Question for long time owners of alder cabinets

Sidney4April 7, 2012

I am working on my second kitchen in less than 2 years. This one will be located in our finished lower level which is a more casual living space. Our lower level is where the extended family gathers for holidays and where the grand kids spend most of their time when they come to visit....which is often. It is also where our guest suites are so at times it will also serve as a breakfast bar. While this kitchen will not be used on a daily basis , I do think it will still see a fair amount of action.

Yesterday, we met with the cabinet maker to make some decisions around his proposed plan. He had recommended that we go with stained oak ,something he thought would be a good fit for our craftsman style home and the more casual look and feel in our lower level. While we were walking through his workshop, I noticed some in-progress alder cabinets and just loved them. I thought the knotty grain added character to the cabinets . Since I don't want to go with a lot of fussy trim / corbels, etc., I thought the knotty alder might be a point of uniqueness. Today I did a search of alder cabinets on this forum and was disappointed to learn that many posters feel the alder compromises quality (toughness) for price. I didn't even realize it was a down grade. I would love to hear comments from people who have had some history with using alder cabinets and tell me how well they hold up. Also, maybe someone could suggest other options that could accomplish the same look. I already have cherry cabinets upstairs along with painted kitchen cabinets but I don't think that style/look will work well in the downstairs living area.

All comments ,feed back and pictures are welcome. Thanks so much.

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Alder is the softest "hardwood". Hardwood being determined not by strength of the wood, but how the tree grows. If you liked the look of knotty alder, why not look at knotty oak? You can stain it to a color close to natural alder if that is what you liked. Oak is a much harder wood and may give you longer life and will certainly be more forgiving to any "abuse" which grandkids may offer.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 11:24AM
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Tom....I don't recall ever seeing examples of knotty oak cabinets before. I'm going to do some googling. That may be a nice option. Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 11:33AM
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From the look you describe, perhaps hickory would fill the bill? And it is TOUGH. But it is a look that is not to everyone's tastes.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 12:05PM
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I did wonder about hickory. Does it take stain OK. I checked out knotty oak and I think it reminds me too much of the knotty pine look that is a little too retro for my tastes....maybe I need to check out a few more examples.

I have been googling wood grain cabinet images.....just to see what catches my eye. I keep coming back to the alder cabs. Sigh, I hope I can get the look AND the durability with the right choice...or at the very least find a wood that can handle the wear in a character adding sort of way.

Here are a couple knotty alder finishes that I am drawn to....

I think this is interesting but maybe its too extreme

This was one of my original inspiration photos. This is the glass inset i am using but I'm not sure what kind of wood it is.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 1:07PM
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Sophie Wheeler

To stand up to rambunctious grandkids, I'd recommend rustic hickory. It will give you the knotty look of the alder that you loved, but it's hard and dent resistant. While it is most often used in a rustic grade (with prominent knots and mineral streaks) and unstained, it can also be done in a clear grade and/or stained.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Thanks hollysprings.....I could live with several of those kitchens you shared. Is that hickory in all three examples shown in your first pic. They all look so different!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 2:19PM
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Hi Sidney,

If you want other than a clear finish I would stay away from Hickory. I cannot speak to using it for cabinets, but we used it on a floor--with the idea to stain it and make it look like Walnut, and the process was a nightmare. I learned that because Hickory is so hard and dense, it does not stain well. For the flooring, to make it come even close to a Walnut color, it required a specialist and a messy, inexact, and expensive two-step process to first dye, and then stain the Hickory.

Alder is soft, and you will see if you get a sample, very easily dents if you push hard with a fingernail. It makes beautiful cabinets, and has a nice looking grain that stains beautifully, but not sure I would use it in a kitchen due to the softness--though many people do.

You can find harder woods with nice grain for cabinets. Some companies offer "character" grades in cherry for example.

Here is a link to a wood hardness scale:

They do not show Alder but some scales do, or you could google "Janka Scale" and "Alder" or whatever wood you want to see, and find out where they compare with other woods.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 2:57PM
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I am not that familiar with alder, but my neighbor has a light stained alder cabinet that looks like it has held up well. Just 2 of them, and doesn't get any kid-abuse. Also, a friend used hickory and they are very nice.

