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Alder checks a lot of boxes


Alder (Alnus rubra), also known as red alder or Western red alder, is white when freshly cut, but quickly changes to light brown with a yellow or reddish hue with exposure to air.

“A lot of people use it in their kitchen cabinets and that’s kind of still going on,” says Bob Laurie of L.L. Johnson Lumber Mfg. Co. in Charlotte, Mich. “Years ago, we tried to sell people on soft maple instead, so we didn’t have to deal with the shipping. But the demand just kept coming so we finally relented carrying alder. Ever since it’s been a steady product. Certainly not one of our bigger species, but it’s still important.”

“Alder’s always been really popular,” says Will Bryant of Paxton Lumber in Denver. “It’s easy to work with. It’s cheap. It’s durable.

“I did see a small uptick in the price for the knotty F3F premium we sell, which is surfaced on three sides, planed on two sides, and straight-line ripped on one edge. It’s significant, I think, because we’ve had the same price on that specific type of alder for over 10 years. I haven’t seen or heard of any price increases on our other stuff. I’m sure Covid and the forest fires have something to do with it.”

Scott Waldeck of the House of Hardwood in Los Angeles says his alder sales have been flat over the last six months, which he attributes to higher prices for the upper grades. Alder has a unique grading system.

“Alder used to be more popular several years ago, in my opinion, because it used to be fairly cheap. But we carry superior grade alder and that’s pretty expensive now compared to what it used to be, so I think people switched to other species,” says Waldeck. “I think it’s definitely about the price because I there are other comparable woods that are better and denser.”

Superior grade alder is popular with solid body guitar makers, according to Miles Gilmer of Gilmer Wood Co. in Portland, Ore.

“We sell two-piece and one-piece guitar bodies in alder, swamp ash and genuine mahogany. Those are traditional guitar woods, and these boutique builders want to duplicate the originals as much as they can,” he says.

Retail dealers quoted 4/4 alder at $2.69/bf for No. 1 Common, $2.99/bf for knotty, and $4.69 to $4.95/bf for superior grade. 

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

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