Is Alder a Hardwood? Features and Common Uses

Alder is a common wood used in cabinet making. Although it is classified as a hardwood, it is one of the softest hardwood.

Homeowners who want to pick the best wood for their wooden furniture are often confused when it comes to alder wood, as they wonder if alder is a hardwood. Well, alder is a bit blotchy. You need to be ready for the fact that different pieces of wood will stain differently, but this only adds to its beauty. Alder is actually a semi-hardwood, being softer than other hardwoods like oak and maple. So, if you plan to make cabinets or drawers out of alder, read on to find out more.

Knotty Alder Wood Cabinets

Alder is commonly used for making cabinets

Is Alder a Hardwood?

A North American type of hardwood, Alder is generally grown between Alaska and California. The name Alder belongs to a genus of the Alnus flowering plants of the Betulaceae family of birch trees. This genus consists of around 35 species of monoecious trees (trees that have both male and female reproductive organs), all over the North Temperate Zone, with some seen in Central America, and north and south Andes.

Today, it is known to be among the softest type of hardwood, so its position as a hardwood is undeniable. True, there are many species of this kind of wood all over the world, but the one that’s chiefly used in woodworking remains the Red Alder.

What is Alder wood?

Alder is typified by its consistent color, ranging from white to a light rosy-brown. The Alder tree takes about 25-40 years to mature and begins to mark a decline in quality of wood after age 70 years. It usually grows to a height of 90 feet.

Alder wood grew popular by being considered as the “poor man’s cherry” or as an inexpensive alternative to Cherry wood. As time passed, Alder wood’s reputation rose as its demand rose too. Today, it’s not surprising to find many people asking for Alder wood for use in constructing their kitchen cabinets because of its many useful characteristics. However, cabinet makers do not opt for this wood due to the many finishing techniques this wood calls for, making it expensive than its peers.

Difference between Alder and Birch wood

There are several kinds of hardwood that can be used for flooring, cabinet making and moldings. While alder can be used for these purposes, it has several other uses too, as birch wood does too.

Here are some differences between these kinds of hardwood:

Color and appearance: European Alder ranges between being a light tan to a rust brown, darkening progressively with age. There is no definite distinction between its heartwood and sapwood. Its overall grain pattern is similar to Birch. A light-colored wood, Birch ranges in color from cream to pale yellow. Its heartwood is usually reddish-brown, which could bring about color variations when making fashioning cabinets.

Grain: European Alder has an even and fine grain with closed pores. Its grain is usually straight, but can also be wavy, depending on each tree’s individual growth. Raw Elder displays certain characteristics of grain such as burls, sound cracks, closed knots and worm holes, which go to show its true and natural beauty.

On the other hand, Birch is smooth with grains that may be curly, straight or wavy. It has a high resistance to shock, making it good for staining. Being versatile, it can bring about any look, from being part of either a sophisticated setting or a casual one.

Resistance to rot and decay: Alder doesn’t have a high resistance to rot and decay, so it is advisable to use this wood for indoor furniture alone. In a humid environment, it will be reduced to pulp. Birch is no different from Alder as it too quickly rots and decays when exposed to adverse weather. Its wood is also very prone to insect infestation.

Durability: When used for flooring, Alder wood isn’t very durable. It is prone to showing wear and tear marks than other hardwood types. Birch, being a hardwood, is far more durable than any other hardwoods.

Ease of working: It’s easy to work with Alder, whether one uses machine tools or hand tools. It also sands very well and being a soft wood, woodworkers should take care not to dent it. It glues well, just as it stains and finishes well too and overall behaves much like Black Cherry.

On the other hand, Birch is good to work with machines; it also sands well and cuts and drills without much difficulty. It holds screws and nails well and presents a good gluing surface. It also stains well.

Odor: Alder has no distinctive fragrance but birch has a fragrance that women have used on their handkerchiefs for centuries.

Allergies: Alder causes skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Birch causes what is called Pollen Allergy which is manifest as stuffy nose, sneezing and watery eyes.

Availability: It’s not easy to get European Alder as lumber. Since the diameter of these trees is small, the board widths are narrow. It is usually affordably priced.

Applications: Alder’s chief characteristic of having a uniform texture, color and elasticity makes it a popular choice of wood in the furniture and flooring industries, particularly if one is looking for beautiful hardwood flooring. They are used to make cabinets, other types of furniture and electric guitars.

Birch wood has wide applications in making cabinets because it produces excellent quality plywood that is at once readily available, stable and affordable. It is used in home improvement stores. Since it is a tough wood type, it is best used to make butcher blocks and tool handles.

Its plywood is widely used since it can be produced in large and flat sheets of veneer. It is also used to make musical instruments like drums.

Alder wood for cabinet making

In terms of hardness, alder wood ranks above pine and poplar.

In appearance, its light tan color with muted grain pattern is so attractive that it is a popular choice of woodworking projects like cabinets, specialty furniture, etc. When making cabinets, Alder is used as frame material when laid on plywood cabinets made of birch wood. If one is on a budget, alder is a good choice as you get all the goodness of birch at half the price. Alder is the choice of wood for woodworkers and customers as it is perfect in terms of affordability, ease to work with and adaptability.

Alder also accepts staining and lacquering well. Since it is soft wood, the stain enters the open pores of the wood and gives it an entirely different character. To retain the natural color of Alder wood, only a little stain should be applied for a brief time because the longer it stays on the wood surface, the darker it will cause the wood to grow. Stain should only be applied briefly to the surface of alder because the longer the stain sits on the surface, the darker the alder gets. Alder’s open pores also help apply lacquer easily. Alder can be given a glossy coating by applying lacquer which penetrates the wood quickly and hardens inside its pores.

Can it be used for molding?

Of course, it can be used for moldings because of its ability to be naturally straight. This softwood can be cut by a molder knife easily and can be put through a molder faster than any other hardwood. If it shows up any defects, it can also be easily and affordably culled. Any defective pieces can be used for structural purposes while the good portions can be used for furniture or any other woodworking projects. When Alder is used for moldings, barely any cracks, knots or splits can be seen. Such Alder is said to be “clear” and is held in high esteem by professional woodworkers and customers.

Alder hardwood flooring

Anyone with a good knowledge of hardwood flooring will know that alder hardwood flooring should not be exposed often to standing water in kitchens and bathrooms or it will warp. Instead, it can be successfully used for flooring material in living rooms, bedrooms and dens.

In fact, if you do choose to go with Alder flooring, you should take a lot of care to maintain it well. Here are some tips you can use:

  • Instead of trying to salvage a damaged floor, prevent such things from happening by placing pads below the legs of chairs, sofas, etc in highly used parts of your home.
  • If you have domestic pets, make sure that you trim their nails periodically so that they do not gouge the floor.
  • Also, if you wear high heels, take them off before you walk on Alder flooring.
  • Think seriously about the finish you want your Alder hardwood floor to have because the kind of finish you choose will demand a different degree of care, apart from specialized techniques.
  • Of course, you will have to sweep the floor regularly and clean up any spills so that you don’t have blotches on your wooden floor.

By following these easy-to-follow tips, you can maintain your Alder wood flooring and keep it intact for many years.


“Is Alder a hardwood?” Well, it is a soft hardwood, but with its other defining characteristics, it acts just like any typical hardwood and is therefore readily chosen to make furniture and other hardy woodworking projects.

Author: John Clax

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