Clear Alder is a light hardwood with no knots, having a grain pattern similar to Cherry. It is characterized by light brown and reddish undertones. It has a straight and 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 pin holes, 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 completely through the cabinet door. The larger holes are unfilled and add to the rustic look.
We have included a couple of examples of Knotty Alder in the slideshow above.
Clear Alder and Knotty Alder wood is relatively soft and light in weight. Alder can dent or mar easily and is less resistant to impact damage than, say, Cherry. Aside from considerations of cost and the desirability of a rustic look, this is the main factor in choosing cherry over alder for one’s cabinetry.
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 and is built on the Janka Hardness test. This test measures the relative hardness of various woods based on the amount of force needed to embed a 0.444 inch steel ball into wood to half the ball’s diameter.
Both Alder and Cherry are considered hard woods. 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 it is much more resistant than Alder.
As a side note, on the spectrum of wood found in cabinetry, the softest is Poplar, with a Janka rating of 540. The hardest is Hickory with a rating of 1820.
Want to learn what other fine hardwoods are available to choose from? Read more about Natural Woods.