Riverside Alder Door in Breckenridge with Mocha Glaze; Dealer; Great Falls Construction/Riverbend Custom Cabinetry & Millwork - VA | Photographer: Bob Narod

Alder Cabinetry


Holiday Kitchens uses only high quality Western Red Alder (Alnus rubra) for its Alder cabinetry.  Red alder is a deciduous broadleaf hardwood.  Its name derives from the bright, rusty-red color that develops in bruised or scraped bark.  It is the largest species of alder in North America and one of the largest in the world, reaching heights of up to 100 feet, with trunk diameters up to 30 inches.  Red alder has thin mottled bark, ashy-gray and smooth, often draped with moss.  The leaves are ovate, 3 to 6 inches long, with bluntly serrated edges and a distinct point at the end.  The leaves turn yellow in the autumn before falling.  

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 Red Alder Leaves


 Red Alder Bark


 Western Red Alder


The western red alder is native to western North America, found from southeast Alaska to central coastal California, nearly always within about 125 miles of the Pacific coast, except for an extension nearly 400 miles inland into Idaho.  It grows primarily on cool moist slopes along the coast in the northern part of its range and along waterways and wetlands inland and at the southern extent of its range.  Alder is considered a pioneer species in that its rapid growth allows it to rapidly cover a burned-out or clear-cut area, improving the soil fertility for the future growth of conifers.  In nature, it provides valuable browse for foraging animals.

Range of Western Red Alder


Western red alder is generally harvested in combination with Douglas Firs and other softwoods used in the construction industry.  When the housing industry is down, less western red alder is harvested.  Both the limited range of red alder and the fact that it is harvested primarily with woods for the construction industry can have sudden effects on its availability and price.  Generally, when the housing market is down, alder is more expensive and harder to procure. 

Red alders can begin to seed after only 3-4 years of growth, and thereafter produce abundant numbers of seeds.  Alders show extremely rapid juvenile growth, and can reach heights of 30 feet in their first 5 years, though growth slows somewhat afterwards.  Mature alder trees range from 50-100 feet tall.  Red alder is a relatively short-lived species, maturing at about 60-70 years, with a maximum age of about 100 years.  Much of alder growth occurs in height, and the girth is relatively less than with other timber species.  Alder trees over 35 inches in diameter are rare.  Harvesting for lumber is typically done in a 30-32 year rotation, with the exact age of cutting determined by foresters to maximize the yield.

Historically, the soft nature of alder has prevented it from being widely used.  Its beauty and value in interior applications, such as furniture and cabinetry, have only recently been discovered.  Red alder is occasionally used for creating pallets, paneling, plywood, brush handles, spools, trays, shoe soles, and specialty items.  Red alder that is harvested at a younger age is used as pulp for paper products.

Wood and Grain Characteristics

Alder is classified as a hardwood, because it has deciduous leaves which it sheds each year.  However, the wood of the alder tree is relatively soft, and is, in fact, softer than some softwoods.  As a result, alder can tend to show mishandling damage (such as dents and scratches) more readily than other woods.  In comparison with cherry, which is a hardwood with similar grain and color appearance, alder is much softer and lighter.  Alder is only about 80% as heavy as cherry and is 40% softer (measured as resistance to impact).  With proper care and handling; however, alder will provide years of beautiful and reliable performance.

Alder is a generally straight-grained wood with an even texture.  Alder is easily sanded and finished to a pleasing luster.  Alder is a fast growing tree, which contributes to wider spaces between the fibers of the wood.  This is noticeable primarily on any cuts made across the grain, such as are found on the ends of components or on sharply profiled edges.  The soft nature of the wood itself also tends to result in tear-out on end grain, creating a rough porous cross-cut.  Holiday Kitchens uses tooling specially engineered for use on only alder to minimize the porous nature of its end grain, but this natural characteristic of alder cannot be completely eliminated.  Owners of alder cabinetry should be aware that the end grain of alder, especially found on the tops and bottoms of doors and the edges of slab drawer fronts, will absorb finishing materials more readily than other surfaces.  This may result in slightly darker color and/or a slightly drier topcoat appearance.



