Alder as a cherry substitute
Appropriate substitutes for cherry, and how to stain them. November 21, 2000
I am building some cherry cabinets and want to keep the cost down, especially on the doors. Is alder the best subsitute for cherry? It will be stained very dark red (mahogany) with very little grain showing.
Alder is not cherry, however, we do the same thing a lot and it works fine.
I know of a shop that advertises nothing but "cherry" cabinets and is delivered nothing but alder lumber and red select birch. Stained, that works I guess. I don't do much in cherry, but when I do it's usually clear, and that switch doesn't work.
We have used birch several times for this, especially if we're going to stain it medium or darker shades. It's a shame to take nice cherry and stain it anything.
I'm doing a cherry kitchen right now and found if I order the doors from a door company there's not much difference in price between the two (inset panel door).
A friend of mine had a client that wanted a cherry kitchen on the cheap, so he used cherry ply for the ends and alder for the face frames, stained and lacqered it, and swears no one could tell the difference. But then the cheap customers see what they want to see as long as they get it for nothing, and feel they're looking good. Alder is alder no matter what, but it's a nice cabinet wood. They cut down a whole lot of it around here for lumber, but not too long ago it was considered a weed tree and they used to use it for fire wood.
Poplar would be my second flavor of choice for a "cherry" that is to be stained.
My experience with alder has been that the price has risen substantially over the years. If you are in an area where it is readily available it may still be dirt cheap. I read in one of the trades some time back that some people sell alder as "Canadian Cherry". Also we have a couple of local shops that sell it as cherry. Unfortunately I have a conscience and if someone pays for cherry I give them cherry.
While it machines pretty easy, I have found substantially more defects in FAS grade vs. conventional cherry. We still make a lot of alder doors and we upcharge 20% the same as cherry due to the amount of waste. In my opinion it is not a good alternative to cherry. Certainly birch, soft/hard maple would be better. It is very soft, considerably softer than cherry and does have a tendancy to crack (at stress points). Like a couple of others have said, basically cherry is cherry and alder is alder, and there is no alder in my home.
Brian Personett, forum technical advisor
We have already done a job with alder faces and doors and stained them dark mahogony. Only thing you have to watch out for is the splotching--we had to condition our wood to stop the stain from penetrating too deep. I suggest using Mohawk's wiping stains. They don't penetrate and will not splotch at all. They are located in New York. Their stains are the best in the market in my opinion.
Poplar works great but be sure to tell the customer.
If you are going to stain it dark, why use cherry? Staining it just blows the color change that people want with cherry. If you are going to substitute, use poplar. Ask for white. It has the same grain pattern as cherry and doesn't have the blotchy affect of birch and alder. By all means tell the customer.
The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).
Comment from contributor A:
Alder, in the past, has been used for a cherry subsitiute. Nowadays it stands on its own. We sell alder for alder cabinets and cherry for cherry cabinets. If it is your home and you are staining dark, I would use maple. If it is someone else's set, give them the alternatives and be honest about what you are offering.
Comment from contributor Z:
I used to use poplar for solid edging on veneered cherry tops. It mimics the cherry grain and stains well. Under mahogany or medium cherry finish, only a trained eye could tell the difference. We used it on medium- to high-end office furniture, traditional and contemporary.
Comment from contributor R:
I know a gentleman who uses alder as a substitute for almost everything in his woodworking business and is convinced that nobody will ever know the difference. He has tried to pass it off as mahogany, cherry and walnut just by staining it different colors on different portions of his work to save money. I, however, have a conscience and can most definitely see a difference. I agree with most on here that if you are going to substitute woods, tell the customer. They deserve to receive just what they asked for and if it's cherry they want, then cherry they will receive. That's the way I do business with my woodworking despite this gentleman's continued efforts to get me into his dishonest form of doing business.