What is Alder Wood? Grades, Sizes, Uses, and Benefits

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Alder wood species are best known for their color consistency and uniform texture, making them perfect for furniture-making and cabinetry. However, did you know their attributes change over time and affect how you can utilize them effectively?

In this post, I’m going to discuss everything you need to know about alder trees and the benefits you can take advantage of when using this lumber option. 

Overview of Alder’s Characteristics

What is Alder?

Alder trees belong to the Birch family, so it isn’t surprising that they offer better compressing and bending ability than other lumber options. It has great surface resistance, preventing splits during the nailing and screwing process. 

alder wood log

These lumber species often don’t need to be painted or applied with wood finishes because they produce natural warm honey tints. It has similarities to cherry wood, but this birch lumber alternative with 35 species is considered more economical and sustainable. 

Origin and Availability

These tree species are first discovered within the North Hemisphere and some areas west of South America. You can catch sight of alder trees in wet forest sites that are elevated up to 2500 meters or 8200 feet. 

Meanwhile, red alder trees are common hardwood lumber options in the Pacific Northwest. These soft hardwood options went through effective marketing campaigns that resulted in these materials being widely available worldwide and sold in stocks and lumber.  

Color and Appearance

I have to say, one of the standout features of alder wood is its fascinating color spectrum. I’m talking reddish hues to light browns. And since it has a good finish, the output blends well when painted or stained. However, it’s crucial to remember that the wood surface’s colors may vary in the sapwood and the heartwood. 

Grain Pattern

Now, if you’re someone who appreciates the fine details like I do, you’re going to love alder for its uniform texture and smooth grain pattern. When it dries, this wood lumber develops a honey-like tone that suits the aesthetic needs of furniture pieces, rustic kitchen cabinets, and other decorative ornaments. 

Alder wood grain pattern

Density and Hardness

Despite its availability, you should know that alder materials are not as dense or hard as other hardwood options. Based on its Janka hardness scale results, it only ranges around 590 lbf or 2,624 N. 

Is it a Hardwood or Softwood?

Although alder lumber is categorized under the hardwood family, it has a soft density and hardness. It’s in league with soft hardwood materials like yellow pine, poplar, and cypress. 

However, don’t underestimate its durability. I’ve worked with alder on numerous projects and found it to be surprisingly resistant to cracking. Alder lumber also remains durable when exposed to wet and dry conditions. 

Alder Grade: Why are the Grades Different?

Unlike other wood materials, alder lumber comes in 20 different grades. Since this wood type captures distinct qualities, manufacturers sell alder based on their set grading system. Nevertheless, these metrics are similar to the National Hardwood Lumber Association’s [1] standards.

Alder wood’s grading system is mainly based on the material’s sapwood and heartwood color variations. On top of that, it also considers the wood’s thickness, marks, and knots. You may not know, but wood traders don’t consider pin knots as defects. 

alder lumbers

Despite its thickness, alder is a lightweight material. It also has 83% clearance on its face side. Because of this, alder records the highest lumber grade among other hardwood options, like teak and maple

Typical Sizes of Alder Logs

In my experience combing through lumberyards and working with a variety of wood, alder typically runs smaller than your oaks and maples. Given this fact, alder is sold in limited width and length variations, mostly around  6 to 12 feet long. 

Among alder size variations, the most common types are 4/4 and 5/4 options. You’ll be able to find 6/4 and 8/4 wood stocks, but they’re rarely available.  

Uses of Alder

Since alder material glues well with smooth finishes, they work well for panel edges. You can also utilize alder for doors, millwork, moldings, wood carving, and decorative pieces. 

What really impresses me is its outdoor resilience. It’s got a high resistance to the elements, making it a solid pick for decking, fences, and even siding. The pleasant smoky flavor imparted by burning alder wood has also made it a popular choice for smoking food, adding a distinctive taste to barbecues and culinary creations.

As previously mentioned, alder has a unique color variation on its heartwood. It develops honey-like shades, so it’s an ideal option for fine furniture and cabinetry. 

Cost: Why is it Expensive?

When I review the current pricing of alder per board foot, I find it competes well with other high-quality woods, often leaning towards the pricier side. This price range is high due to its suitability for different applications and wood grades. 

alder wood tv stand

Benefits of Alder in the Environment

Nitrogen-Fixer Tree

Did you know that alder materials are known as nitrogen fixers? This wood specie can capture nitrogen within its atmosphere. Alder lumber options can also fix nodules in the soil and tree roots. 

Unlike other trees, alder doesn’t require external nitrogen to grow well. It can sustain its nutritional requirements through the surrounding air. These air sources also enhance alder soil conditions. 

Sustainable Forestry Method

Let me tell you, in the world of forestry, alder is like the tree that keeps on giving. It has this fantastic ability to sprout new shoots from its roots and trunks even after you cut it down. This doesn’t just make it a renewable source; it actually helps combat soil erosion.

These tree species also grow faster. Thanks to this, it can be harvested regularly through coppicing forestry procedures.  

Grown and Sourced Locally

You’ll have no problem finding alder materials from sustainable sources because these tree species grow all over the United States. It’s an adaptable plant that can survive in regions with climatic conditions. 

cutting down alder wood tree

Since alder is grown locally and close to home, the carbon footprint it produces for manufacturing and transportation isn’t that massive. 


Can alder be used outdoors?

Alder wood has great grain patterns and distinct knots, making it suitable for exterior workpieces and outdoor projects. It’s also durable enough to withstand harsh weather conditions and doesn’t need frequent maintenance. 

Where can I purchase alder online?

You can buy alder materials directly from the manufacturer’s website or via e-commerce platforms like Amazon or eBay. These wood pieces can be ordered by piece or per board foot. 


You have many wood options to choose from when working on a wood project, but alder materials proved their superiority for their sustainable growth and wide availability. 

Not all trees used in woodworking are as versatile as this lumber, so trust me when I say that you won’t be wasting time and money when buying these materials. 

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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