Alnus glutinosa

Photograph of a section of alder wood, plain sawn.

A section of Alder wood, plain-sawn.
Photograph by Michael Billinge

Alder is a tree native to Ireland. At least one harp, the Downhill, is known to have been made from it. It features in the old Irish Tree list from an 8th century legal tract which distinguishes four classes of tree. The Alder, (Gaelic Fern), falls into the second class, ‘the commoners of the wood’, along with willow and there are references in the texts to its use for making shields, masts and tent-poles. As a tree it grows to some 60 feet in height and thrives at riversides, lake shores and damp woods, (Kelly, 1976, 1999).

Photograph of a section of alder wood, plain sawn.

An Alder growing with young willows. These trees are often found together along rivers and lakes (the path visible on the left runs beside a lake).
Photograph by Michael Billinge

Alder wood is soft, lightweight and fibrous, properties it shares with willow, although of the two woods Alder tends to be heavier and less fibrous and therefore harder and firmer in texture. Hence can take and hold carved detail better and the difference between alder and willow is quite noticeable when working with them.

—Photograph of a section of alder wood, plain sawn.—

Alder used in the neck/pillar joint on a reproduction of the Downhill Harp.
Photograph by Michael Billinge

Submitted by Michael Billinge and Keith Sanger, 5 May, 2011. Updated with new photographs on 9 August, 2011

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