Curly maple (Acer sp.)

Common Name(s): Curly maple, fiddleback maple, tiger maple, flamed maple, rippled maple

Botanical Designation: Not a distinct species of maple. Curly maple is considered a grain pattern that can be found in nearly all Acer species.

Distribution: Primarily temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere

Average Dried Weight: 30.2 to 44.0 lbs/ft3 (485 to 705 kg/m3) depending on species

Janka Hardness: 700 to 1,450 lbf (6,450 N) depending on species

Comments: Called curly maple because the ripples in the grain pattern create a three dimensional effect that appears as if the grain has “curled” along the length of the board. It’s also referred to as fiddleback maple, in reference to its historic use for the backs and sides of violins.

Curly maple figuring is similar to quilted maple, but curl is a primarily horizontal pattern perpendicular to the wood grain. Unlike quilted maple, curly maple is most pronounced when the board is quartersawn, and the curls usually become much less pronounced or absent in flatsawn sections of boards. It is not completely clear what environmental conditions (if any) cause this phenomenon, but there are different grades of curly maple, which greatly affect its price.

Generally the criteria for determining value is based upon:

  • color (both uniformity and lightness—whiter is preferred),
  • frequency of the curls (tight, closely-spaced curls are preferred), and
  • intensity (more depth is preferred).

Prices can range from just slightly more expensive than regular maple for lower grades of curly maple, to many, many times higher for prices of the highest grades. However, curly maple tends to be one of the most economical hardwoods when compared to other figured woods.

Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood.

 

Curly maple (bookmatched panels)
Curly maple (bookmatched panels)
Curly maple and redheart (turned)

Identification: Since curly maple is not a distinct species, the written information and images below are for red maple (Acer rubrum). See the article on Hardwood Anatomy for definitions of endgrain features.

Red maple (endgrain 10x)
Red maple (endgrain 10x)
Red maple (endgrain 1x)
Red maple (endgrain 1x)

Porosity: diffuse porous

Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples

Vessels: small to medium; moderately numerous to numerous

Parenchyma: banded (marginal)

Rays: narrow to medium, normal spacing

Lookalikes/Substitutes: Red maple is more or less indistinguishable from other soft maples such as striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), however, it can usually be separated from hard maple (A. saccharum) according to techniques in this article.

Notes: None.

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ejmeierDan Johnson Recent comment authors
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Dan Johnson

Absolutely. I have seen the same thing. It does break (or more correctly, grow) along the curly and tiger cross-grain lines, and these do have physical features regarding strength. Examining it under the microscope also shows this.