Posts: 24
Registered: ‎11-09-2009

Alder vs. Cherry

I think I read somewhere that Alder is a substitute for Cherry.  According to the information I found on the internet, Alder mills well and has respectable grain pattens.  I would like to try Alder in place of Cherry for a butler's table, but I want to make sure that when stained and finished, the final product will look like cherry as much as possible.  I plan to use General Finishes Georgian Cherry stain (dark red) and poly varnish.  What is  your experiences with Alder?



Russ Baker

Honored Advisor
Posts: 4,082
Registered: ‎11-07-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

Never used it, but maybe some one here who has will come along. Untill then here is something that I lifted off of Yahoo answers.


Alder is nicknamed the poor mans cherry. Alder is only a tad harder then cherry, the grain can only be identified by a professional wood worker because it is so similar but the main difference is Alder is way way cheaper then cherry, thus the term poor mans cherry. Many unscrupulous cabinet companies use Alder and claim it as cherry to make higher profit margins.With some shade of reddish stain even a true professional wood worker can not tell the difference.

Alder is lighter in weight then cherry. With strong finger nails you can dent cherry but not alder. If you still can't tell the difference then place a piece of each in the sun. Cherry will darken in 3 hours while the alder will be unchanged. In the shade, cherry will darken naturally with age while alder will not.

Alder is not that common as few major cabinet manufacturers use it. Those who do usually offer some dark shade of burgundy/maroon/red stain to simulate a wood that it is not. Nothing wrong with alder cabinets as long as you are not being told they are cherry and paying the high cherry price.

By the way, birch is another substitute for cherry and alder.

Rick Mathison
General Forums Host
"I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one."
Honored Advisor
Posts: 1,521
Registered: ‎10-31-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

I build a lot with Alder and also use some Cherry, they really are two very different woods in the natural state, although they have similar feel and temperament when you are milling them.


The majority of wood though that is available to WW thru lumber and hardwood dealers is kiln dried. When it is in the kiln they introduce a significant amount of steam in the process. This steam tends to remove most of the character and colour differences that are found in air dried wood and turns it sort of a bland light brown. This kiln dried wood can be finished to look very much like Cherry, unfortunately it does not develope the interesting and lovely patina that Cherry does as it ages.

Senior Advisor
Posts: 3,027
Registered: ‎10-23-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

I know how I can tell the difference between cherry and alder.  Sand some of each. Left side of my face will harden like a stone if it is cherry. 5-6 benadryls  relieve my problem.

I love working with both woods, but I really have to protect my  breathing exposure to fine saw dust of cherry.  Have made numerous items from both and as mentioned, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

Alder will remain stable in color as where cherry will darken with UV exposure.

Forums Host
Honored Advisor
Posts: 11,162
Registered: ‎10-23-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry



If you can, get a small piece of Adler and try your finishing procedure.

See if it works for you before you commit for the total package.



"Why worry about things you can't control when you can keep yourself busy controlling the things that depend on you."
Posts: 1,225
Registered: ‎10-23-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

I used to use quite a bit of Alder.  I really like working with it.  However, my local source stopped carrying it.  I really miss it.

Honored Advisor
Posts: 8,063
Registered: ‎10-23-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

[ Edited ]


I use Alder almost exclusively, due to it's low cost compared to other hardwoods. It DOES macnine VERY well and I think the grain looks a LOT like cherry. I think it would be a great choice for your project. I use a 50/50 shelac/denatured alcohol pre-stain conditioner that removes a lot of the blotching. If applied well, the results are beautiful. Here's a vanity I recently built, although it's not the "cherry" color.002.JPG

"If you can't hide it...advertise it!"
Posts: 482
Registered: ‎10-23-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

I'm finding this conversation fascinating!  First off, I believe that alder is actually softer than cherry.  I suppose it depends on the alder, but all of the alder I've worked with has been very soft (I design for a cabinet shop that moves around 1000 bd ft per month).  In my market, alder is very common.  I'm told that in the cities around us (especially Boise), alder is king for cabinets; to the tune of 90% of cabinets being made of alder. 


Alder is nice to work with, but dents and dings very easily.  It's not our favorite for that reason; you can very easily have to end up sanding out dents if you're not careful. 


As far as it being a good replacement for cherry, that is true to the untrained eye.  If you're a woodworker and you're keeping the piece, don't even think about it.  Any woodworker worth his weight can spot it from a thousand yards.  Alder just lacks the richness and color variation you get with cherry.  If you're looking for a cheaper way to use cherry, look toward the lower grades.  We currently get a rustic cherry for under $2 per bd ft (wholesale).  That translates to less than $4 per bd ft for our customers.  Still a bit more than alder, but not much.  For the record, I get premium frame alder for under $1 per bd ft.  Lumber markups are a bit much, if you ask me.  Too much money being made off hardwood at the store.

Honored Advisor
Howard Acheson
Posts: 1,191
Registered: ‎10-24-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

The biggest issue with alder is that it can blotch quite a bit when colored with a dark stain.  I have used it as a cherry sustitute a few times but needed to do some special things to reduce the blotching. 


I would suggest you get an alder board, prepare the surface as you would for finishing and then apply your chosen stain and spray on a clear top coat.  See how you like it.

Apprentice Contributor
Posts: 11
Registered: ‎11-16-2009

Re: Alder vs. Cherry

Agreed. Alder doesn't stain well. Take Russ's advice above or try a dye instead to get the color you want. Off-the-shelf oil based stain will probably disappoint you. Buy a few board feet and test a number of different coloring methods, then decide which one works best for you.


You'll like how alder machines for sure.


Another point to consider, alder has its own NHLA grading rules because it doesn't fit the mold. The wood is often narrow, and varying degrees of knots are typical and acceptable. Pin knots in alder are not considered a defect in the NHLA rules - just be aware of that. Sometimes people look at alder with small tight knots and think that the material is "junk" when in fact it meets the Superior grade.

Mark Stephens
Woodworkers Source
Marketing Manager


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