Woodipedia: Is It or Can It Be Cherry?

Stains have made it rather simple to color 1 type of wood to make it resemble any other sort. However there are two species of wood that actually do seem alike in their uncooked state: cherry and alder. Here’s how to tell the difference.

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When you think about a cozy country kitchenmost probably you are imagining warm-colored cherry cabinets. “Cherry was one of the most popular cabinet forests in rural regions throughout the country, since it was so widely distributed across the USA,” notes Andy Richmond, vice president and certified appraiser at Garth’s Antiques at Delaware, Ohio.

Nevertheless there’s another wood species which features a milder version of cherry’s reddish tones and grain patterns. Alder is affectionately referred to by woodworkers because”poor man’s cherry.” With a coating of finish, it can readily pass for cherry into less-discerning eyes.

Cherry basics. When we talk of cherry, we are really referring to black cherry — Prunus serotina. A distinguishing element of most cherry wood is gum stains, or pitch pockets. They’re brief, black streaks that look like hardened resin deposits.

Occasionally cherry has pin knots — tiny brown circles which again add visual attention. High-end cherry is figured, meaning undulating beams of light seem to take across the grain, lending the plank a shimmering depth. This luminous effect is known as chatoyance.

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Alder basics. Commonly called red alder, Alnus rubra grows principally in the Pacific Northwest, in which it’s the most environmentally abundant timber. The grain pattern and quiet coloration of alder is polarizing. Some folks like it for precisely that reason, though other people find it boring. Alder may have pin knots, but it does not have gum stains.

You will sometimes hear references to clear or knotty alder, but these are just general descriptions. “That’s not a grade,” says Walt Maas, manager of Bohnhoff Lumber at Vernon, California. “There are industry standards for grading lumber — like there are for grading meat. Each type of wood has its own specifications which specialist hardwood lumber graders follow.”

This makes it easier to compare prices when shopping. However, Maas notes that a few businesses put their own proprietary levels on lumber, making comparison shopping harder.


Contrasts between cherry and alder. There are 3 chief differences. To begin with, alder is considerably softer, so it weighs less. Second, alder is cheaper. And lastly, alder has no sapwood, that is the creamy coloured wood on the edge of a plank. Like walnut, cherry is known for having plenty of sapwood.


Cost. Cherry’s cost is somewhat contingent on the amount of sapwood. Most boards have significantly more heartwood (the pinkish-red color) on one side and clearly more sapwood on the opposite side. The proportion of each on a single board affects pricing. Another factor is plank width. Wider boards of all species are pricier.

Maas reports that the wholesale cost of cherry at his yard is $3.20 per plank. Alder is priced substantially lower, at $2.70 per board foot.

Color. Whilst alder is quite even in color, cherry’s fundamental red cast may have a whole spectrum of variants. This makes it difficult for woodworkers to color match the planks on large projects. Gene Leslie of Rancho Cucamonga, California (who produced the cherry cabinets displayed here) evened out the disparate tones by treating all of the wood with lye to artificially age it while maintaining the clarity of the grain. Amateurs need to be thoroughly educated on this process before attempting it, however, since lye is highly caustic.

When creating tabletops and cupboard panels, woodworkers frequently cut the sapwood to incorporate the prized heartwood. The sapwood is subsequently used for the interior constructions, especially in drawer construction.

Durability. Black cherry rates 950 on the Janka scale for hardness, which puts it on equal footing with soft maple but much below harder hard walnut (1,450) and black walnut (1,010).

Alder is rated 590, position it as a very soft hardwood, slightly above poplar (540).

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Not cherry. While there aren’t any wood types erroneously identified as alder, there are several misnamed cherries. Chief among them is Brazilian cherry, also known as Jatoba. It is a very popular flooring choice nowadays, not only due to its cherry-like color, but also due to its durability. Brazilian cherry rates 2,350 about the Janka scale. (Recall, hard maple is 1,450.)

Other forests masquerading as cherry are Patagonian cherry, Bolivian cherry along with African cherry, which is also referred to as Makore.

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Finishing. Cherry and alder are prone to blotching when finishing coats are applied. Again, some people today take this as a gorgeous trait of genuine wood, though other woodworkers attempt every finishing trick in the business to minimize it. It is a good idea to ask for a completed sample.


UV stability. Cherry naturally patinates into a darker, richer color over time. American antiques expert Andy Richmond notes antique cherry furniture may resemble mahogany.

It is also a superbly UV-unstable wood, which many woodworkers utilize to their advantage. To quickly and painlessly deepen the color of some cherry planks, woodworker Gene Leslie intentionally leaves them out in sunlight after grinding them.

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Sustainability. Domestic hardwoods are endorsed by the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture as a preferred green building material — in large part because of the responsible harvesting approaches practiced by the American hardwood industry. Another significant element in the sustainability of American hardwoods is the minimal transportation requirements, in comparison to those of imported exotics.

More: Learn about more forests and how to utilize them on your design

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