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Why Alder Wood?
Alder has quickly become a massively popular commercial hardwood, specifically in the Pacific Northwest. Why? Well, firstly, the heartwood is a gorgeous light-brown color.
The wood is also nearly incomparable in its workability. It can be worked by machines, by hands, it takes stain and paint well, it can be screwed, nailed, glued, sanded, and nearly anything else without straining the wood.
Alder Wood Qualities
Identified as a popular finish hardwood, alder wood is one of the softest hardwoods on the market (after, of course, pine and poplar wood). Owing to its malleable texture, the wood is commonly known as a semi-hardwood.
It is interesting to note that this light-brown wood with striking grain patterns came into limelight as a more affordable alternative to cherry wood, and that’s exactly how alder wood got its common name “poor man’s cherry”. Its immense workability, versatility, and finishing made the hardwood achieve worldwide popularity overnight.
Alder wood is known or having a very smooth grain pattern, which lots of folks look for in a wood type. Alder lumber is nearly white when it is freshly cut, though this color will quickly change as it is exposed to air and light.
The heartwood slowly darkens into that characteristic warm brown that we all know and love. There is no distinct difference between the heartwood and the sapwood.
On top of its attractive visual features, it is also remarkably resilient. Due to its medium density, it can bend rather easily without breaking.
It is also shock resistant and does not experience damage from insects, sun, or water. Once it has been dried, it retains excellent stability. This impressive wood species has a PSI of 9,800!
How is Alder Wood Used?
One of the most popular ways to use this wood type is in the form of kitchen cabinets. An alder wood cabinet will bring warmth and uniqueness to any space. In addition to alder cabinets, alder wood is also used for the construction of window frame, doors and door frames, trim, and beam wraps.
The end result is always highly valued as it has superb finishing, making the product supremely modern and impressive. Alder wood is not restricted to one type, luckily, for interested customers, this versatile wood can be found in various forms.
More so than larger cabinetry projects and construction jobs, alder wood is a highly esteemed option for shutters, turnings, smaller decorative carvings, intricate moulding, and kitchen utensils. It’s also been discovered that the classic butcher block was commonly made using alder wood!
8 Alder Species & Their Wood Qualities
Now that we know a little bit about the common uses of alder wood, it’s time to dive in to the different alder species and the characteristics of their wood. Hopefully, this list will help you narrow down which alder wood is best for your project. Spoiler alert: they’re all amazing.
1. Alnus Rubra
Common Name: Red Alder
Growing Range: Western North America (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, British Columbia)
Height: 66-98 ft
Janka Hardness: 590 lbf
Red alder wood is extracted from the biggest species of alder tree – red alder. Scientifically known as alnus rubra, red alder is native to western North America which includes regions like Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, and British Columbia.
To distinguish red alder trees from their counterparts, it is important to note that they are a broad-leaf tree that are far taller than other alder species. As these trees mature, they develop tapered trunks covered in deeply grooved alder bark, which grow up to form a huge, round crown.
Red alder wood largely varies in shades, ranging from a light honey color to reddish brown hues (similar to red oak). With time, the light color of the wood tends to darken, becoming deep, intense red in shade. There is no apparent distinction between the heartwood and sapwood, as both of them are of the same light, medium, or dark shade.
The straight grain of red alder wood is very similar to that of birch wood, though birch wood is a harder wood, and it far lighter in color.
One of the reasons why red alder wood is a common choice among builders and constructors is because of its workability. The wood is easy to cut and shape with hands as well as machine tools.
Surprisingly, the wood is soft in nature and hence additional care needs to be shown to avoid damaging the wood. This odorless wood works like black cherry; as both of them possess great finishing and staining characteristics.
You can find red alder wood in two kinds: clear alder and knotty alder. Clear alder tends to be pricier as compared to the knotty alder. This is because, quite obvious by their names, clear alder is clear of knots, where as knotty alder is clear of not being knotted!
Clear alder also resembles hardwoods like soft maple or birch. On the other hand, knotty red alder is an inexpensive choice which is commonly employed for domestic construction. It is also visually similar to utility woods like aspen and poplar.
