Acer is the classical Latin name of Maple of which contain about 120 species with 13 of them originating in the U.S. The Maples can be separated into two groups based on the ray widths of their microscopic anatomy, the soft maple group and the hard maple group. Species within each group look alike microscopically.
Hard Maple - The sapwood is creamy white with a slight reddish brown tinge and the heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. The amount of darker brown heartwood can vary significantly according to growing region. Both sapwood and heartwood can contain pith fleck and mineral stain. The wood has a close fine, uniform texture and is generally straight-grained, but it can also occur as "curly'", "fiddleback", and "birds-eye" figure.
Soft Maple - In most respects soft maple is very similar to hard maple. Generally the sapwood is greyish white, sometimes with darker colored pith flecks and mineral stain. The heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. The wood is usually straight-grained. The lumber is generally sold unselected for color.
Hard Maple is principally Mid Atlantic and Lake States. a cold weather tree favoring a more northerly climate.
Soft Maple is distributed throughout eastern U.S. and to a lesser extent on the west coast. (Bigleaf Maple)
Hard Maple is recommended when nailing and screwing that it be pre-bored. With care it machines well, turns well, glues satisfactorily, and can be stained and finished to an outstanding finish.
Soft Maple machines well and can be stained to an excellent finish. It glues, screws, and nails satisfactorily.
Hard Maple is hard, heavy, with good strength properties, in particular its high resistance to abrasion and wear. It also has good steam-bending properties. It dries slowly with high shrinkage, so it can be susceptible to movement in performance.
Soft Maple is about 25 percent less hard than hard maple, has medium bending and crushing strength, and is low in stiffness and shock resistance. It has good steam-bending properties.
Nonresistance to heartwood decay.
Soft Maple is often used as a substitute for hard maple, cherry, beech. Furniture, millwork, kitchen cabinets, flooring, moldings, doors, turnings, musical instruments, toys, table tops.