3 distinctive and affordable project stock
The low-cost, high-end chameleon
Inexpensive, light weight, and easily workable, red alder has been the unheralded preference for mass-produced furniture manufacturers for years. Lately, it's been showing up as trimwork, catbinetry, and doors in high-end homes. Why the excitement?
Red alder (Alnus rubra) takes stain well, so it can be matched to a wide variety of woods. Its close grain, pinkish hue, and subtle figuring makes it a dead-ringer for cherry (at about half the cost). Just as with cherry, a quick, initial seal-coat with shellac controls minor blotchiness that might show up when dyeing or staining. Red alder also matches red birch plywood, cementing its usefulness in bookcases, cabinets, and other casework.
Thriving in moist conditions, red alder grows abundantly in the coastal Pacific Northwest. Availability diminishes as you track east, but most specialty hardwood stores and online wood retailers stock it. Graded under a proprietary grading system, "Superior" generally translates to the National Hardwood Lumber Association's Select and Better grade, while "Cabinet" and "Frame" grades equate to No. 1 Common and No. 2 Common, respectively.