Red Alder Use Evolves: Ideal for Cabinetry & Casegoods

By Jo-Ann Kaiser | Posted: 06/05/2014 11:00AM


  Sponsored by: Northwest Hardwoods: Lumber that’s Graded For Yield®.



click image to zoomRed AlderFamily Name:
Alnus rubra of the Family Betulaceae

Common Names
Alder, red alder, Western alder, Oregon alder, Pacific Coast alder

The tree has an average height of 70 to 120 feet, with a maximum of 130 feet. It has an average weight of 28 pounds per cubic foot and a Janka Hardness rating of 590.

• Alder dries easily with little degrade and has good dimensional stability. There is little difference between its sapwood and heartwood.
• Alder has low bending strength, shock resistance and stiffness. The wood turns well and has excellent gluing, staining and finishing properties.
• Red alder’s range starts in Southern California and extends to Alaska. It matures at 60 or 70 years, with a typical life span of 100 years, according to published reports.

Red alder is a West Coast hardwood that has undergone an impressive evolution. It has morphed from a nuisance tree to a regional star, to a respected hardwood in North America and beyond.

In demand for a wide range of applications, alder is used for cabinetry, furniture, flooring, turnery, musical instruments and decorative veneer. It also is popular for doors, shutters and moulding as well as panel stock, carvings and toys. Frequently compared to other woods, some say red alder is like birch but with more color. Others say it can be finished as well or better than maple. As a popular turning wood, it is sometimes compared to black cherry.

Red alder, Osborne Wood ProductsRed alder also can be used for components and turnery. Photo: Osborne Wood Products “[Red alder] has often been billed as a ‘poor man’s cherry’ due to its characteristic color of ruddy brown to cherry red and its relative abundance and lesser commercial value compared to the more expensive American black cherry,” noted Ang Schramm, director of technical services at Columbia Forest Products.

The wood’s ease of use and finishing properties add to its popularity. “Clients like it as a substitute for maple,” said Jim Dawkins of DeWils Industries. The company uses alder in some of its cabinetry. “It offers a similar grain, but many people believe it stains better than maple.”

click image to zoomRed AlderAlder’s popularity continues to grow worldwide, particularly for applications such as residential cabinetry and furniture. Photo: Northwest Hardwoods Stephanie Happer, director of marketing for Northwest Hardwoods, says alder’s excellent finishing properties are part of its appeal. “Its ability to mimic other woods with ease is just one of its valued properties,” she said. “Alder dries to an even honey tone and can be finished to resemble more expensive fine-grained species.”

A good environmental choice, alder is reportedly the only commercial species west of the Rocky Mountains with the capability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, according to information posted on Oregon State University’s website.


About the Author

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.

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