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MAPLE, BIRDS EYE

Acer saccharum

DESCRIPTION:
Birdseye maple, one of the rarest kinds of wood on the planet, has a distinctive pattern that looks like tiny, swirling eyes disrupting the smooth lines of grain. Birdseye maple isn't a variety or species of maple, but rather a phenomenon that occurs within several kinds of timber due to an unknown cause. Perhaps the valuable anomaly showcases wood's reaction to a fungal or viral infection, genetic mutation, bird pecking, climate change, soil conditions, growth history, or some other mysterious element.

Birdseye maple has a medium density and variable color. The outer rings of the tree create lumber that's usually a creamy, light amber color with darker birdseye patterns. The inner rings, called heartwood, might be deep amber or reddish with dark brown birdseye. Depending on the frequency of the birdseye swirls, each 1/8" to 3/8" wide (1/3-1 cm), the wood may be extremely valuable. Woodworkers prize the timber because it "turns" well on a lathe, meaning it can be shaped into decorative canes, chair legs, or handles. After it's finished, birdseye maple doesn't scratch easily.

Birdseye maple, occurring in Acer saccharum, only refers to the most common species of tree. Millers also find the deformation in red maple, white ash, Cuban mahogany, American beech, black walnut, and yellow birch. These trees that grow in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States yield the heftiest supply, along with some varieties in the Rocky Mountains. Although there are a few clues in a tree's bark that indicate the lumber might have birdseye, it is usually necessary to fell the tree and cut it apart before you know for sure.

Refined specialty products, such as the dashboard of a Rolls Royce, are made of birdseye maple. Since it is such a rare and unusual lumber type, it's very expensive and in short supply. Its cost in boardfeet can be hundreds of times that of ordinary hardwood. Boxes and bowls for jewelry, thin veneer, humidors, canes, furniture inlays, handles, and guitars are made from the decorative wood. These beautiful collectors items seem to shimmer and swirl under the curling circles of birdseye.

see also: Maple, Hard

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