stiffness and hardness. The use of kiln dried soft maple is also becoming more popular for use as a structural lumber.
Where Soft Maple Comes From
Soft maple mostly comes from one of two regions. They are the Appalachian region and the Glacial region. Soft maple from the Appalachian region has a particularly beautiful color and texture that is sought out by many high end furniture makers. The lengths of soft maple from the Appalachian region range from eight to sixteen feet.
Soft maple from the Glacial region tends to be of a shorter length partly due to the regions cold climate. The frigid weather also causes the trees to grow slower resulting in tight growth rings that make for a nice color and texture. The lengths in the glacial region vary from eight to ten feet.
Soft maple grows mostly east of the Rockies and is more abundant in the New England States and around the Great Lakes. The Red Maple and the Silver Maple are the two most common types of trees that produce soft maple. Southern Canada also has an abundant supply of soft maple.
Kiln Dried Soft Maple
In order to speed the drying time and quality of soft maple, it is often kiln dried with varying amounts of heat. The object of drying the wood is to lower the moisture content, which makes for a more sturdy and beautiful product.
How the soft maple wood is kiln dried depends on what the wood is going to be used for. Wood that will be used for high end furniture and cabinets, is dried at a lower temperature than wood dried for use as structural lumber. Wood that will be used for furniture, cabinets, floors, instruments or other fine products, will be kiln dried slowly at a temperature of about 120 degrees until the moisture content is down to about 10%. Then the temperature is raised to up to 160 degrees until the wood reaches the desired moisture content.
Structural lumber does not have to be dried as slowly or carefully because the surface of the wood is hidden and it doesn’t matter if it contains minor flaws. Drying the wood faster does not seem to harm the strength of the wood, only the appearance, so companies dry soft maple much faster if it is used for structural lumber. It can be dried for use as structural lumber in about four days and at much higher temperatures. It is not uncommon to use temperatures as high as 235 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher drying temperature causes the wood to dry faster and drives the cost of production down, making soft wood a competitor in the structural lumber arena.
Air Drying Soft Maple
While kiln drying is preferred for soft maple, air drying can also be done. Often a combination is used because typically the wood will sit out for 3 or 4 days air drying before it goes to the kiln. The moisture content can be brought down significantly by air drying before the kiln is used to finish the drying process. If soft maple is completely dried by air, the quality of the wood will depreciate by varying amounts depending on how well it was done.
The quality of air drying depends greatly on the climate, region and conditions. Soft maple can be greatly damaged by only a few days of bad weather if precautions are not taken against wind, snow and freezing water. Also, air drying takes significantly longer than kiln drying. It can take up to over a hundred days to air dry lumber that would only take 4 to 8 days to be kiln dried.