The job we have in the shop right now starts out with the fabrication of 28 interior doors. Inch and three quarters thick, eight feet tall and made of alder. When the customers told me they wanted to use alder, I almost choked! Alder? That's.... well.... crap. In over 35 years of "high end" cabinetmaking and architectural woodworking, I have never made anything out alder. But I figured, what the heck.
If that's what they want, who am I to argue. The price was right on the job and the one thing I know (or thought I knew) about alder is that it's cheap as hardwoods go. The customers told me they wanted a "rustic look but not too rustic." A tight knot here, a small inclusion there, just enough to avoid looking "too perfect." Better yet I thought, I don't have to worry too much about the material. If you have ever worked with alder, you can easily guess what comes next.
The first surprise was the price. This stuff is going for what I was paying for clean cherry a few years ago! I know things have been going up but I guess I haven't been paying nearly enough attention! Then I started talking with my supplier about grading. It seems that alder has its own special grading terms. There is "Superior Grade" which, it turns out, is not "superior" at all but what would pass for "common" in any other species. Then there is "Character Grade" which is, it would seem, an acronym for "unusable". I didn't even ask what comes after that. "Firewood Grade?" "Crate Grade?"
We ended up ordering a thousand board feet of Superior Grade 8/4 alder. All I can say is it's a good thing the customers wanted some knots in their doors! Scheech!