About Alder Wood

Alder is a member of the birch family and is tan to reddish in color.

Density and Substitution

A close-up of an alder tree branch in the autumn woods.A close-up of an alder tree branch in the autumn woods.
It has a consistent, but faint, straight-grain pattern interspersed with a few tight knots. Availability, low cost and alder's resemblance to more exclusive hardwoods make it a favorite among cabinetmakers, musical instrument manufacturers, furniture builders and trim carpenters.

As a softer hardwood, alder dents easily. On the Janka scale that rates all wood for density and hardness, alder scores 590. For comparison, birch scores 1,260 on the scale. Alder is routinely substituted for birch hardwood in cabinetry as it's more affordable, easier to work with and looks similar to birch. Its workability, adaptability to stain and finishing techniques make alder a top choice for moldings of all kinds. Interior decorators prize alder for picture-frame moldings, chair-rails, cornice or crown molding, door casings and baseboard molding.

Multi-Purpose Wood

Valued by furniture-makers, the texture of alder yields nicely to curved designs that include the use of band saws, scroll saws and the carved Queen Anne leg. One often overlooked use of alder includes solid-body guitars. Some of the biggest guitar manufacturers in the world prefer alder's full-bodied tone response and sustain for their signature guitar models. Though the guitars might not look like alder, they're finished with opaque stain that hides its appearance. The wood's texture, lightness and availability makes it a favorite for beginning carvers and student woodworkers.

Alder's History

Native Americans regarded alder with reverence and respect. They used alder to make dishes, spoons, masks and platters for serving and cooking. In Native American and contemporary kitchens alike, alder is considered by some as the best wood for smoking salmon. The native Americans also realized that when ingested or chewed, alder bark made them feel better. Latter studies have proven that alder bark contains antibiotics and salicin, the ingredient found in aspirin.

About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.