If you are planning on building something around your house, then you have some choices to make. Two very popular types of lumber that we are here to look at today include maple and alder. Now, these materials are both popular choices in their own right, although there are some really big differences between them.
Today, we’re going to do a side-by-side comparison of these two types of wood to figure out which one is best for your next woodworking project.
What Is Maple?
First, we have maple, and here we are talking specifically about sugar maple or hard maple. There are many different types of maple that exist in North America, specifically in Canada and the United States, as well as in Asia. However, the sugar maple is most commonly found in North America, and the most popular for construction purposes, as it is very hard and durable.
This tree is deciduous in nature, which means that it loses its leaves during the winter, it is also a flowering tree, and it is a hardwood tree. In terms of appearance, the wood usually has a very fine texture, combined with a straight and even grain, although it may at times have some waves, curls, or ripples.
The heartwood of maple lumber is reddish-brown, and the sapwood is cream-colored, sometimes almost white. What is interesting to note is that out of the many types of hardwood out there, this is one of the only ones where the sapwood is generally used for construction purposes instead of the heartwood.
Either way, most people do say that maple is a very nice-looking type of lumber to use, which is why it is often used for interior decor and furniture-making purposes. It is considered very hard and durable, and quite strong overall, although it is definitely not the most pest or moisture-resistant type of wood out there.
If not properly treated, this is not a good type of wood to use for outdoor purposes. However, because it is quite tough, it’s a good option for things like flooring, walls, furniture, instruments, decorative pieces, and more.
What Is Alder?
Then we have the alder tree, which is present all throughout the northern temperate zone, which means that it can be found in North America, northern Asia, and northern Europe. There are over 35 different species around the world.
However, one of the most commonly found and used is known as the red alder, so this is going to be our focus today. This generally grows up to 100’ high and is usually found on the western coast of North America.
Technically speaking, alder is a hardwood, but it is known as being one of the softest types out there. It’s just not very hard, durable, or structurally sound, nor is it very resistant to moisture, pests, or decay.
It is certainly not the type of wood that you want to use for structural or outdoor purposes. It works well for indoor applications, such as basic decorative veneers, crafts, decoration, wooden toys, low-end indoor furniture, cabinets, and other such purposes.
In terms of appearance, alder wood has a relatively straight grain with a uniform and relatively smooth texture. It is light to reddish-brown in color. What is also interesting to note is that there are two grades of alder, clear and knotty, with knotty, as you can probably tell, containing a lot of knots.
Maple vs. Alder: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both maple and alder are, let’s figure out what makes them different.
One of the big differences here is that alder comes in at just 590 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, while maple comes in at 1,450 lbf. This means that maple is almost three times harder than alder, therefore making it much more resistant to scratching, denting, and physical impact of all kinds.
Red alder weighs 28 lbs per cubic foot, whereas maple weighs roughly 44 lbs per cubic foot, meaning maple is much denser than alder. This does allow for much greater durability, although it is therefore also heavier and harder to work with.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
Somewhat of a similarity, both maple and alder are not ideal for outdoor use. Maple is not very resistant to moisture and pests, and alder is even less so. Therefore, if we had to choose between the two, maple is the better choice for outdoor purposes, although still not ideal by any means.
If we are talking about overall strength, maple is just the stronger of the two. In terms of the modulus of elasticity, the modulus of rupture, and the compressive strength, maple scores much higher on all fronts. Therefore, maple is durable, structurally sound, and ideal for heavy-duty construction purposes, whereas alder isn’t.
One advantage you get with alder over maple is that it is much easier to work with, partially because it’s just not so hard, dense, or heavy.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Red alder has a straight and tight grain with a moderately fine texture, as well as a tan to reddish-brown color that usually darkens with time. Maple, on the other hand, is creamy white in color, and the wood also has a fairly straight tight grain, although it may also have some waves or curls at times. Most people would say that maple is by far the better-looking of these two types of wood.
Decent maple is going to cost you around $15 per board foot, whereas alder is going to cost about $5 per board foot.
When to Use Maple?
If you need a type of wood that is structurally sound, looks good, and is super durable, then maple always makes for a fantastic option. It works well for virtually any and all indoor purposes. Although maple isn’t the first choice for outdoor use, it certainly is better than alder.
When to Use Alder?
If you need a type of wood that looks decent and is cost-effective, alder is a decent choice. Just keep in mind that it’s not very hard, durable, strong, or moisture-resistant, so it only works well for basic purposes.
Alternatives to Maple and Alder
Seeing as neither alder nor maple is very good for outdoor purposes, you might consider going for something like cedar, mahogany, teak, or ipe, as all of these are much more resistant to the elements.
As you can see, if you need cost-effective lumber that is ideal for indoor use, both maple and alder make for fine options.