Alder cabinets: pros and cons? Pictures?

mrs-mjtSeptember 4, 2008

The deadline is upon me to finalize my wood species and color for my cabinets and I'm still undecided. Thought I'd do maple, but don't like the sample colors from my custom cabinet guy. Concerned about it yellowing and being blotchy as it doesn't take stain well. Also considering natural cherry but concerned about how it will darken over time. Got a sample of alder (not knotty) today with some stains applied but don't know much about it other than it is softer than cherry and can be blotchy. Can you help?

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mrs-mjt, I went through just what you are going through and ended up with Alder. I don't have any pictures yet, but I do love the cabinet wood. They are a little blotchy and the different pieces of the wood stain differently, but that adds to the interest. I haven't moved in yet so I don't know how soft they are, but I do know they are one of the softer woods. I have several friends who have them and they look great.

Have you looked at the Alder site yet--just click on the different kitchens?--that helped me.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Alder Cabinets

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 9:00AM
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I went with natural alder & love the warm color & natural grain which maple didn't have. Also, the old sample at the store is exactly the same color as my brand new cabinets so I guess it doesn't yellow! You can see a picture of part of my kitchen on the American Range 2 thread & on Please vote 2 handles. I also posted a picture of my pantry yesterday with a question about which glass to use. Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 9:16AM
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We considered it, but when it just took a fingernail only moderately pushing to dent it, we decided against it. With two children and two dogs, we didn't think such a soft wood was a good idea. It does look nice and can be finished to look like cherry.

One comment on cherry and it's darkening...what you see in the Kitchen showrooms or w/door samples your KD has is what you will most likely end up with. New cabinets will be lighter than what you see at your KD's place b/c new cabinets won't have had time to darken. However, the displays and door samples have, for the most part, had plenty of time to darken. The majority of the darkening takes place in the first two years. Yes, it will continue to darken ever so slightly after that...but barely noticeable, if noticeable at all. Probably the most obvious changes will occur in the first few months.

So, if you like what you see w/the sample or showroom, that's what you will most likely end up with.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 10:19AM
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Thanks for sharing! This is one tough decision probably because it is a big one! I'm on a different computer and it wouldn't download your pictures so will have to try later.

I like the natural color of alder better than the natural cherry sample I have (topcoated only) because it seems more neutral in color (what I want) but I am concerned about buehl's comment re: denting. Buehl, Do you think it dents as easily as pine? My dd has a pine dresser and it is full of dents.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 11:08AM
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I too started with the idea that I would get maple (or even cherry) and ended up with alder. I had never heard of it so I researched it. It is a hardwood, not like pine which is a softwood, however it is just about the softest hardwood you can find. There are different species of oak and maple, but all are harder than alder. Cherry is softer than oak and maple, but is still is harder than alder Both are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 times harder than alder. I discovered that many cabinet makers like it because it is easy to work with and stain. Depending upon how you look at it, fortunately or unfortunately most of the things that are likely to come into contact with your cabinets and are hard enough to damage alder, will also be hard enough to harder woods too. I would consider it much more carefully for a floor. In the end you'll have to look at how you like the different stains and different wood grains. Our alder has enough of a grain (unlike maple's tight grain) that people think it's cherry. I don't dissuade them.

- Jim

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 11:33AM
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I love our Alder cabinets. We've been in a year now and no problems at all with denting with one exception. The area under the cabinet for the vac-pan has a few small nicks from hitting it with the broom. It is a bit blotchy but that's the look we were going for anyway. Looks a little like a glaze.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 12:37PM
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FYI, the 'softwood' & 'hardwood' tags are a bit misleading. Technically, the wood from any deciduous tree is called a 'hardwood' and the wood from any coniferous tree is called a 'softwood'. In practical terms, that means that some so-called soft woods are harder than some so-called hardwoods.

For instance, alder, a 'hardwood', at 590 on the Janka scale is softer than Douglas fir, a 'softwood' (710 Janka) as well as several species of pine. Pine ranges from the very soft eastern white pine (380) to the much harder longleaf pine (870), of the commonly available pine species. (Longleaf pine is often also called 'Southern Yellow Pine.')

Personally, I would steer away from alder for kitchen cabinets and go with a tougher wood.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:04PM
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Alder is soft. Get a sample from your cabinet guy unfinished and push your finger nail into it. Maple needs a different product to color it without blotching.
If all he knows how to do is use oil based stains you won't like his maple cabinet finish.
Maple needs to have the color sprayed on with a dye stain to get an even color. If your cabinet guy has a dealer that handles gemini products, they have a good dye stain that can be mixed into the seal coat.

Another option if he wants a rub on stain it to use a water based dye stain. They don't blotch on maple, but raise the grain of the wood a little and requires a little more sanding after the seal coat.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:10PM
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Red Alder has traditionally been used as a secondary wood in furniture construction ( structural parts that can be seen ). Despite what every says above there is one and only one reason that alder is popular and that quite simply is the price per board foot. Its at least 30% cheaper than black cherry. It can be stained to look like cherry ( to the untrained eye ).

