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Alder prized in the West for its rustic look

Known for its favorable working properties, plentiful supply and relatively low price, alder is a staple at West Coast shops and selling well in other parts of the country.

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Commonly referred to as red alder, American alder and Western alder, the species (Alnus rubra) is a rapid-growth tree that is found mainly on the West Coast from California into Canada. It comes in clear and knotty variations, depending on how much visual character the buyer wants in their final product.

Norman Roberts of Roberts Plywood in Deer Park, N.Y., says sales of alder have recently increased. “It’s starting to pick up, but it’s more popular on the West Coast in places like Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. People out there prefer it more for its rustic look.”

Myles Gilmer of Gilmer Wood Co. Portland, Ore., limits his alder sales to the clear variation. Most of his goes into the solid-body guitar business, though it’s also specified for framing cabinet carcasses and upholstered furniture.

“It is a prolific tree in the Northwest that grows rapidly and generally has fairly decent size characteristics in the logs so you get some pretty nice pieces. One of the things we sell are one-piece solid-body blocks and they generally run about 14” to 15” wide and 2” thick, so that’s a pretty decent size,” says Gilmer.

“Some people don’t really like alder’s finishing characteristics because it’s prone to blotching, especially if a coloring agent is used, but I’ve talked to numerous people that have overcome that problem with using different chemicals for finishing.”

Noah Jackel of West Coast Woods of Watsonville, Calif., has also seen alder sales improve. “Alder works well; it’s easily workable. The cost of the lumber is relatively low. And it stains well. People can color it whatever flavors they want if they want to stain it.”

Retails prices for 4/4 alder range from $3-$5/bf.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.

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