Birch vs. Alder: Which One to Use?

Birch vs. Alder: Which One to Use?

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If you are looking for a new type of wood to use for a variety of construction and woodworking projects around your house, then you have come to the right place. Today, we want to compare two very popular types of wood that are often used in North America.

These include birch and alder. We’re going to compare them based on a variety of factors to figure out which one is better used for a variety of purposes. Let’s help you figure out which one you want for your next project.

What Is Birch?

First, we have the birch tree, and here we are talking specifically about the yellow birch. This is one of the most common types of birch tree that grows in North America, and it is often used for construction purposes. It can be found all the way from the eastern edge of Manitoba and Canada, over to the Atlantic provinces, and in the northeastern sector of the USA.

Keep in mind that birch is a deciduous hardwood tree. It features a relatively straight and tight grain, although it may have some waves or irregularities. It also has a low natural luster, and an even and fine texture, and it can sometimes have some gaps, knots, and voice.

The sapwood of the yellow birch is mostly white, although the heartwood is brownish-reddish-yellowish in color, and it is the heartwood that is usually for construction purposes. Birch is also a fairly dense, heavy, and hard type of wood, and relatively easy to work with. It also tends to be quite resistant to physical damage, such as denting and scratching.

In terms of hardwoods that can be found in North America, it is one of the more durable ones, although it could be more pest and moisture-resistant. This is not a type of wood that you want to use for outdoor purposes. However, it’s not very expensive, and it works fine for indoor projects, especially for things like low-traffic flooring, low-end furniture, decorative pieces, cabinets, and utilitarian purposes.

What Is Alder?

There is then the alder tree, which can be found in the northern temperate zone, particularly in North America, Northern Asia, and Northern Europe. There are over 35 different species of alder that can be found in the whole world, although the most commonly used in North America is the red alder, so that will be our focus for today.

The red alder is a very tall tree, growing up to 100’ high, and it’s most often found on the Western coast of North America, including both Canada and the USA.

Alder is a type of hardwood, although it is actually quite soft. When it comes to structural soundness, durability, and hardness, it is not very highly ranked. It’s also not overly resistant to moisture, pests, decay, or mold. This isn’t the type of wood that is ideal for outdoor use or major structural applications.

However, it is perfectly fine for indoor purposes, especially for utilitarian ones. It’s often used for crafts, cabinets, decorative veneers, other decorative pieces, low-end furniture, and wooden toys. Red alder features a straight grain with a smooth and uniform texture, as well as a reddish-brown color, but it’s really nothing special to look at.

Birch vs. Alder: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both birch and alder are, let’s figure out what makes these two types of wood different from each other.


One of the biggest differences here is that alder features a 590 lbf rating on the Janka hardness scale, whereas yellow birch comes in at 1,260 lbf.

As you can see, this means that the yellow birch is about twice as hard as red alder, therefore making it much more physically resistant to denting, scratching, and other such types of damage. It is therefore the better option to use for things like furniture and flooring.


Yellow birch weighs roughly 43 lbs/ft3, whereas red alder weighs just 28 lbs/ft3. As you can see, birch is therefore not only significantly harder than red alder but also significantly heavier. This does in part lead to increased durability, although that extra weight does also make it harder to work with.

Pest and Moisture Resistance

Although not really a difference per se, when it comes down to it, neither of these two types of wood is ideal for outdoor purposes. We would say that yellow birch is probably just slightly more moisture-resistant than red alder, although neither will perform well in high-moisture areas. Therefore, you should not use these types of wood outdoors.

Overall Strength

If we are talking about things like compressive strength, the modulus of rupture, and the modulus of elasticity, yellow birch tends to score higher on all of these fronts. This means that it is more structurally sound and able to bear more weight than red alder, and is technically the better option for basic construction purposes.


Both of these types of wood tend to be fairly easy to work with, although due to the hardness, weight, and propensity to have a lot of knots, yellow birch may be slightly harder to work with than red alder.

Appearance – Color and Grain

Both of these types of wood tend to have a fairly fine texture with a straight grain. The biggest difference between these two is their color, with red alder being a reddish-brown color, and yellow birch being more yellowish-brownish-red. It really comes down to a matter of personal preference in terms of which one you like more.


Yellow birch should not cost you more than $10 per board foot, whereas red alder is going to cost you no more than $6 per board foot.

When to Use Birch?

If you need something that is fairly cost-effective and ideal for basic indoor purposes, then birch is the better option. If you are set on using one of these two types of wood for things like flooring and furniture, birch would be the best bet, although certainly not for high-traffic areas. Yellow birch is fine for most indoor purposes, as long as you like its appearance.

When to Use Alder?

Alder is a fairly unique type of wood, seeing as it is not very moisture-resistant or structurally sound. Therefore, it is best reserved for very low-end furniture, children’s toys, decorative pieces, veneers, and other such utilitarian purposes. Most people also think that alder isn’t the most beautiful type of wood to look at. Although, one of its biggest benefits is that it is extremely affordable.

Alternatives to Birch and Alder

As you can see, neither of these two types of wood is ideal for outdoor purposes. If you want a type of wood that works well outdoors, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, red cedar is one of your best options. Red cedar is fairly durable and moisture-resistant, and it looks nice too.


As you can see, both alder and birch are cost-effective types of wood that are ideal for basic indoor purposes, with yellow birch being the slightly stronger of the two.