2. Alnus Glutinosa
Common Name: Black Alder, Common Black Alder, European Alder, European Black Alder
Growing Range: Europe, North Africa, Southwestern Asia
Height: 100 ft
Janka Hardness: 650 lbf
The black alder is part of the betulaceae family, and grows in moist and temperate climates all over the world. It is characterized by its dark alder bark, and it has been found the it is best utilized as a water-wood.
This is a short-lived tree which grows a dark green alder leaf, both male catkins and female catkins, and small fruits. As it is common with other trees thriving near rivers and lakes, typical black alder maintains its leaves longer than trees in drylands. As its Latin name suggests, the leaves tend to be sticky and remain abloom well late into the autumn season.
When first cut, black alder wood is soft and white which eventually turns into pale red and forms striking knots. The timber extracted from a black alder tree is used for making papers, manufacturing fiberboard, and producing energy.
When put under water, the wood turns out to be strong and long-lasting to the extent that it can be used for creating sturdy foundations of buildings. On the other hand, the bark of this type of alder is used for dyeing and tanning as it is packed with 16 to 20% of tannic acid. When mixed with iron sulfate, the bark forms an intense black dye, a better alternative to galls and sumach.
3. Alnus Virnis
Common Name: Green Alder
Growing Range: Europe, Asia, North America
Height: 20-40 ft
Janka Hardness: 590 lbf
As the name implies, the green alder tree is distinctly known for having glossy green leaves with a light green under surface. The fine-toothed leaves tend to be 3-8 cm in length while 2-6 cm wide. Similar to black alder trees, this tree produces male catkins (drooping male flowers) and female catkins which emerges in the spring season.
While green alder trees are native to the mountains of southeast Europe and the Alps, they are commonly cultivated near lakes, streams, coasts, and rivers in Canada, Alaska, and Northern Siberia.
The green alder is not only lauded for its physical properties; green alder wood is exceedingly useful as it is used in the construction of furniture, manufacturing cabinets and charcoal, and even for meat smoking!
The oil attained from the wood is beneficial for the treatment of illnesses like nausea, diarrhea, and muscle pain. The inner bark is specifically scraped to be used in different kinds of food items like cakes and salads.
The leaves of the green alder tree boast indisputable benefits as well. For example, the ashes of the burnt tree leaves can be served as a tooth cleaner. These leaves are also heated for skin treatment and some life-altering illnesses.
Since the green alder has so many beneficial uses beyond just its wood, you may be considering growing one of your own trees!
Keep in mind that for healthy growth, the tree needs proper sunlight, regular watering, and seeds ideally sown in spring. This type of wood gets affected by pests, especially by alder flea beetles. These pests prefer feeding on this tree and lay eggs in spring and summer.
4. Alnus Rhombifolia
Common Name: White Alder, California Alder, Sierra Alder
Growing Range: Western North America (California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia)
Height: 49-82 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,320 lbf
Also called the California alder and Sierra alder, the white alder is a thin-leafed tree, native to western North America. It happens to be widely distributed in the foothills of northern California and southwestern Oregon. Closely related to the red alder, the white alder is again a medium-sized tree with strong, gray bark which becomes scaly as it ages.
Unlike other alder trees, this type of alder is not cultivated for its wood. In fact, its seeds are sown for its gorgeous, white scented flowers and toothed leaves. That being said, its cinnamon-brown wood is hard to ignore and can be employed for a wide variety of smaller, decorative uses.
For example, in some small Indian tribes, the wood is used for various medicinal treatment purposes. Owing to tight, intertwined roots, the wood is incredibly strong and can effectively withstand storms and extreme water flows – making it a wonderful tree to help with soil erosion.
5. Alnus Maritima
Common Name: Seaside Alder, Brook Alder
Growing Range: Eastern North America (Georgia, Oklahoma, Delaware, Maryland)
Height: 20-30 ft
Janka Hardness: 590 lbf
The seaside alder is a small tree species native to the United States and is popularly found in regions like Georgia, Oklahoma, Delaware, and Maryland. Also known as the brook alder, the seaside alder is a fast-growing, medium-sized tree, with an overall height of 20 to 30 feet.
