Hard vs Soft Maple - How To Tell?

So, I've got a coupla 1x2-6' hunks of "maple" sitting about. They look like candidates for a cutting board to me, as an official woodtard (i.e. a beginning wooddorker). Is there any way to tell the difference? One piece is pretty white, whilst the other has a slight pinkish cast to it, almost like very light red oak. Grain on both is pretty close to the same, if not identical.
Is there any way to tell the species of these bits of wood? And really, will it make much difference if these *aren't* hard maple and become an end-grain cutting board?
Jason
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It won't make any difference to the food whether it is hard or soft maple.
-j

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If you can easily make a thumb nail mark in it, it is likely soft maple.

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wrote:

Density. Pick one up. If it feels like "just a board" it's soft maple. If it feels like "dang! this is a *heavy* board for its size" it's hard maple.
Another test: you can dent soft maple easily with your fingernail. You can dent hard maple with a nail.

Soft maple will wear faster, and it's more porous. But it'll work.
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt. And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
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It was somewhere outside Barstow when "Jason Quick"

Density. Hard is more dense.
It's sufficient variation that you can make a good guess just by picking up a board. Density forms a clear bimodal distribution - there's some variation between species, but all the "hard" are quite a bit more dense than all the "soft".
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You can look it up in Bruce Hoadley's "Understanding Wood", but there's not all that much "hardness" difference between the two; but hard maple is slightly harder and denser and as the posts indicate you can judge by heft. The way I tell the difference is that on a fresh cut or planed piece that is not the end grain, the soft maple has a slight greyish tinge to the wood, where the hard maple is a brisk white. I made duplicates of my kitchen cabinets for the laundry room, and used hard maple. When compared with the soft maple of the commercially made units, you can tell the difference right away, hard is much brighter in color. For cutting boards soft will be just fine.
Mutt
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Completely false. There's a *hell* of a difference in hardness between the two, as anyone who has ever worked with both types could readily tell you.
Sugar maple is almost fifty percent harder than red and black maple, and nearly *twice* as hard as bigleaf and silver maples.

This is *not* a reliable method of telling them apart. *Some* hard maple is bright white, but it can be considerably darker. And while *some* soft maple is pinkish, *most* of it is *not*.
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt. And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
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Gee, Doug, I don't want to start a flame, but you had to go make me go look it up, and density of wood is expressed as the specific gravity as compared to water. Sugar Maple has a specific gravity of 0.63, while Red Maple is 0.54. That's not a 50% difference. That's according to Hoadley's "Understanding Wood"). Silver, according to US Forrest Service is 0.47 at 12% dry and Bigleaf is 0.48. There's a much bigger chart here at page 5 of this pdf:
http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr113/ch04.pdf
To get close to 50%, you're talking the difference between Sugar Maple and Poplar, the latter having a sg of about 0.42. Even if you take the structural "side hardness" from that same chart for these species, it ain't 50%.
Hoadley also says Red is "...heartwood pale to light brown, sometimes similar in color to light creamy sapwood, but often with a soft or distinct greyish cast." Page 64 if you're interested. As we all know, wood color can vary greatly and I didn't say this grey pallor was the acid test, its just my experience.
Doug Miller wrote:

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We were talking about hardness. Density is something altogether different. Lead and gold, for example, are considerably denser than steel, but nowhere near as hard.

Interesting, I'm sure, but as noted above, not relevant to the difference in *hardness* between maple species.

Still irrelevant. Density and hardness are *not* the same, and as these tables show, they're not even terribly closely related.

True: it's a lot *more* than that. Sugar maple 1450, yellow poplar 540.
Side hardness of sugar maple and red maple are 1450 and 950, respectively, at 12% moisture content. 1450 is 52.6 percent more than 950.
I was looking at the figures for compression perpendicular to the grain, which is also a useful measure of hardness. Here, it's red maple 1000, sugar maple 1470 (47 percent more).

Wood color varies enough to render it of very little value in trying to tell the difference between hard and soft maple.
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt. And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
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Well, Doug, I guess you know more than Bruce Hoadley. He says "Density (weight per unit volume) is the single most important indicator of strength in wood and may therefore predict such characteristics as hardness, ease of machining, and nailing resistance....Specific gravity is often called the density index."
Mutt.
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I don't claim to know more than Bruce Hoadley, but I do claim that you're misundertanding, or substantially misinterpreting, the passage which you quote. To wit:
"Density is the single most important indicator of strength..."
I point out that density and strength, like density and hardness, are different things. Lead is very dense, but it is neither strong nor hard. Titanium is both strong and hard, but it is not dense. Glass is both dense and hard, but it is not strong.
"... and MAY therefore PREDICT ... hardness" [my emphasis]
I point out that: a) Hoadley says "MAY predict", not "DOES predict in all cases". b) He also says "predict", not "is the same as". c) The phrasing "density may predict hardness" *clearly* indicates that density and hardness, while often related, are nonetheless two _separate_and_distinct_ properties.
Materials have many physical properties. Among these are density, hardness, and strength. While often related, the three are not necessarily directly dependent upon one another, and are definitely *not* the same.
Just look at the Forest Products Lab book. The tables that you and I *both* cited in earlier posts have _different_columns_ for density and for hardness. That alone should make it obvious that the two are *not* the same.
An excellent example of this is a comparison between longleaf pine and southern red oak. At 12% moisture content, the two species have identical specific gravity (0.59). Side hardness, though, is a very different story: 870 lb-ft for the pine, 1060 for the oak (22% more).
Or compare longleaf pine (SG 0.59, SH 870) to black walnut (SG 0.55, SH 1010). Walnut is 16% *harder* despite being 7% *less* dense.
That's because the two properties are not the same.
And Hoadley does not say that they are.
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt. And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
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cut a 1" square x 24" stick. Smack self on head. If it hurts, it's soft maple. If it REALLY hurts, it's hard maple.
or so I'm told.
seriously.
The hard maple is easier to disinfect... less porous. When applying a finish..soft maple will suck up more oil/poly..
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If it's got a lot of curly figure, it's soft.
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wrote:

have a few such pieces sitting in the shop waiting to become something), although it's much less common than in the softer species.
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt. And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
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D

I've got some birdseye hard maple waiting too !!
Hard maple will give a "ringing" sound when tapped with a mallet (often used for violin & mandolin backs / sides for it's sound bouncing capacity) Soft maple has more of a "thunk"
JM2C
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On 23 Feb 2005 15:43:37 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@garden.net wrote:

I've got a plank of fiddlebacked hard maple that says you're wrong! :)
It is a lot less common, though- I'll give you that.
Aut inveniam viam aut faciam
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Native trees of Canada, by R C Hosie in notes under red maple (acer rubrum L) . Maple lumber can be identified as "hard" or "soft", by applying any solution of ferric salt to the sapwood---- blue stain, soft, green stain , hard maple. A drug store may have ferric salts, which can be dissolved in water and applied with an eye dropper. I used this method with good results when trying to sort out mixed piles of red and sugar maple logs while trying to sort out a dispute on who cut what and on whose property.. I have not used it on sawn lumber, obviously some sapwood must be present .
Ken
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