Maple, a popular hardwood, acquires its characteristic curls and ‘quilt’ when it is cut and dried. This is due to a phenomenon called ‘figure’, caused when water content in the wood compresses and expands differently on opposite sides of the board.
The compression and tension leave the board with a rippled or wavy pattern across the grain, culminating in the waves and curls sought after by woodworkers to make interesting designs.
When the wood is moist on one side, it compresses in that area and causes tension on the opposite side, thus curling and creating figure. That is why maple with a nice quilt or curl is generally easier to come by than woods with other kinds of figure.
Maple is known for its durability and resilience (which is why it’s a common component of flooring) so when it is dried, its structure is more resilient to the compression and tension of differentially drying wood boards, thus making it a great candidate for curling.
The formation of the curls in maple can be controlled somewhat by the way it is cut. For example, cutting the board ‘quartersawn’ will reduce the chances of it developing waves and curls due to figure.
However, if you take a board that’s been cut ‘plainsawn’ (standard or most common way of cutting board) and dry it in the right conditions, it’s likely that you will end up with an interesting quilt pattern.
What causes curly figure in wood?
Curly figure in wood is caused when the wood’s growth fibers twist or curl in a corkscrew pattern. This happens during the tree’s growth cycle, likely due to uneven stress levels or genetic predispositions.
During slow or stunted growth periods, tension builds up in the wood, which can result in the fibers twisting or curling. Temperature and humidity levels can also affect the formation of curly figure in wood.
Excessively rainy weather, for instance, increases moisture levels in the wood, causing tension that can lead to curly figure. The type of wood, location, and environmental conditions all influence the formation of curly figure in wood.
Some wood species are more prone to curly figure than others. When it comes to hardwoods, curly figure is found most frequently in walnut, cherry, sycamore, and maple. In softwoods, curl is more common in redwood and cedar.
The figure can range from tight and subtle to intensely wild, depending on the age and growth situation of the tree.
What is curly maple wood?
Curly maple is a type of hardwood which is usually found in trees in North America, such as sugar maple, soft maple, and even some species of oak. This type of wood is characterized by its curly or ‘fiddleback’ grain pattern.
It is also known as flame, tiger, fiddleback, or ripple maple, due to its patterned figure. The grain appears undulating and often three-dimensional in appearance. Curly maple wood is prized for its unique texture, color variations, figure, and aesthetic qualities.
It ranges from light tan to yellowish-brown to dark brown in color, showing handsome and distinct contrast with the lighter colored sapwood.
The unique figure of Curly Maple wood makes it desirable for a variety of uses, such as furniture and musical instruments, where the curly figure is popularly showcased. It is also used in architectural woodwork, veneers, and marquetry.
Due to its striking figure and ability to be bent with steam, it is also frequently used in gun stocks, bows, and fishing rods. Additionally, this type of wood is a great option for turning projects, since the wand-like figure of the grain is an attractive choice for items such as vases and bowls.
Why is it called curly maple?
Curly maple is a type of wood that is characterized by its distinctive wavy or rippled grain pattern. This ripple effect is the result of the way in which the annual growth rings of the maple tree interlock.
The ripple effect causes the wood to reflect light in different directions which creates a unique and eye-catching pattern. This pattern makes it a popular choice for furniture, musical instruments, and decorative items.
The pattern can range from subtle, almost imperceptible to strong, bold waves. Interestingly, the ripple effect is more pronounced when the wood is quartersawn, which usually occurs when furniture is made from this type of maple.
The wavy pattern in quartersawn maple is what gives it the term curly maple.
How do I know if my maple tree is curly?
The best way to determine if your maple tree is curly is to inspect the tree closely. Look for leaves that are tightly curled or twisted and look different than the surrounding leaves on the tree. Curly maple leaves are usually thinner and more narrow than other leaves.
The curled leaves will often have an attractive silvery or sometimes even a yellow-gold hue. You may also see some of the leaf veins bulging out a bit more than the surrounding leaves. You should also observe the way the leaves are growing from the limbs of the tree.
Curly leaf maples will often have leaves growing closer together than other species of maple trees.
Is curly maple rare?
Yes, curly maple is relatively rare in comparison to other types of maple, as it is a type of wood with a unique grain pattern caused by a chemical process that is difficult to replicate. The properties of curly maple make it highly sought-after for woodworking and other fine craftsmanship.
It is also favored by guitar makers because of its bright, vibrant colors and its tendency to generate a pleasing tone. While regular maple wood is relatively plentiful and easy to come by, finding a true and consistent curl pattern in a piece of wood is a bit more difficult to find.
Therefore, it has become something of a commodity, commanding a premium price in comparison to other hardwoods.
Are curly maple and tiger maple the same thing?
No, curly maple and tiger maple are not the same thing. Curly maple is a figure pattern that is seen in certain species of maple, like sugar maple, spaced or shirred/rippled grain patterns. Tiger maple is figure pattern also seen in certain maple species, but it refers to mixed or broken rays of grain patterns mixed with regular straight grain, with some resemblance to stripes or Tiger figure.
Both Curly maple and Tiger maple can be found in some of the same species of maple, but they are still distinct figures.
Is curly maple good for cutting boards?
Yes, curly maple is a great choice for cutting boards. Its patterned grain is both beautiful and durable, making it an ideal material for kitchen use. It is naturally durable, stable, and resistant to moisture, heat, and bacteria, keeping it safe and clean for food preparation.
The surface texture is nice and smooth, allowing you to easily glide a knife across the board without damaging the blade or the surface. It is also easy to keep clean and maintain, and it has a unique and timeless look that will add warmth to any kitchen.
What tree produces curly maple?
Curly maple is a type of wood that comes from a variety of trees, including hard maple, silver maple, and black maple. The ribs or flames of the wood often produce a curly grain, giving this wood its distinctive appearance.
Hard maple (Acer saccharum) is the most common species used for curly maple and is most popular in the United States. Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is also frequently used and is more common in Canada.
Black maple (Acer nigrum) is the least common and is often seen primarily in Europe and Asia. All three varieties of trees have a light color that ranges from light brown to yellow, but the dark lines of the curly grain have a dark brown tone.
How can you tell if a maple is quilted?
When determining if a maple is quilted, it is important to look at the grain pattern both on the face of the board as well as on the side. Quilted maple typically features a rippling or wavy appearance, though it can range from subtle to dramatic.
This pattern is caused by tiny pockets of decay in the tree trunk as it grows, leading to unique markings when cut into boards. On the side of the board, one should look for a pattern of lines radiating outward from a center point on the board’s end, creating a web-like pattern of “eyes.
” When the board is sawn with a bandsaw, the pattern is often further enhanced. Additionally, the ends of the board will often display a small radiating wave pattern, called medullary rays, which can be seen more clearly under bright light.
Is curly maple a hardwood or softwood?
Curly maple is a hardwood, which refers to the density and strength of the wood. Hardwood is typically wood that comes from angiosperm trees (trees that have flowers and produce fruit), while softwood comes from gymnosperm trees (conifers or cone bearing trees).
Hardwood is much denser and usually more expensive than softwood due to its strong characteristics. Curly maple is a type of hardwood, in fact it is considered to be one of the hardest hardwoods available.
It is a popular choice for furniture making due to its strength and the unique pattern in its grain.