I am surprised that you are not using corbels in your 'craftsman' kitchen, however, as that is an element of craftsman. Check the Houzz website for some examples of Craftsman kitchens. You might be surprised to see the various uses of different woods in some of the kitchens there.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 5:22PM
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Here's a link to a Janka scale that does list alder. Scroll down; alder is near the bottom. For comparison, alder is 590 on the scale. Cherry comes in at 950 and Northern red oak at 1290.

IOW's, alder is very soft.

Here is a link that might be useful: Janka Scale

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 5:40PM
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Most all woods can be obtained in select ( color matched) natural, and knotty. Hickory does take stain well, but as with all woods the sanding staining process may be different for different species.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 6:23PM
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what about a rustic knotty cherry or knotty walnut?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 7:56PM
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Hi! When we built our first home, we used alder cabinets. I absolutely LOVED them. After 9 years of heavy daily use, three kids and 2 pets, they looked as good the day we moved out as the day they were put in. They may have been made with a softer wood, but they held up to the demands of our busy family better than any of the cabinets we have had in our other two homes. They were a golden to medium stain and maybe the color is what kept them from showing so much wear. We are getting ready to build again (hopefully will be it till all of our children graduate school) and I am planning on using alder again. I've just not been as happy with any of the other woods we have used... including the oak. Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 9:06PM
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That is reassuring Herewegoagain. I think we will be using alder too. I checked out a friend's kitchen that was done 3 years ago in alder. It has held up beautifully as well. Also in a light to medium stain. I love the look too.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 9:17PM
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We bought last year and the 11 year old house came with Alder cabinets. Previous owners had 1/2 dozen kids and did lots of cooking. On the top edge of a few drawers that are used all the time the finish has worn away, otherwise the rest of the cabinets look fine after 11 years.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 10:19PM
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I so appreciate everyone's feedback. I have looked at so many cabinets on line but I love the alder .....I just couldn't let infatuation get in the way of good judgement. Herewegoagain, I also find your comments reassuring. I was ready to give up on alder but now I think it may be back in the running. Enduring, I did see some knotty cherry cabinets that were attractive. I am going to ask my cabinet maker about that option as well, but if there are other satisfied alder cabinet owners out there , I think I may go with what I am drawn to. I realize that some wood is more impervious to nicks and dings than others but maybe alder is able to " wear it better".

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 10:24PM
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Did you choose knotty alder or knotty cherry? I am choosing kitchen cabinets and was told knotty cherry is a better quality but will darken/redden in time. I like the light color of knotty alder. Living in a Mountain location alder fits...still a bit apprehensive about giving up stability for the look. I hope to have grand kids some day and wonder if alder would be high maintenance.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 10:22PM
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Christine, we did go with knotty alder. The cabinets will be delivered tomorrow, I am really anxious to see how the finished product turns out. I'll share pictures once they're installed. It's taken a lot longer to get this project done than I had hoped. The construction business seems to be picking up around here so I've had to wait in line to get the work done.

The posts from alder cabinet owners helped me make the decision. I was still a little concerned about how they would hold up but then I realized that I don't fret this much about my furniture made from softer woods. I have pine pieces that have survived two generations of kids. I think the finish and the stain on a wood has a greater impact on how gracefully it ages.Some camouflage normal wear and tear better than others. I might look at it differently if we were talking about flooring, however.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2012 at 9:14AM
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I've loved the look of alder. Norcroft does a Rustic Alder that is mesmerizing. I think it's absolutely beautiful. I can't wait to see what you get!

When we were shopping for flooring, we found locust. Actually right now I can't remember if it was locust or sweet gum. Something weird. The grain was soooo beautiful. When we went back, we were told we were (insane) mistaken, because they didn't know of anyone who offered anything such as we were describing. So we supplied the company name, model numbers, color numbers, blah blah. They had nothing to say. But then, no one could find it again, either.

I really wanted that grain!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2012 at 12:44PM
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