Clear Alder Versus European Beech

A cabinetmaker who finds that clear Alder looks good, but scratches too easily, discovers a satisfying alternative: European Beech. April 9, 2008

We have been using a lot of clear alder for our kitchen and bath projects. Our clients love the look of the wood, and I must agree. They like the look of alder because of the tight grain and not wild grain of oak and ash. However, alder is a softer wood and we have had some issue with it scratching/denting easily. Does anyone use another species that has the tight grain of alder (other than cherry) that is in the same price line? We pay about $3.25 BF for alder surfaced and straightlined.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
European beech.

From contributor P:
The Euro beech is great. Quite a bit harder and a little darker. Sanding takes longer, but it looks better I think. Doesn't fuzz up like soft maple or alder around swirling grain. I think alder is easier to stain, but that just may be me.

From contributor H:
I think Pacific Coast maple looks more like alder than European beech but either will work.

From contributor R:
Beech is hard! Pacific Coast maple is about the same (medium hardwood) as alder and will have many of the same issues with denting, scratching, etc. Staining beech is a little tricky, as with many very hardwoods. I consider beech a cross between alder and red oak without the wild grain pattern of oak. Clear finishing beech is a winner.

From contributor I:
I am getting to hate alder. You can't get plywood delivered without scratches that are too deep to sand out without burning through the veneer and the yield on lumber is terrible once you cut out the knots and defects. I sure hope this trend dies quickly.

From contributor H:
Alder has been going strong for almost 10 years here in Utah. I try to sell rustic cherry to those that want the rustic look but don't like the soft alder. I can buy 2 com cherry for around 1.95 a foot and it looks cooler than alder.

From contributor N:
I just finished a large hickory job, and now I'm on several alder jobs. Hickory sure looks nice, but the sanding is a killer. Alder is so light it almost floats upwards, dents too easy, but there's no perfect wood. I do a lot of beech also - nice wide boards, flat, clear. My customers really like beech in a semi-gloss clear. It would be interesting to get my finisher to do some staining (after they figure it out). Western maple looks nice, but there's no plywood, and my door company won't touch it along with madrone, etc. A hickory kitchen sure looks great. Hickory is cheap now (no clue as to why). I'm putting hickory in my kitchen (with a semi-gloss #40), using a shaker style raised panel door. I really like the look of it.

From contributor J:
Boy, you guys out west have it tough on lumber. $1.95 for #2 Cherry. We're seeing #1 only a few cents higher net delivered here in NC.

I can give you some insight into the cheap hickory. Although the lowers are selling great, the mills can't move the uppers, so the price is coming down. We're a big hickory #2/3 buyer and can't find any mills that want to saw it because they can't get rid of the FAS and to a lesser extent the #1 they are producing.

On the beech staining, I'm not a cabinet guy - we do flooring - but I can tell you from making stain samples for our pre-finished line I can't think of another light color wood that stains as easily.

From contributor H:
I wish I could get the trees to grow out here. I think I am paying the going rate. I am not a big shop but I buy 2-4 units of lumber a month. I am well connected and know what other big shops are paying. Anybody east of the Mississippi buy alder? What do you pay and what grades do you use?

From contributor Y:
Try madrone. It works like a dream - nice wide boards, pretty straight grain, and if you don't like it, you can always use it for firewood! I only wish they would make some ply for it without a six week's 50 sheet minimum order!

From contributor O:
I got a sheet of beech yesterday and some hardwood, made up a few deco panels and did the same with some alder, stained each side with two different colors then put them side by side and everyone I have shown them to can't tell the difference. The color is almost a dead on match and the grain is tighter than the alder, so maybe I have a good solution. Thanks for everyone's input.

From contributor Y:
I'd like to know what stain you're using on beech. We do a lot of alder, and we hate it. I'd like to talk my boss into switching to beech, but I can't figure out how to get it to absorb stain. I'd appreciate advice anyone would have.

From the original questioner:
We just finished our first kitchen with beech and it turned out great. It had much less imperfection than alder even though clear alder is pretty clean. It did not dent or scratch near as easy and the stain went on great. My painter used a stain from Sherwin Williams and a satin clear coat. Thanks to all that gave me advice on an alder alternative.

From contributor A:
Alder looks nothing like beech. Maybe to the homeowner. Around here they say alder looks like cherry - yeah, right.