Seaside alder wood is extracted from the seaside alder and is used for manufacturing and construction purposes. The wood has a wonderfully close grain, and a lovely soft, light brown heartwood color. The tree is rather thin, and so its uses can be somewhat limited.
The seaside alder is cultivated in moist soil with full or partial sun exposure. The tree is known for its beautiful yellow-hued flowers with nesting birds. Another distinctive physical feature includes the bark which is light brown to reddish brown in color and is often marked with various spots of colors.
The seaside alder exhibits fine-toothed, dark green leaves in summer which changes to yellow-brown in fall. The wood has the ability to tolerate wet sites, flooding, clay soil, and alkaline soil. In other words, it is brawny and hard to destroy.
6. Alnus Cordata
Common Name: Italian Alder, Rustic Alder
Growing Range: Sicily, Sardinia, France, Belgium, Spain, The United Kingdom, Chile, New Zealand
Height: 80 ft
Janka Hardness: 590 lbf
The Italian alder tree is a deciduous tree that is native to the southern Apennine mountains of Italy. They also grow in many other European countries, and they have become naturalized in regions with similar climates.
The Italian alder has a heart-shaped leaf which is 2-3 cm long and 1.5 -2 cm wide. To help you with your tree identification, leaf bases are asymmetrical, while margins are serrated. In addition to leaves, the tree is admired for its glossy, brownish red branches from which catkins blossom, that are followed by small, cone-shaped fruits.
The bark is smooth, grayish green with lenticels. The thick bark protects the tree from brush fires and helps in keeping the inner sapwood and heartwood saturated with water. This tree is a particularly nitrogen fixing plant, and helps improve soil fertility for other plant species.
Italian alder lumber tends to break down rather quickly when it is exposed to air, but maintains durability if it is submerged underwater. This makes it a great foundational material for coastal structures.
Additionally, this wood can be used for carving, turning, and for creating mouldings, furniture, panelling, and plywood as well. The tree is also commonly used as a landscape variety, because of its nitrogen fixing benefits and windbreak capabilities.
7. Alnus Napalensis
Common Name: Nepalese Alder
Growing Range: Himalayas, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China
Height: 80-100 ft
Janka Hardness: 1,690 lbf
Scientifically known as alnus nepalensis, the Nepalese alder is a huge alder tree which is widely populated in the subtropical highlands of the Himalayas. To be specific, the tree is widely distributed from Pakistan to Nepal to Bhutan to Yunnan and to southwest China.
The ideal growing conditions of the Nepalese alder tree takes place in warm, volcanic soils. However, it can also grow on sand, clay, and gravel. The tree has the ability to withstand several types of soil and can easily be cultivated in moist regions.
Like the typical alder tree, Nepalese alder wood is considerably soft and hence used for making light boxes or any other small constructions. For this reason, uses remain restricted to light construction and boxes. However, Nepalese alder wood is a great fuel wood because of its quick and even burning.
Otherwise, like many other alder species, the Nepalese alder tree is a wonderful landscape tree because of its nitrogen fixing roots that stay very deep and sturdily in the soil. This both improves soil health for other plant species, and can be used for erosion control.
8. Alnus Incana
Common Name: Grey Alder, Speckled Alder
Growing Range: Asia, North America
Height: 49-66 ft
Janka Hardness: 650 lbf
We’re gonna finish off this list with the grey alder tree. This is a rather slow growing tree that can live anywhere from 60-100 years. One of the more moderately sized of this alder species, its uses can be found as both a beneficial ecological plant, as well as a wood species plant.
Grey alder wood is known for being very similar in appearance, texture, and grain pattern as black alder wood, the only difference being that black alder is a much harder wood and has higher commercial value.
Grey alder wood is more commonly used on a smaller scale, and it is not commercially grown. It can be used for casual carving and whittling, as well as alder furniture and things that don’t bear too much weight.
Additionally, like many other alder species, it is a high commanded tree for afforestation. Its shallow root system is nitrogen fixing and helps improve the soil health for other plant species. The grey alder bark can also be used for natural dyeing, and is used to dye deerskin a beautiful red-brown color!