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What is Birdseye Maple?

A close up image of birdseye maple.
The dashboards of Rolls Royces are made of birdseye maple.
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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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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. This isn't a variety or species of maple, but rather a phenomenon that occurs within several kinds of timber due to an unknown cause. The valuable anomaly might showcase the wood's reaction to a fungal or viral infection, genetic mutation, bird pecking, climate change, soil conditions, growth history, or some other mysterious element.

This type of 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 swirls, each 0.125 to 0.375 inches wide (0.3175 to 0.9525 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.

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Although most common in the Acer saccharum or sugar maple tree, millers also find the deformation in red maple, white ash, Cuban mahogany, American beech, black walnut, and yellow birch. 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 a miller knows for sure.

Refined specialty products, such as the dashboard of a Rolls Royce car, are made of birdseye. Since it is such a rare and unusual lumber type, it's very expensive and in short supply, with a cost in boardfeet that 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.

Being able to cultivate birdseye, or bird's eye, in hardwood would be such a valuable commodity that researchers and arborists vigorously study the mysterious phenomena. So far, they have seemed to discount several theories, namely that pecking birds deform the wood grain and that an infecting fungus makes it twist. No one has demonstrated a complete understanding of the combination of climate, soil, tree variety, or insects that reliably produces the valuable maple, however.

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Discuss this Article

g2150n
Post 13

I have plenty of birdseye maple. I have a feeling it is more a wet environment sugar maple. I have walked in the woods when it is raining and the dark spots on the bark are more prevalent and the tree itself seems to have an tinge of orange.

I find it really hard to deal with the wide boards. They have some nasty twists. I an going to try and sink a log into a swamp for a few months and then saw it up. Beautiful wood, though. I have enough 3 inch to do a my cabin floor. I am trying a blend of beech, ash and maple. It is nice to have a variety of nice trees on my property, and the tools needed, but I am a mechanic, not a cabinet maker or a carpenter. Maybe when I retire I can spend more time with the woodpile.

noctfem
Post 12

I have several dressers made of this wood and they smell bad. Someone suggested that the wood may have been treated with an oil to preserve it and it is the oil I smell. How can I clean the piece without hurting the wood?

anon268911
Post 11

Bird's eye maple is beautiful, but it is not rare as some suggest. In fact, it is quite common in nature.

anon65664
Post 10

Could anyone tell me what a birds eye maple bedroom set is worth? It was made by the atlas furniture co. in n.y. and was probably made in the early 1900s.

anon44691
Post 9

Anon44679: If anyone in your area makes wooden furniture, that person might be able to tell, or might be able to tell you someone who could. Your local county agent (if you live in the US) might also be able to help. Or, if there is a Forestry Service office in your area, someone there might be able to give you some contacts.

anon44679
Post 8

can you tell me who to contact to help me identify the trees on our farm, which might have birds eye grain in them. We have maple, white ash and black walnut. thanking you in advance, linda crain

anon37638
Post 7

there is a red maple tree on our farm that has spiral marks every foot or so on the bark. these marks go all the way up the tree. the tree is about 25-30 inches in diameter. is this a normal maple? will the lumber look any different? does it hold any more value?

anon37562
Post 6

Several years ago, I bought a 1937 Remington .22 target rifle (Model 37) that had a custom stock in laminated bird's eye maple. Every shooting match I take it to, I get lots of comments like, "Wow! That is the nicest looking rifle stock I have ever seen!" ...It is *very* striking (and strong!).

anon29966
Post 5

My neighbour as a kid used to mill and sell Birdseye maple and one log sold for $11,000, so it is pretty profitable!

stevej
Post 4

If a Maple tree has the Birdseye pattern, is it in the whole tree or is it just in the lower trunk near the ground?

Heidi
Post 2

I have heard there is an age limit for Birdseye maples... that if I want to harvest mine, I should do so at a certain age of the tree. Can anyone comment on this? I would like also to chat with someone who has actually harvested their maples and hear about the results... for instance, how much wood did you actually get from an average tree, and how profitable? Thanks!

sullyman
Post 1

what could I do if bird's eye maple grows on an area

of my farm?

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