We identify alder as a popular finish hardwood. It is among the softest hardwoods around, malleable, and called a “semi-hardwood.” Alder came into the limelight when it began to be used as an alternative to cherry and earned the name “poor man’s cherry.”
Alder wood is a very versatile and workable species. There are a number of different types of Alder, from North American Red Alder to Green Alder found in southeastern Europe and other varieties that grow in Asia and the Americas. While the various types of Alder have slightly different characteristics, overall this durable wood is practical for woodworking.
Alder Wood Basics
Alder has an extremely smooth grain pattern that makes it popular among end-users. When freshly cut, the wood is almost white but quickly changes when exposed to air and light. Over time it develops into a warm, brown color. There is not much distinction between the heartwood and sapwood.
Apart from being visually pleasing to look at, alder is very resilient with a medium density. In addition, it exhibits a high degree of flexibility which adds to its shock resistance. Alder is also quite resistant to insect attack and the adverse effects of sunlight and water and is dimensionally stable on drying.
Uses of Alder Wood
The commonest use of alder is for making kitchen cabinets. It adds warmth and uniqueness to a room. Other than cabinets, alder wood also plays a prominent role in the construction business for making window and door frames, beams, wraps, and trim.
Alder wood also makes attractive-looking shutters, turnings, kitchen utensils, moldings, and small decorative carvings. The classic butcher block counter is also commonly made from alder wood.
Types of Alder Wood
As we see above, this wood has a variety of uses. But there are different types of alder wood, and each type has different purposes. Identifying the different varieties of this versatile wood can be difficult, but it can benefit your woodworking projects once you know how to identify them. Here are the major types of alder wood:
Red Alder (Alnus rubra)
Red alder, also known as western red alder, grows in coastal western United States. The trees grow to heights of 130 feet and up to trunk diameters of 3 feet. It is the biggest species of alder.
The wood is light tan to reddish-brown and tends to darken into a dark red shade with age. There is not much differentiation between the heartwood and sapwood. The wood grain is straight with a fine uniform texture with intermittent striations.
You will find red alder easy to work with on both hand and machine tools. Care needs to be taken of damaging the wood because of its softness. It has a Janka hardness rating of 590 lbf. The wood glues, turns, and finishes well.
We use red alder to make musical instruments, pallets, cabinets, plywood, and veneer. We also use it in millwork and manufacture of chip wood and pulpwood.
European Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
European alder is native to western Europe, North Africa, and southwestern Asia. We also call it black alder or common alder. The trees grow to a maximum height of 80 feet with a tree trunk diameter of up to 2 feet.
European alder is soft and white when cut but gradually takes on a pale red color with striking knots. The timber is good for making paper, fiberboard and producing energy.
If submerged in water, alder becomes very strong and durable, making it suitable for building foundations. In addition, we use alder bark in the tanning industry due to its high tannic acid content of 16% to 20%.
With a Janka hardness rating of 650 lbf. European alder is easy to work with and makes veneer, plywood, charcoal for gunpowder, clogs, piles/supports, and turned items.
Interesting fact: European alder has low durability above the ground, but if submerged in water, it is highly durable. Due to this characteristic, the wood was extensively used for making piles and supports throughout Venice while building the city.
Green Alder (Alnus virnis)
You will find green alder growing in the mountains of southeast Europe and the Alps. But today, it also grows in Alaska, Canada, and northern Siberia. The trees grow to a maximum height of 40 feet.
Green alder offers multiple benefits such as medicinal uses, timber, and fuel. The wood also serves well for smoking meat. The oil from the wood is used to treat various medical conditions like diarrhea, muscle pain, and nausea. The inner bark of green alder is edible and is added to cakes and salads.
With a Janka hardness rating of 590 lbf. green alder is easy to work with, and it finds use in a variety of wooden items and making furniture.
Seaside Adler (Alnus Maritima)
Also known as brook alder, you will find seaside alder growing in the eastern United States. The trees grow up to a maximum height of 30 feet.
The wood has a fine, close grain and is light brown. The tree is thin, which somewhat limits the scope of what you can do with the lumber. However, seaside alder is durable and easy to work with at moderate hardness with a Janka hardness rating of 590 lbf. Therefore, we use this wood mostly for manufacturing and construction.
Italian Alder (Alnus Cordata)
Italian alder, also known as rustic alder, grows in Sardinia, Belgium, Spain, France, the UK, in Italy’s Apennine mountains, and Chile and New Zealand. The trees grow up to 80 feet, and the thick bark is useful for protecting the tree from brush fires and retaining the water content of the inner wood.
The wood has a medium hardness at a Janka hardness rating of 590 lbf. It deteriorates quickly when exposed to air but is exceptionally durable if submerged in water. Italian alder is good for carving, moldings, furniture, turning, and making plywood.
Nepalese Alder (Alnus nepalensis)
Nepalese alder, also called utis, grows in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Nepal, Bhutan, and southwest China. The trees are huge and grow to heights of up to 100 feet. The tree trunks grow up to a diameter of 3 feet.
It is light tan to reddish-brown, and the color becomes a deeper red as it ages. There is no differentiation between heartwood and sapwood. The wood has a fine, straight, and uniform grain with a uniform texture.
Being an extremely softwood with a Janka hardness rating of 390 lbf. you need to take care not to dent it while working on it. But this wood is easily worked, and it turns, glues and finishes quite well.
Because the wood is light and soft is makes good matches. We also use it for fuel, interior utility wood, crates, boxes, and for making plywood and turned items.
Grey Alder (Alnus incana)
This wood, also known as speckled alder, is native to central Europe, with several subspecies in North America and Asia. Grey alder trees are slow-growing and will live to an age of 80 to 100 years. The trees grow up to 66 feet. They are grown as a plant to benefit the ecology and for their lumber.
The wood is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 770 lbf. The color and grain pattern of grey alder is similar to that of black alder, only harder, and this species has a better commercial value. We use grey alder to make furniture that will not bear a lot of weight and to turn and carve small objects.
Andean Alder (Alnus acuminata)
Andean alder grows in the Andes region of Central America and South America. It is a fast-growing tree that grows as high as 82 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet. Andean alder is useful for utility purposes and light construction.
The wood is light tan to reddish-brown and tends to darken with age. There is no sharp differentiation between the heartwood and sapwood. The grain is straight, with occasional streaks on the face grain. The wood has a fine, uniform texture.
The wood is quite soft with a Janka hardness rating of 430 lbf. So, you need to be careful while handling it to avoid denting or damaging the wood. But, on the other hand, it glues, finishes, and turns quite well.
We use Andean alder for general construction, matchsticks, furniture, cabinetry, pallets, boxes and crates, millwork, and carving.
Mexican Alder (Alnus jorullensis)
You will find Mexican Alder or “aliso del cerro” (Spanish name) growing in the higher reaches of Central Mexico and the south of Honduras. The trees grow to heights of up to 82 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 2 feet.
It is reddish-brown to light tan, and the wood darkens with age. There is no distinct boundary between the hardwood and sapwood. The wood grain is straight with a fine, medium texture punctuated with occasional streaks.
Mexican alder is a softwood with a Janka hardness rating of 640 lbf. It is easy to work with but take care not to damage the soft wood while working on it. It glues, turns, and finishes well.
We use Mexican alder to make furniture, cabinets, pallets, and shoe heels. We also use it for millwork and carving.
We hope that you are somewhat enlightened about the various types of alder wood that you can get. This soft yet durable wood can find many uses in your woodworking projects. But you first need to know the differences and the characteristics of the different varieties of alder. With this information, you can surely use alder in your future woodworking projects and produce spectacular results.