With a hardness of 1,400-1,500 (Janka scale), you will find maple to be incredibly strong. Maple is aesthetically good looking and furniture makers and woodworkers prefer it over many other types of wood. Maple has a smooth grain pattern and has a light, creamy coloration. It is one of the more durable types of wood that you can get on the market.
There are many different species of maple trees spread across the globe but in the US, the variety used by woodworkers is hard maple (Acer saccharum), also called sugar maple. It grows abundantly throughout the US and Canada and is the national symbol of Canada, featuring in their national flag. Maple syrup comes from the sap of the sugar maple tree.
Many a time you would like to use a particular type of wood, but it is not available. Finding a suitable substitute for a variety of wood that you cannot procure can be a daunting task. What you need to do is to consider the characteristics of the wood of your preferred choice. Then, you need to identify woods that have similar properties to the type of wood that you wanted to use.
Woods Similar to Maple
In this post, we consider alternatives in case you are unable to procure maple for your woodworking projects. Although you may not get a 100% match, you can find wood similar to maple which helps you complete your project. Let’s first take a quick look at maple and its characteristics and then we can consider some optional choices.
When poplar is bleached and stained it can be made to resemble maple. Otherwise, this wood is rarely used for its appearance except for rainbow poplar. We consider poplar as a utility wood and it makes crates, pallets, and frames for upholstered furniture.
Veneer made from poplar is dyed and stained and used in combination with other varieties of veneers. This wood also finds use in cabinetry, painted furniture and molding and trim. Then, because of its durability and the straightness of the lumber, we use it for making studs, posts and rails on outdoor decks.
You will be able to work easily with poplar with hand tools and power tools as well. But ensure that your blades are sharp due to the tendency of the wood to tear if worked on with blunt blades. Poplar responds best to slower speeds when you are using a router or drill machine.
The color of birch may vary from yellowish-white to light brown but this wood darkens with time. It has a fine to medium pore structure with a grain pattern that is both delicate and wavy. The surface of birch has a satiny texture. It has a varying density and high-fat content which creates some interesting light effects.
Although birch isn’t very heavy, it is sufficiently strong. It also has a moderate amount of elasticity and toughness, but it isn’t a very hard wood with a Janka hardness of 1,260.
Usually, woodworkers use yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). You will find it difficult to split birch but you can profile, carve, peel and cut it easily. The easy peeling property of birch makes it popular for making into plywood, and Baltic birch plywood is an internationally renowned category of plywood.
Read more about Birch vs Maple.
Pine is a softwood, softer than several varieties of hardwood. These trees grow all across the world and throughout the United States. Pine is a stiff and shock-resistant wood which makes it useful for furniture making and as a building material. Pinewood is easy to work with because of its intrinsic softness.
In the early days, colonialists constructed their homes with pine as it was abundantly available all over. Later, other more exotic types of wood took over, but today, pine is steadily coming into vogue because it is a sustainable wood and has rustic looks.
This wood is usually not expensive, but the price can go up if you procure it in an area where it does not grow.
The various names for grey elm (Ulmus Americana) are American white elm, water elm, and soft elm. It is lighter and softer than red elm. We use this wood in shipbuilding, chairs, agricultural implements, and ladders.
The color of the heartwood is reddish-brown with a reasonably straight grain, though some interlocking can occur. You will find it easy enough to work with this wood, but you need to keep your tool edges sharp.
The other names for Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) are sycamore maple and European maple. It grows in Europe and southwestern Asia as well as throughout the United States and Canada. The trees are tall and grow up to heights of over 100 feet. It is not a very hard wood with a hardness value of 1,050 (Janka hardness).
The uniqueness of sycamore maple is that we use the sapwood rather than the heartwood. The sapwood is extremely light to reddish-brown and the heartwood is a darker shade of brown. The grain patterns of this wood can be quilted or curly, with a mostly straight grain.
Sycamore maple has low durability and is susceptible to decay. It is easy to work with and we cannot use this wood outdoors. Sycamore maple also tends to burn when you use high-speed cutters to cut it. We use this wood for making veneer, paper, and packing boxes and pallets. It also finds use in the making of musical instruments and fine woodworking items.
If you are ever in need of maple wood but are not able to procure it, you should not feel restricted by only one option. As you have seen in this post, there are several alternative types of wood that share properties similar to maple.
You may not be able to get the satisfaction that you would have got had you used maple. However, you may have noticed that many of the varieties resemble maple in several ways. Sycamore, for instance, is a form of maple and even contains the word “maple” in its name.
So, you should not limit your choices to one particular type of wood when so many alternatives are available. As a woodworker, you need to be versatile and make adjustments as you go along. Now that you are aware that there are so many different varieties of wood that you could use instead of maple, you will feel less restricted and more creative.
Expand your horizons and try different types of wood for a change. Create some smart-looking projects with wood similar to maple.