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Alder Wood

Benefits of Alder Wood

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Feb 2, 2019

The chances are that most homeowners don't think about the type of wood that is used to build their homes. The 2x4s and plywood sheathing that makes up most homes' structure are most likely pre-determined by the contractor, with Douglas fir and different pine species being the most commonly used. The type of wood used for our baseboard, trim, and molding is often determined by whatever is on sale at Home Depot or Lowe's for our home's interior.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Alder Wood?
  2. What Is Alder Wood Used For?
  3. What Color is Alder Wood?
  4. What Grade Is Alder Wood?
  5. How Hard Is Alder Wood?
  6. How Much Does Alder Wood Cost?
  7. Environmental Benefits of Alder Wood

What Is Alder Wood?

The Alder tree is a member of the Birch family. There are at least 35 species of these trees distributed throughout different climates around the world. Alder wood is unique. It has a beautiful red undertone that often increases in intensity as the wood ages. The smooth grain of the wood makes it extremely pliant, which is one reason it is the preferred wood of furniture makers around the world. Some people believe that Alder wood is characteristically similar to Cherry wood, though much more sustainable and economical.

Crafty Chambery Alder Wood Floor
Chambery Alder Wood Floor. Photo Credit: Craft

What Is Alder Wood Used For?

Because Alder wood is so versatile, it has many different uses. Since Alder wood can be easily nailed without splitting and screwed without pre-drilling, it is a great interior use option. Alder wood is sandable to a smooth finish. It creates natural warm honey without the need for any wood finishes that might off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home. Thus, Alder wood can be an excellent option for kitchen cabinets, moldings, and millwork. It can also be used for different types of furniture, doors, and paneling.

What Color is Alder Wood?

The unique reddish color of many species of Alder wood is unique in and of itself. However, Alder wood also responds exceptionally well to all types of wood stains. The wood is not very porous, thus reducing the varnish or stain required for finishing purposes.

Natural Alder Kitchen Cabinets
Natural Alder Kitchen Cabinets. Photo Credit: Vleeming Construction

What Grade Is Alder Wood?

Alder has the highest hardwood lumber grade among all hardwood species, achieving an impressive 83% clear face. Besides having a nice grain, Alder wood is also very lightweight (though strong). It can give a smooth, glassy surface for furniture and other interior decorations.

How Hard Is Alder Wood?

Alderwood is one of the softest woods in the hardwood family, just above pine and poplar. It has a bending strength (in PSI) of 9,800, making it pliable but relatively soft. These properties make it an excellent option for cabinetry, bedding, and other decorative furniture inside the home. Alder will very seldom crack and work well both in wet and dry climates.

How Much Does Alder Wood Cost?

Because Alder trees grow quickly and can be sourced locally throughout the United States, it is one of the most economical hardwood species of lumber for use in homes. According to the Hardwood Store in North Carolina—a website that publishes lumber prices in board feet—Alder is $3.95 per board foot for a 4x4 thickness of superior wood and $2.85 for knotty wood. How does that compare to other commonly used woods at the same thickness? Favorably to birch ($4,10), cypress ($4.50), cherry ($4.95), and hard maple when compared to the knotty alder ($3.60). Poplar ($2.20), yellow pine ($2.35), and ash ($2.80) are slightly less expensive.

Alder Wood Sliding Barn Door Masonite Home Depot
Masonite Alder Wood Sliding Barn Door. Photo Credit: Home Depot

For homeowners looking to be thoroughly involved in choosing the most sustainable raw materials for their home, the Alder tree provides high-quality lumber with several different uses inside the house.

Environmental Benefits of Alder Wood

From an ecological perspective, the alder tree is one of the most environmentally beneficial trees that can be used for lumber and home construction. Below, we look at three of the primary benefits.

Nitrogen Fixer Tree

First and foremost, the alder tree is a nitrogen fixer. It has the unique ability to capture nitrogen present in the atmosphere and fix that nitrogen as nodules on its roots. Nitrogen is one of the three main "ingredients" that all plants require for healthy growth. While other tree species might require external nitrogen sources for adequate growth, the Alder tree can capture its nutrition from the surrounding air. Not only does Alder satisfy its own nutritional needs, but the excess nitrogen that it captures is also fixed in the soil, improving soil fertility.

Alder Wood Live Edge Picnic Table
Alder Wood Live Edge Picnic Table. Photo Credit: Urban Lumber

Sustainable Forestry Plan

The Alder tree also responds extremely well to coppice forestry methods. Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management that takes advantage of certain species of tree's ability to send out new shoots from their stumps, roots, or trunks when cutting down. While pine, cedar, Douglas fir, and most other common tree species commonly die when they are cut down, Alder trees can be left to re-grow independently. The fact that the roots stay alive in the ground can reduce soil erosion in areas where Alder trees are present.

Alder trees grow exceptionally fast and quickly grow up to one meter (three feet) per year. In terms of sustainable forest management, forests that are dominated by Alder trees can be harvested more often through coppice forestry methods. This subsequently translates into a greater carbon sequestration potential of forests dominated by the Alder tree.

Locally Grown and Sourced 

There is certainly something special about incorporating genuine mahogany cabinets or FSC certified wood trim made from tropical teak wood into your home. While several wood certification programs help homeowners source tropical woods from sustainably managed sources, the fact remains that wood is heavy. Moving wood from Indonesia (or some other tropical rainforest) to North America requires an enormous amount of energy. It thus significantly increases the embodied energy footprint of your home.

On the other hand, Alder wood grows throughout most of the United States and is readily adaptable to most climatic regions in the country. Eight species of Alder are native to the United States. The ability to source high-quality hardwood lumber that can grow close to home is a great strategy to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the materials in your home.

Responsible sourcing of the raw materials that make up your home is a key element of a sustainable home. Alder wood is a great example of a locally sourced, fast-growing, versatile lumber alternative for quality home construction.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-06-19T03:58:08+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.