Is Maple or Alder a Better Wood?

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Alder and maple are both light-colored deciduous hardwoods used for furniture making and many other projects. Maple is originally native to North America, while alder species are native to North America, Europe and western Asia. Each wood has its own benefits and disadvantages and works best for particular uses. Choosing the right wood for your woodworking project can help make it more successful.

Appearance

  • Maple trees produce white to light-brown sapwood, sometimes with a reddish tint, and darker heartwood, which may have a purple or gray tinge. Alder sapwood has white to light-brown sapwood and heartwood that can be hard to tell apart. Alder wood tends to darken over time and with exposure to oxygen. Both woods produce straight-grained and irregularly-grained timber. In maple, irregular, wavy or curly-grained wood is prized for its unusual appearance. Choose maple for distinctive veneers and furniture-making and either wood when appearance is less important.

Durability

  • Hard maple wood rates around 1180 on the Janka hardness scale, while soft maple rates only about 950. Alder wood is considerably softer, rating between 385 and 660, depending on species. Choose hard maple for high-traffic flooring and other uses where density is a concern. Maple is considered moderately dimensionally stable after seasoning and moves somewhat on exposure to weather. Alder is more stable and the better choice for projects that need immobile timber that does not change size or shape.

Decay Resistance

  • Neither maple nor alder wood resists decay or insect attack and may be damaged by beetles and fungi. Maple species tend to resist impregnation with decay-preventing treatments. The heartwood is most resistant to impregnation. Alder wood is considerably more permeable and responds well to treatment with preventative chemicals, making it more suitable for use in outdoor projects after treatment.

Working Properties

  • Hard maple tends to blunt cutting tools and is difficult to saw. It bores and turns readily, responds well to mortising and has fair molding properties, but is hard to glue, screw and nail. Soft maple blunts tools less and responds better to planing, but all maple can be difficult to plane when it has a wavy or curly grain. All alder species are difficult to saw, but have relatively low resistance to cutting. They screw, nail and glue well and take stain better than maple. Use maple where the natural look of the wood is desirable and alder where the wood's appearance needs to be altered.

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