Alder Panel  Alder End Grain takes Stains Dark

Natural Wood Color

Red alder wood is almost white when freshly cut, but quickly changes to light tan or light brown with a reddish tinge when exposed to air.  Heartwood is formed only in trees of advanced age, and the boundary between heartwood and sapwood is indistinct.  Holiday Kitchens sorts its alder to ensure that the range of color is kept as tight as possible, but some natural variation in color is to be expected.  Holiday Kitchens limits alder color to a range of pale pink through light brown. 

As alder is exposed to light and the environment, it will tend to lighten in color to more uniform light brown color.  Direct exposure to light will speed up this natural mellowing of color.  This effect is reduced after finishing, but cannot be completely inhibited.

Red Alder Color Changes from Exposure to Sunlight
Left: Exposed to Light   |   Right: Covered (Not Exposed to Light)

Finishing Characteristics

Alder stains well, producing a rich, deep color with excellent grain appearance.  Holiday Kitchens offers a number of attractive wipe stain options for use with alder.  Hand wiping works the stain into the soft grain of the wood and accentuates the natural grain pattern of the wood, adding depth and beauty.  Spray/No-wipe stains do not work well with alder, Holiday Kitchens does not offer spray/no-wipe stains on alder unless a glaze is included to help even the color.

Alder’s porous surface does not allow for good build and finish with paints or primers.  Primers are only recommended with our Carriage House vintage artistry package, because the nature of alder lends itself well to the aged paint look of this treatment.  Holiday Kitchens does not offer any other paints or primers on alder.

Alder is great wood for adding glazes.  The soft, slightly porous surface of the wood accepts glaze well.

Alder is an excellent choice of wood for finishes which include Vintage Artistry.  The soft nature of alder allows it to take distressing and wear very well.  Vintage Artistry options will also help to mask normal wear and tear over the life of the cabinetry.

Wood Quality

Alder tends to have more knots, due in part to the fact that it is fast-growing with many branches.  Knots tend to be small, solid, and sound.  Holiday Kitchens sorts it alder to exclude any knots that are greater than 1/2” across on the front of any solid wood component.  On the back of solid wood components, sound knots up to 1” across are allowed.  On veneered alder components, sound knots up to 2” across are accepted.  All knots will be sound (that is, they do not move) and solid (that is, flush across the surface).  On the front of solid wood alder parts, you should find no more than 2 knots per square foot of material.  Knots may be clustered, but the total number should not exceed the amount allowed based on the total square footage of the component.  There is no limit on the number of knots allowed on the backs of components or on veneered surfaces. 

Alder frequently has pin knots.  These are small knots (less than 1/8” across) that can occur singly or in tight clusters.  Holiday doesn’t exclude any lumber based upon pin knots, as they are normal and expected in alder.

Mineral streaks are prevalent in alder.  In general, mineral streaks are small (only a few inches in length for the longest) and narrow.  Mineral streaks in alder tend to match the pattern of the grain, and are seldom obtrusive.  Gum pockets, bark pockets, soft spots, decay, wormholes, and excessive grain stain are all considered defects in alder and are sorted out by Holiday Kitchens.

Holiday Kitchens carefully selects only the finest alder for use in our kitchens.  Please follow this link if you are interested in reading Holiday Kitchens’ technical quality specifications for alder:  Alder Quality Specifications.



Typical Sound Alder Knot Typical Alder Pin Knots Typical Alder Mineral Streak

Cabinetry and Furniture

Alder is an excellent choice for cabinetry, due to its work-ability, ease of sanding, distinctive grain, and finishing capabilities.  Alder can show wear and tear more easily than some other species of wood, primarily because of its soft nature and low density.  Still, despite being a “soft” wood, it is very durable and will provide a lifetime of quality and performance. 

Riverside Alder Door in Breckenridge with Mocha Glaze; Dealer; Great Falls Construction/Riverbend Custom Cabinetry & Millwork - VA | Photographer: Bob Narod