As far as blotching goes, all the specie mentioned blotch, the reason it happens is that they are finished so quickly in the factory. You get a dye with 2 coats of conv. varnish and we are quickly onto the next one. These woods need a washcoat and a bit of care in the finishing process.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:51PM
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You may want to look at red birch. It is similar to cherry, but does not darken. It has an almost translucent appearance in certain lights. I'm pretty sure it is far less expensive than cherry. I don't have any pictures but if you go to the site of Peter Rees Remodeling and look at some of his kitchens such as Brighton kitchen --I'm pretty sure that is red birch. He suggested I use it and I was thinking about it. I think either Plain & Fancy or Omega also show red birch on their site.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 4:04PM
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Have you ever thought of Hickory as an option? It is just about the strongest/heaviest wood out there. I have 3 kids and have had this kitchen for 4 years and i have yet to see a dent. I know hickory can have a lot of variation but it does stain well and the darker you go on the stain the less variation you will see. Here are a couple pics. Maple is a pretty wood but i have seen it yellow and not stain well in some kitchens and just as you went through all the choices of cherry and maple as well. No regrets with this wood!! Here are a couple pics........Good luck!!!

close up:

full view:

1 Like    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 4:24PM
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athomewith3, Your kitchen is beautiful! Whenever I see hickory, I'm always drawn to it. My hesitation is that I like a contemporary look and hickory strikes me as more country. Wish I had time to search out some contemporary kitchens using hickory but I meet with cabinet maker in an hour to finalize my wood choice. I'll ask him about it as well as red birch sayde recommended.

I do like the look of alder but my dh was able to dent it with his fingernail so he would like a tougher wood for the kitchen.

I have a feeling I'll end up with a natural/light cherry. It is a beautiful wood but I'm very concerned about how it will darken and whether it is too orangey for me. I envisioned a light and airy contemporary kitchen so my vision is being tweaked. Not necessarily bad, but different.

By the way, my granite is Persa so it has a lot of carmel/butterscotch tones in it. One of the reasons I liked it was because it had a variety of "wood" tones in it so hoped it would help in choosing a contrasting cabinet and hardwood floor.

Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 11:01AM
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so i'm getting really upset now!!!! we just got a stained alder island installed and my kd never mentioned it's "softness" to me. he only mentioned the different look of the grain and stain. so what is the worst that can happen? maybe in the end, it will just look "distressed"?

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 1:59PM
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Mrs-mjt, thanks for the nice compliments on the kitchen. Yes, would definately consider myself on the more "country cottage" look than contemorary. I am sure there is a good solution for you out there that will satisfy your contemporary look without sacrificing the hardness and durability of your wood.

gglks, i don't have experience with alder but lindybart's BEAUTIFUL kitchen doesn't seem to have many issues. I just knew when we picked out our wood for our cabinets that it was a MUST they were child proof and they have been. Do you have kids? If so is it too late to change your species of wood??? Good luck......

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 10:36PM
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The alder cabinet discussion really caught my eye since dh and I just looked at cabinets yesterday for 1 1/2 hrs.! We met with a salesman and whenever I brought up "alder" he said how soft it is and how we probably wouldn't want it! I think it is a beautiful wood and I like it in several different stains. He was trying to steer us toward "beech" which is nice but I really like the alder! My dh and I are retired and I hardly think we would be "rough" on the cabinets! I am glad to see that so many of you like your alder cabinets and haven't had any problems.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 10:56PM
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I guess I am missing something! LOL!

I have never decided on a wood species for cabinets because of their hardness or softness. I have never had a problem with my DS or any of the other numerous kids we have in our homes denting our cabinets. I have only gone for the look I love at the time. So, what do kids do to the cabinets to make them dent? I'm not trying to mean, I just really want to know. I have been around a lot of new homeowners and no one has ever mentioned that before.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 10:56PM
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Sorry, gglks, i just re-read your post that said you "just had your alder island installed". What are your other cabinets made of?

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 11:10PM
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athomewith3, the perimeter cabinets are maple painted white but we went with alder on the island because i like the dark wood stain on the alder.....and i do have 2 small boys at home!!! we do have stools at the island so i'm wondering if their little kicking feet could do any damage? they never have their shoes on in the house though. i'm hoping it will be ok. we also have an old trestle table in the eat in area that is pretty distressed....maybe a fews dents and knicks won't be so bad!!!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 9:32AM
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olliesmom, I'm with you. I have read about the concerns with Alder on this forum but I couldn't figure out how they are denting their cabinets with regular use AND I have two rambunctious kiddos myself. Like I said, the only spot that has "very small" dents is where we smack the broom against the bottom of the vacupan area. You can't even notice it unless you get down on your hands and knees with a flashlight! LOL

Oh and my island gets a workout from kids kicking it too and no dents there. Of course their shoes are off 99% of the time. We've had things dropped, splashed all over the place and chairs tipping over...told you they were rambunctious. No denting at all!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 5:12PM
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thanks for the update!!!!!!! i feel better!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 6:11PM
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Don't get alder for your cabinets if you have kids!

We'd remodeled our kitchen 2.5 yrs ago and I wished I done better research. My cabinets are so banged up that it makes me sick to my stomach with regrets just looking at them. We also used alder for our matching pantry cabinets, entertainment center, and master bathroom. Of the 4 places, only our bath is still in good condition because it's only us using it, most of the time. We don't wear shoes in the house either.

I don't mean to make those who've already ordered alder cabinets to feel bad. I just want to warn those who are still undecided to know what they're getting into. I'd done some search online before my decision, but I guess I was looking for affirmation more than really considering the pros and cons.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 1:17PM
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