Alder Wood: Properties, Types & Uses

alder wood properties, types and uses
Alder is a popular American hardwood with around 35 species, most of which are native to the Pacific Northwest and belong to the birch family (Betulaceae). Featuring a yellow or reddish-brown color, this moderately hard timber is known for its amazing stability underwater. It is used and prized for furniture making, cabinetry, millwork, molding, carving, and various other woodworking applications.

Here’s everything you need to know about Alder wood’s properties, types, and uses.

What is Alder Wood?

Alder refers to timber that is procured from the alder tree, which is a deciduous tree (hardwood) belonging to the genus Alnus in the birch family. There are several species of alder spread across North America, Europe, and Asia. Alder wood is known for its attractive appearance, durability, and workability due to its straight grain.

Alder is commonly used for making furniture, cabinets, and other interior projects. Despite being a hardwood, it’s relatively soft, which makes it easy to work with. In addition to its use in commercial applications, alder wood is also sometimes used for cooking food in barbecue and grilling due to its flavor.

As a versatile and beautiful hardwood, alder finds applications in both commercial and aesthetic sectors. Some popular alder wood species include European Alder, Red Alder, White Alder, Speckled Alder, and Mountain Alder.

Alder Wood Properties

Here are the major specifications of alder wood in terms of appearance, workability, physical strength, durability, etc.

Alder Tree

Alder wood is obtained from deciduous trees in the Alnus genus, many of which are small trees and shrubs. Some large trees, such as Red Alder, have an average height of about 100-130 ft and a 2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter.

Alder wood appearance

The color of alder timber ranges from light yellow to brown-reddish, depending on the species. The heartwood, which only develops after a certain age, is normally tan to reddish brown and may have small streaks on the sawn surface.

Some alder species are nearly white when freshly cut, but turn darker into a reddish-brown hue upon exposure to light. The heartwood and sapwood are difficult to distinguish due to practically the same color.

The grain in alder wood is generally straight and the texture is fine and uniform, contributing to its amazing workability. Its beautiful appearance with a nice grain pattern makes alder timber suitable for various applications.

Freshly cut logs can start changing color or may even stain upon exposure to moisture and other environmental elements.

Alder wood workability

As a soft hardwood with a straight and smooth grain, alder is extremely easy to work with and can be operated with both machine and hand tools. It is fairly easy to sand and also turns very well. Gluing and finishing results are good too. However, its soft structure can result in denting during some machining operations.

Due to its soft structure and low density, alder wood bends quite easily, making it a great choice for turned objects.

Staining is easy and produces amazing results. Dark stained alder is often used as a less expensive alternative to black cherry, hence the name ”poor man’s cherry” became popular.

Alder wood is particularly known for its amazing stability. Fully dried wood has little movement, even in high-end applications.

Mechanical Properties of Alder Wood

With an average dried weight of around 450 kg/m3, alder (red alder) is a moderately heavy wood, easy to handle and transport. Its Janka hardness of 590 lbf makes it softer than many hardwood species, though it is still quite strong.

Some species of alder can be durable, while others, like red alder, are practically perishable in terms of resistance to moisture and decay. However, the wood is not usually affected by insects and pests.

Some species of alder can be durable underwater and are used for making sluices and underwater piles.

Alder wood is also resistant to shock and can be used for making tool handles.

Alder Wood Types/Species

There are more than 30 species of alder, according to some sources. Here are the top most popular alder wood species and types:

1. Red Alder (Alnus rubra)

Red Alder, or western red alder, trees found commonly in the coastal western United States, reach heights of about 130 feet and have a 3-foot trunk diameter. Freshly cut wood is light tan to reddish-brown and darkens with age, featuring a straight grain and fine texture. Due to its softness, red alder is easy to work with and stains and glues well. It is used for furniture, musical instruments, cabinets, plywood, veneer, and more.

2. European Alder (Alnus glutinosa)

European Alder, or black alder is another popular alder species. Native to western Europe and surrounding regions, the trees grow up to 80 feet and have a 2-foot average trunk diameter. Freshly cut wood is soft and white, which transforms to a pale red with exposure. Common applications include paper, pulp, veneer, fiberboard, and energy. It becomes stronger underwater and is used for building foundations. With a moderate Janka hardness of 650 lbf, it’s strong and easily workable.

