Clear Alder and Knotty Alder
What is Alder Wood?
Alder is a fast-growing deciduous (annual leaf-shedding) tree and a member of the birch family. It thrives near rivers and streams from the Great Plains to the Western part of the U.S., Northern Europe, and parts of the Middle East and Eastern Africa. Alder trees are grown for their wood, medicine, decorative bark, and catkins.
What Are the Types of Alder Wood?
Clear Alder is a light hardwood with no knots, having a grain pattern similar to Cherry. Light brown and reddish undertones characterize it. It has straight, even-textured wood grain with indistinct boundaries between the heartwood and the sapwood. Clear Alder accepts stain evenly, often making it indistinguishable from Cherry in appearance.
Knotty Alder (also known as Rustic Alder) has a more dramatic grain and often contains a variety of pinholes, open and closed knots of various sizes and colors, small cracks, worm holes, worm tracks, bird pecks, mineral streaks, and grain variations. Some knots may have holes up to approximately ¾-inch in diameter. The holes created by open knots can pass entirely through the cabinet door. The larger holes are unfilled and add to the rustic look.
Alder Wood for Kitchen Cabinets
Clear Alder and Knotty Alder woods are relatively soft and light in weight. However, Alder can dent or mar easily and is less resistant to impact damage than Cherry. Aside from cost considerations and the desirability of a rustic look, this is the main factor in choosing cherry over Alder for one’s cabinetry. If you prefer a painted look, clear Alder takes paint and stain very well. Toned stain on Alder wood is particularly attractive since the wood grain shows through.
So the main difference is practical and relates to the relative hardness of these two species and their resistance to accidental damage.
The hardness of wood is rated on what is known as the Janka scale. The Janka Hardness Test measures the relative hardness of various kinds of wood based on the force needed to embed a 0.444-inch steel ball into wood to half the ball’s diameter.
Both Alder and Cherry are considered hardwoods. However, while Alder is rated at 590 on the Janka scale, Cherry is rated significantly higher at 950. Cherry is not impervious to dings and dents but is much more resistant than Alder. As a side note, the softest is Poplar on the spectrum of wood found in cabinetry, with a Janka rating of 540. The hardest is Hickory, with a rating of 1820. If you are an aspiring wood nerd, wooddatabase.com has an overview article on the Janka scale and complete information on other wood types. Do you want to learn what other fine hardwoods are available for your kitchen cabinets? Read more about Natural Woods on the Cabinets of the Desert blog.