Last week a customer came into the shop and told me about a local building supply outlet that was selling Red Alder cabinets. Not knowing anything about Red Alder and always looking for ammunition for these monthly wood blurbs, I decided to drive over and take a look.
Red Alder (Alnus rubra Bong.) is the most important hardwood of the Pacific Northwest, growing from Santa Barbara, California up to South Eastern Alaska. It grows in humid to super humid conditions thriving on 25 inches to 120 inches of rain yearly. The largest recorded Red Alder was in the Olympic National Park (34" in diameter) although another tree also in Washington on the Wynooche River was a reported 52" in diameter. Its usual maximum growth is from 24" - 30" in diameter and 100' - 130' tall. It establishes itself quickly on burned or logged off land and it importantly adds humus and nitrogen to these soils preparing them for longer-lived conifers. It usually is short lived, up to 100 years, and is shade intolerant.
The cabinets I went to see looked a lot like Birch but definitely softer; you could leave an imprint with your fingernail. Red Alder's specific gravity is .37 green and .43 oven-dry, whereas Basswood is .32 and .40. The wood is white when freshly cut and ages to flesh color or light brown with a reddish tinge. It is also subject to sticker stain. Because it takes glue well, has a nice grain, finishes well, takes and holds nails and screws, and turns well, it is used in all types of furniture; especially where stained or enameled. It is also important as pulp, used for charcoal, and is desirable for fuel for the fireplace as it doesn't scatter sparks. Among some of its "novelty" uses, are as floor lamps, candlesticks, umbrella stands, and hat racks.