Like most families, the maples have their tougher, hardscrabble members (sugar and black), which are 25% to 40% harder than their mellower cousins. Soft maple trees grow faster than hard maples, making them easier to saw, shape, plane, and drill. Generally, soft maple is about as hard and as light as cherry.
One feature common to all maples is their low resistance to decay, making them appropriate for indoor use only. The bluish-gray streaks commonly found on soft maple lumber (called spalting) occur when impurities enter the tree through wormholes or other injuries. The streaks don't affect the mechanical properties of the wood but do give it an unusual appearance. Curly figure also is common to soft maple and looks similar to that found on harder maples. Sometimes difficult to glue, it works well with resin adhesives like yellow and white glues, Resorcinol, and urea resin. For an economical wood with a light color that is as easy to work as cherry, soft maple is an attractive alternative worth exploring.
Popular for cabinets and furniture, soft maple also is fairly easy to carve, and its even, closed-grained texture holds small details and under-cuttings superbly. Since the grain of maple is subtle, it never dominates the details of the carving, and the wood can be polished to a lustrous shine, which is why it is favored by many carvers for their best sculptures.
Wood grain images provided by HobbitHouseInc.com