Ash vs. Alder: Which One to Use?

Ash vs. Alder: Which One to Use?

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If you are planning on building something around your home, the type of wood you use is a very important consideration. Two popular types of wood out there include ash and alder, both of which are highly regarded for their strength, durability, and beauty.

Today, we want to find out which of these two types of wood is best used for a variety of projects, so we are going to be comparing them on a side-by-side basis. Let’s figure out which of these two materials is best for you.

What Is Ash?

First, we have the ash tree, and for the purposes of this article, we are going to be talking about the white ash tree. There are actually a few different types of ash trees out there, although white ash is one of the most commonly used for construction. Additionally, most other types of ash share a good deal of similarities with this variety.

The ash tree can grow up to 80’ in height. This is a deciduous hardwood tree that grows in the eastern part of North America, particularly in eastern Canada. In terms of appearance, the wood features a straight and regular grain, and may sometimes have some moderate curls or figured boards. It also features a medium to coarse texture. Ash may also have some knots.

As for the color, the heartwood features a medium brown color, with the sapwood being anywhere from beige to light brown. In terms of overall durability, this is a fairly hard type of wood with a good deal of strength, although it is not very resistant to moisture, rotting, decay, insects, or fungus. Therefore, it does work well for interior furniture, but not so much for outdoor applications.

Keep in mind that this type of wood is also quite easy to work with, as it takes paint and stain quite well, it’s easy to screw and nail, and it is easy to bend with steam as well. Ash is a very inexpensive type of hardwood, as it’s generally used for utility purposes, such as for making boxes and crates, millwork, flooring, baseball bats, and many turned objects, with tool handles being a prime example.

What Is Alder?

We then have the alder tree, which can be found all throughout the northern temperate zone, which means that it can be found in northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America. There are over 35 different types of these trees.

One of the most common types is the red alder, so that is generally what we are going to be focusing on today. This tree can grow up to 100’ high and is generally found on the western coast of North America.

Alder is not a very hard type of softwood, nor is it overly dense. It also doesn’t have a great deal of flexibility and is not seen as being overly resistant to decay, pests, or moisture. This is not a type of wood that you want to use for outdoor purposes. This material can, however, be used for indoor furniture, cabinetry, flooring, decorative veneers, wooden toys, crafts, and home decorations.

As for appearance, alder features a fairly straight grain with a uniform and smooth texture, and it is light brown to reddish-brown once it dries. What is interesting to note is that when this wood is first cut down, it actually looks bleach white. This material is generally sold in two grades, which are knotty and clear. As you can probably tell by the name, knotty alder contains a lot of knots, whereas clear does not.

Ash vs. Alder: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both ash and alder are, let’s figure out what makes the two different.


White ash is quite hard, as it comes in at 1,320 lbf on the Janka hardness scale. On the other hand, red alder comes in at just 590 lbf. This means that white ash is over twice as hard, and is therefore much more resistant to denting, scratching, and other forms of physical damage.


White ash features a density of 42 lbs per cubic foot. Alternatively, red alder features a density of 28 lbs per cubic foot, making white ash almost twice as heavy.

Moisture and Pest Resistance

What is interesting to note is that both of these materials are not known for being very moisture or pest-resistant, with red alder probably being even less so than white ash. That said, neither of these types of wood should be used for outdoor applications.


If you need wood that is flexible and allows for good bending capabilities when steam is used, then ash doesn’t make for a good option. However, Alder is not a very flexible type of wood at all.

Overall Strength

When it comes down to it, white ash is just much more durable. It features a higher compressive strength, is harder, has a higher modulus of rupture, and a higher modulus of elasticity.


One advantage that alder has over ash is that it is easier to work with in terms of painting, staining, nailing, and screwing. It is also easier to saw because it’s not as hard or heavy.

Appearance – Color and Grain

Red alder features a straight grain with a moderately fine texture, with a light tan or reddish-brown color that tends to darken over time. White ash tends to be a little more medium brown in color, with the grain being slightly coarser.


For high-quality white ash, you should not be paying more than $10 per board foot, if not a few dollars less. On the other hand, red alder is going to cost you about half as much.

When to Use Ash?

If you need a good-looking type of wood that works well for basic indoor purposes and is not going to cost you much, then ash is a good option to consider. Overall, it is very durable and hard, so it is resistant to physical damage.

When to Use Alder?

Alder is a good type of wood to use if you want something that is just very affordable and looks decent. Remember that it’s not very hard, durable, or moisture-resistant, so it is best used for very basic indoor purposes.

Alternatives to Ash and Alder

If you are looking for wood that is ideal for outdoor use and is very moisture resistant, options such as oak, red cedar, cherry, maple, and mahogany are good options.


As you can see, both ash and alder are decent options to use when it comes to indoor purposes, although neither excels at outdoor use.