Best finish for alder?

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Forum topic by Skip Brewer posted 05-09-2011 10:52 PM 5000 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Skip Brewer

24 posts in 2604 days

05-09-2011 10:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: alder finishing question

I am starting a new project – I am going to build a set of barrister bookcases to hold all of my woodworking magazines and books. I decided to build them out of knotty alder because it is pretty inexpensive out here, and I liked the appearance of some projects I have seen that were done in knotty alder. But having never used it before, I am at a loss to decide how to finish it. Does anyone have any suggestions or perhaps some examples of work they have done with alder (plain or knotty)?

-- Skip, Califormia

4 replies so far

View BreakingBoardom's profile


615 posts in 3051 days

#1 posted 05-09-2011 11:58 PM

I built my daughter’s crib out of alder, regular, not knotty. I used I believe Red Mahogany stain followed by polyurethane. You can see the project here:
Click for details

-- Matt -

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2927 days

#2 posted 05-10-2011 12:51 AM

Alder is relatively soft, I would recommend a covering finish such as poly, shellac, or an epoxy to help protect it from dents and whatnot.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 2624 days

#3 posted 05-12-2011 09:58 PM

Having done many projects from alder I’ve learned that it acts a lot like pine, maple and cherry in regards to staining. It blotches pretty bad. The way around this is to use dyes instead of stain. Also, if you use a clear coat finish that provides some toning (like conversion varnish or amber or garnet shellac) you can make it look beautiful. If using shellac, make sure you put a durable clear coat over it. Water borne poly dries perfectly clear so if you get the exact coloring you want, use that to clear coat.

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View Skip Brewer's profile

Skip Brewer

24 posts in 2604 days

#4 posted 06-06-2011 07:02 PM

Thanks for the input from everyone. I made up some test boards and tried a few different methods. Here is the finishing schedule I came up with:

Sand to 180 grit and seal with Zinsser Seal Coat.
Lightly sand with 220 grit.
Stain with General Finishes Gel Stain (Antique Walnut). Wait 5 minutes and wipe off excess. Buff with clean rag.
Spray on 2 light coats of dewaxed shellac to seal the stain coat. Allow to dry and sand with 400 grit.
Brush on 2 coats of full strenth oil-based satin polyurethane, sanding lightly with 400 grit after each coat has dried.
Apply 2 coats of satin wipe-on poly.
Allow the final coat to dry thoroughly (at least 24 hours), then apply paste wax with #0000 steel wool and buff out with more steel wool and finally a clean rag.

The process is a bit complicated, but I get a nice finish that doesn’t blotch and looked hand-rubbed. I’ll post some pictures when the project is completed.

-- Skip, Califormia

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