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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] 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.”

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.

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