3. White Alder (Alnus Rhombifolia)

White Alder, also known as California Alder and Sierra Alder, is a hardwood tree native to Western North America, particularly found in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. With a Janka Hardness of 1,320 lbf, it is very hard and dense. While not prized for commercial timber, its scented flowers and wood find use in craft and decorative applications. In some regions, the wood is used for medicinal purposes, and its extensive root system makes it useful in soil erosion control..

4. Green Alder (Alnus virnis)

Green Alder trees grow extensively in southeast Europe, including the Alps, Alaska, Canada, and northern Siberia and reach a height of up to 40 feet. It’s prized for its medicinal properties as well as for commercial timber and fuel. The wood is also commonly used for smoking meat. The oil of Green Alder wood is known to be effective in conditions like diarrhea and muscle pain. The inner bark of the tree is edible and used in salads. It’s used for making furniture and various wooden items.

5. Seaside Adler (Alnus Maritima)

Seaside Alder, or brook alder, is commonly found in the eastern United States, with trees reaching heights of up to 30 feet. The light brown heartwood features a fine, close grain. The tree is slim and small, which limits its applications as commercial timber, though its natural durability and moderate hardness with a Janka rating of 590 lbf make it suitable for a range of other applications in the manufacturing industry.

6. Italian Alder (Alnus Cordata)

Italian Alder, also called rustic alder, is found in many regions across Europe, including Sardinia, France, the UK, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and Chile. Reaching an average height of about 80 feet, the tree has a thick bark that protects it from brush fires. With a Janka hardness of 590 lbf, the Italian Alder wood is easy to work with and is used for carving, furniture, moldings, turning, veneer, and plywood. It exhibits exceptional durability under water.

7. Nepalese Alder (Alnus nepalensis)

Nepalese alder, known as utis in its native region, is common in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Nepal, and nearby regions. The trees have an average height of about 100 feet and a 3-foot trunk diameter. The heartwood is light tan to reddish-brown wood and darkens with age. With a fine, straight grain and a low Janka hardness rating of 390 lbf, it’s easy to work with. Common applications include firewood, matches, fuel, utility wood, crates, veneers, boxes, plywood, small objects, and turned items.

8. Grey Alder (Alnus incana)

Grey alder, also known as speckled alder, is native to central Europe, with some varieties found in North America and Asia. This slow-growing tree can live up to an age of 80-100 years and reaches an average height of 66 feet. Cultivated for both lumber and other (environmental, medicinal, etc.) benefits, grey alder wood is moderately hard (Janka rating: 770 lbf), which makes it suitable for various applications ranging from lightweight furniture to plywood, small turned objects, and carvings.

9. Andean Alder (Alnus acuminata)

Andean alder, which grows mainly in the Andes mountain range of Central and South America, is a fast-growing tree and reaches average heights of 82 feet or even more and has an average trunk diameter of up to 3 feet. Used in utility and basic construction, the heartwood is light tan to reddish-brown and darkens with age. Though soft (Janka rating: 430 lbf), it is easy to work with and glues, finishes, and turns well. Other uses include construction, matchsticks, pallets, boxes, crates, furniture, cabinetry, millwork, and carving.

10. Mexican Alder (Alnus jorullensis)

Mexican Alder, or “aliso del cerro” in Spanish, is commonly found in higher regions of Central Mexico and southern Honduras. The tree grows up to 82 feet and has a 2 ft trunk diameter. The heartwood, which is reddish-brown to light yellowish, darkens with exposure and age. This moderately hard timber with a Janka rating of 640 lbf is easy to work with and finds applications in construction, furniture, cabinets, carving, pallets, shoe heels, and millwork,

Alder Wood Uses

The most common and popular use of alder is for making beautiful kitchen cabinets. It is not only strong and attractive but gives a unique appearance to the space. Other than cabinets, alder wood is extensively used for making furniture and in the millwork industry. It finds a wide range of interior applications, from moldings and designs to doors, window and door frames, beam wraps, and trims.

As a wood that can turn and bend easily, it is also commonly used for making turned objects, toys, etc. Other than that, it is used in kitchen utensils and small decorative objects and carvings. Kitchen counters and strong tables are made from alder wood.

Products built with alder wood are of extremely high quality, strong and beautiful. The wood has superb finishing and can be seamlessly stained in various color options, making it extremely versatile for applications ranging from classic to modern.

Other common applications of alder hardwood timber include veneer, plywood, wood pallets, musical instruments (electric guitar bodies), and wood chips and pulp.

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