ALDER


There are numerous alder species --- I focus here on what I take to be the two most common, "red" and "black" and I only distinguish between them when the characteristics differ significantly.

BOTANICAL NAME: mostly you'll find Alnus rubr ("red alder") and Alnus glutinos ("black alder") of the family Betulaceae, but there are more: see below

these are merely SOME of the mutually contradictory correspondances between common names and botanical names that I encountered in researching alder. There are at least 16 other Alnus species that have alder as all or part of one or more of their common names.

Alnus crispa --- green alder and mountain alder
Alnus glutinos --- black alder, common alder, European black
Alnus incana --- white alder, tag alder, speckled alder, grey alder
Alnus maximowiczii --- Japanese alder
Alnus nepalensi --- grey alder, Indian alder, Nepal alder
Alnus oregona --- red alder
Alnus rhombifolia --- white alder, tag alder, speckled alder
Alnus rubra --- red alder, oregon alder, western alder, pacific coast alder
Alnus sinuata --- sitak alder
Alnus tenuifolia --- green alder and mountain alder
Alnus viridis --- sitak alder, green alder, mountain alder

AND ... in addition to about 2 dozen Alnus species, there are at least another 4 dozen species from almost 3 dozen genera that have the word alder as all or part of one or more of their common names.

So, now do you know anything about alder that you didn't know before you read all that crap? Sorry ... I sometimes get annoyed at the purists who denigrate this site because I use common names instead of the more "precise" botanical names. Actually, I absolutely agree with them that the botanical names ARE more precise, but where I disagree is whether or not that has much value in the real world where we don't all carry a botanist around in our hip pocket and we have to deal with lumber yards and middlemen who really don't give a rat's ass what the botanical name of a wood is. Yeah, I get carried away about this.

COMMON NAMES: European, tag, speckled, Japanese, Indian, Nepal, mountain, black, gray, red, japanese, green, sitak, slide, and white alder

TYPE: hardwood

COLOR: red alder has a light red color (whoa ... big surprize there !) and black alder has orange brown sapwood and heartwood with little distinction between the two. Actually, I believe both range from a light cream to a pale reddish brown or sometimes pinkish.

I have it anecdotally that alder is pure white when cut, and like a peeled apple, discolours rapidly with exposure to air, becoming brick red within half an hour and then ends up a paler tannish tone when completely dried. The final tannish tone is the real one, the other two being transient and unpreservable.

Reportedly resistant to fading, darkening or yellowing in UV light.

Small clusters of minor knots is common in the wood. Brown traces from harmless kambium insects can occur and also brown heart, fresh knots and black rotten knots.
the bark is a "dye-wood", producing a viable reddish dye, and it is also used for tanning.

GRAIN: straight and commonly reported as a generally subdued grain, but I've seen some red alder with pretty pronounced grain.

TEXTURE: smooth, fine, and even

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: Marginal nail and screw holding properties but glues and sands very well and turns and carves quite nicely. Works very well with both hand and machine tools --- an all around easy working wood. Low shock resistance and stiffness.

highly prized for upholstery framing because of its stability and superior tack holding capability.

Grey Alder reportedly has similar properties to Black Alder but is somewhat softer.

DURABILITY: relatively soft to medium tough, not suitable for flooring, has only moderate resistance to decay

FINISH: Finishes smooth and takes both stains and paint well. Can be stained to mimic other fine-grained woods such as cherry.

STABILITY: very little movement in service

BENDING: excellent bending properties and make it particularly suitable for bent chair parts

ODOR:

SOURCES: common, or black, alder grows in northern hemisphere - Europe, Russia, some areas of Scandinavia, western Asia, North-western Africa, and Japan. Red alder grows on Pacific coast of United States and Canada from Alaska to Southern California. Grey alder is prevalent in Northern Sweden.

USES: broom and brush handles, textile rollers, toys, clogs, artificial limbs, picture frames, marine use (masts and spars as well as bent structural members and decking), cabinet work, plywood cores, veneer, interior furniture, doors, millwork, and carving (turns and carves very cleanly). Sometimes used as a tone wood but not very prominent in that regard. Reportedly also used for bridges, although I find that strange since it is not particularly strong.

TREE: red alder 60-70 feet high, and diameter of old trees to 40 inches

WEIGHT: fairly light (35 lbs per cubic foot)

DRYING:

AVAILABILITY: readily available

COST:

HOBBIT NOTE: As is very clearly shown in one of the end grain closeups on the alder image page, the pith of species from the genus Alnus has an obviously triangular shape (in softwoods it is indicative of the genus Pinus).

web quotes:
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On the use of red alder:

The wood of red alder was the preferred fuel for smoking salmon and other foods, and alder wood was often used for wooden food dishes, because it does not impart strong flavor to the food.

Red alder was the main source of red and brown vegetable coloring. A piece of red alder wood was boiled in water, boiled right down until the water was dark red. Then the wood was taken out and powdered ochre pigment was added to the liquid. It was boiled and stirred again until it was nearly dry, then "one or two drops" of salmon oil were added. It was stirred until it was very thick, taken off the heat and placed on a piece of bark, then left to dry. Finally, it was powdered and was then ready for use as a paint. Usually, it was the bark of the red alder, steeped in water, that was used as a dye; it yielded colors ranging from red to reddish-brown. Buckskin was colored by rubbing red alder bark directly on it.

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Black alder is a fast growing deciduous tree adapted to swampy areas and self sufficient in nitrogen uptake.

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Red alder is the leading hardwood of the Pacific Northwest. The heartwood and sapwood are very similar in color, from pale pinkish brown to almost white.

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Red alder's value as a fine hardwood was identified early by the Japanese and Europeans who prized its light, consistent color, its uniform density, and its ability to take a variety of stains from natural to codovan. This last characteristic can provide alder with the look of other close grained species such as cherry and maple. A prolific, fast growing species which thrives in the lowlands of the Pacific Northwest, red alder is both a pioneer and a plantation species with more growing today than at any other time. Alder's ecological benefits when grown in conjunction with conifers is well documented by the USDA and forestry professionals.