Question about maple: heartwood vs. sapwood

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Forum topic by Millo posted 02-09-2011 07:43 PM 15993 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3617 days

02-09-2011 07:43 PM

Hey everyone,

Why is maple heartwood seldom used? Because of the possibility of uneven coloring?

In the maple trunk, is the sapwood more abundant that the heartwood? Is this heartwood too close to its pith, with checks? As far as I know (which is next to nothing) hardwood trees have more heartwood than sapwood. What is the commercial use for the rest of the maple wood other than the sapwood—used for charcoal production, firewood, plywood cores, engineered flooring cores, flooring slats, structural members in furniture?

Is its heartwood supposed to be more dimensionally stable than its sapwood? Why not use it more for furniture or craft woodworking, I wonder? Excuse my ignorance.

Thanks everyone.

8 replies so far

View childress's profile


841 posts in 4109 days

#1 posted 02-09-2011 11:32 PM

”hardwood trees have more heartwood than sapwood.”

This is not necessarily true. Each species of tree is different while some have more sapwood and vice versa. Some sapwoods are alot softer than the heartwoods in some species and in others they are very close. There is a lot of factors that go into play here, not only the species, but also where it grows. With sugar maple, the sapwood is very stable and hard and is primarily used because of the uniform color throughout, which is what is demanded by most of the buying market (cabinet makers). It is also bigger in the tree than the heartwood as opposed to red oak, which has very little sapwood.

At least this is what my experience has told me…. :)

-- Childress Woodworks

View reberly's profile


191 posts in 3257 days

#2 posted 02-10-2011 04:11 AM

I don’t know if this helps, but here is a 24” wide 2” thick slab of a curved maple log with three crotches I milled yesterday. The heartwood was darker and has more risk of checking and seperation. Many times, the heart will be dead and dry with the yonnger sapwood surrounding it. As you can see it is very close to the pith. I would consider it more unstable and more difficult to stabalize than the sapwood.

-- "Big Timber is our Legacy" ,

View bandman's profile


79 posts in 3958 days

#3 posted 02-10-2011 05:50 AM

In the sugar maple logs I’ve sawn over the past 7 years, there are typically 3 distinct areas of wood I run into
when plainsawing (flatsawn lumber). The white exterior is the sapwood, nice white uniform color. As you square the log down, you get into the heartwood (medium brown color) lumber as you saw in towards the pith. In larger maple logs, there is typically an area of +/- 6”x6” that is the absolute center of the tree. This pith section contains darker splits and shakes and is typically not usable for woodworking. A good majority of the brown colored sugar maple as you saw, typically starts to contain knots, etc. but is very useable for woodworking projects. As the log is squared, there will be boards that will have some white sapwood, along with the brown heartwood as you saw. Typically, the brown colored maple is ripped down and used for cases, flooring, etc. A lot of sawyers will leave the inner pith material in 2” thicknesses, which can be used for utility lumber, barn floring, or shoring earth excavation in construction. This utility grade lumber is commonly referred to as maple hearts. Every maple log, depending on location grown, conditions, etc. will contain a different amount of white sapwood and heartwood. Hope this helps.

-- Phil

View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3617 days

#4 posted 02-10-2011 06:39 AM

Guys, this clears out a lot. reberly, thanks for that pic!

Bandman, thanks for your pro account.

Childress, thanks for sharing your knowledge!

View FordMike's profile


155 posts in 4038 days

#5 posted 02-10-2011 07:28 AM

and then on the west coast we have big-leaf maple, that rarely has fiddle or other figure in the heartwood much more prominant in the sapwood. most of the trees i have cut in the last 10 years have have smal hearts that readily checks (excuse the lack of caps broke my wrist last week, still in cast)

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 3488 days

#6 posted 02-10-2011 08:53 AM

I really like the look when you get contrasting colors on one piece of maple and works wonderfully for the work I do. Be it curly, birdseye, burls or nicely colored heartwood… I love maple… Guess I must truly be a lumberjock :)

-- Scroll saw patterns @

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 3526 days

#7 posted 02-10-2011 06:38 PM

Maple tends to grow very uneventfully when small, making very plain wood; it’s hard to sell plain wood for any type of reasonable profit. As the tree gets bigger, figuring such as tiger striping and burling start to develop which can make a very profitable board. As the tree gets bigger yet it tends to start rotting in the heartwood which will rot quite quickly, making the heartwood much less desirable or maybe even useless. Said heartwood remains plain, of course, as that was the way it grew; the sapwood is figured much more, making it what you will more likely see on the shelf. I have many maple slabs that are mixed with burls, striping, and the spalting that generates some beautiful colors that are both heart and sapwood, but it’s always more so in the sapwood.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Samel A. Livingstone's profile

Samel A. Livingstone

19 posts in 4159 days

#8 posted 02-11-2011 01:39 AM

Maple Lumber; Hard maple(sugar or black maple) which has grown well will with 6 to 8 growth rings per inch may have very small hearts. I have seen logs 20-inch in diameter logs with a 2-inch leart. Very slow grown trees in a lpoor location or have been damaged such as an ice storm will have larger hearts sometimes over half the tree diameter. Soft maple (red or silver) average will have at least 1/2 of the diameter of heartwood. Slow grown trees in poor locations with light competition may have up to 3/4 heart wood. Such a log with the rim of sap wood on the outside has almost half of the volume in sapwood. The skill of the sawyer makes a lot of difference in yield of white boards. We all have used maple boards with all sapwood on one face and mixed on the back. Only buy maple cut in the winter and dried for the very whitest boards. SAM

-- Sam, upstate

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