How to Identify Hickory Wood

September 18, 2022

Hickory wood and tree

You can find hickory trees mostly in Northern and Eastern America. There are also some regions in Asia where hickory trees grow abundantly. Hickory trees are one of the genus Carya’s species in the Juglandaceae family. The genus Carya contains around 19 species, each with unique characteristics, of hickory trees. You can find eleven to twelve species of hickory trees in the United States. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), pecans (Carya sect. Apocarya), pignut hickory (Carya glabra), bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), and shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) are the most found species growing in North America. It might be difficult to identify their classifications since they look really similar to each other, so you need a broad knowledge about these trees or request some assistance from the wood experts.

Cabinets, hardwood flooring, and home items are usually made of hickory woods since they are durable, hard, and give your house a rustic appearance. The heartwood of hickory wood is dark-red in color, while the sapwood has a creamy color. There are hickory woods with other marks depending on the grade of the wood you purchased from the supplier. Woodworking could be tough for hickory wood due to its hard and strong textures, but you can easily apply adhesive and polish.

Mostly, there is no classification between the hickory and pecan lumber as they are both known as hickory.

Due to its nativity in the Eastern part of the United States, hickory trees are largely produced. You can find tall hickory trees that have gray-colored hickory trunks, which is ideal for home furniture. Depending on the local supply of the hickory trees, the prices are usually somewhere in the mid-range when compared to ash, maple, oak, and other hardwood trees. It is expected that the price will increase as the demand increase while the supply is getting low. After all, it takes a lot of time to grow hickory trees.

Identifying Hickory Woods and Its Features

Hickory Is Durable and Hard

Hickory woods are very durable that it distinguishes the grade of its hardness from the other types of wood. Janka scale is a standard tool for a universal hardness scale that measures the hardness of all kinds of wood. Based on the Janka scale, hickory woods are ranked 1,820 in hardness level while its closest domestic rival, hard maple tree, only ranked 1,450. This is why woodworking is definitely more difficult when you use hickory woods due to their durability. Among various tree species you can find in North America, hickory trees are the most durable and hardest woods available. Due to their hardiness and heaviness, cabinet doors made from hickory woods release a high-pitched or crisp sound when you close them.

Hickory trees are vulnerable to bugs and other insect attacks. Due to this, hickory trees are not regarded as long-lasting when it comes to deterioration, even if they are hard and thick. Proper maintenance may help increase the lifespan of your hickory furniture while keeping it safe away from bug attacks.

Hues of Hickory

Depending on its quality, you can identify hickory woods by its dark-red colored heartwood and cream to yellow colored sapwood. There are hickory woods that has knots or dark streaks on their textures. It is ideal to use low-grade hickory woods for creating cabinet-completed streaks and knots. Due to its sapwood and heartwood’s contrasting light and dark color, cabinets made from hickory woods will create a rustic appearance that is perfect for lodges, cabins, offices, and homes designs.

If you want a consistent quality for your luxurious offices or your home, it is recommended to purchase high-grade hickory that has been hand-selected.

Handling Hickory

It is not easy to handle hickory woods on woodworking. It is common for chipped woods to fly during woodworking, especially if the saw’s cutting blades are not that sharp. The hardiness of hickory woods can quickly damage the saw blades. Using a high-quality carbide-tipped blade is recommended to avoid burning and chipping while woodworking with hickory woods. Carbide-tipped blades can cleanly cut hardwoods.

It is ideal to pre-dill the fasteners and nails even if hickory woods accept adhesives quickly. You have to sand the hickory woods with 100-grit sandpaper first, followed by 120-grit sandpaper to achieve the glossy look you want for your furniture. This type of wood can handle a wide range of finishing techniques effectively. Adding stain can bring out the inherent waves and rustic hues of hickory wood. If you use a high-grade hickory wood and sand it without a stain, it will look like maple, but you can see more grain patterns.

Identifying Hickory Wood by its Tree

If you see a deciduous tree with compound leaves arranged to a feather-like texture, it may be a hickory tree. The three distinct catkins, each with a yellowish-green bloom, appear as drooping spikes. Hickory trees produce hickory nuts that are large and edible, like pecans, for example. A variety of recipes benefit from the addition of crunchy pecan nuts with a buttery flavor and curved shape. This hickory nut can grow about one to two inches and has a brownish yellow color. The mockernut is colored with reddish-brown husks, while there are no ribs for pignut hickory. The largest nuts among other hickory species are produced by no other than shellbark hickory. These shellbark hickory nuts are edible and have a sweet taste. Here are the additional information to properly identify hickory trees.

Height of the Tree

Despite the fact that identifying various hickory species based on tree height is hard, there are still a few things to keep in mind. Shellbark hickory is the smallest of the hickory species with a trunk thickness of one to three feet and grows 30-60 feet tall. The pignut hickory trees can grow about 50 to 70 feet in height and have the same thickness as mockernut and bitternut hickory trees. Shagbark hickory trees can grow up to sixty to eighty feet tall, but there are some times that hickory trees can reach even beyond 100 feet tall.

Color and Texture of Bark

As the tree grows older, the bitternut hickory’s grayish-white bark becomes silvery-white in appearance. Older trees have small furrows and ridges in their bark. A light gray hue may be seen on the bark of immature pignut hickory trees. The leaves become dark gray in color as they mature, and the hickory tree grows scaly ridges along their trunks. This hickory tree’s light gray bark peels off in vertical and thick plates. It grows to a height of over a foot with curled out branches on each end. The peeling bark of the shellbark hickory tree is an effective way to identify it as a hickory tree.

Identifying hickory trees may be challenging because of the variety of kinds that exist. This is just a quick rundown of some of their most distinguishing characteristics that may assist you in successfully spotting these trees. However, a thorough examination of each species’ biology will help identify it.

Shape of Leaves

There are numerous leaflets on hickory trees, which makes them easy to spot. Pignuts and shagbark hickories are the only two species with fewer than ten leaves. Branches of pignut and shagbark hickories, respectively, contain five to seven leaflets each. Instead of having only one or two leaves per tree, pecan trees may have up to 17 leaflets. Because of this, the number of leaflets on a hickory leaf is always odd.

Mockernut, bitternut, mockernut, shagbark, and pignut hickories all have finely-toothed leaflets. The leaves of the mockernut hickory are orange-brown in color and have a thick hair coating on the underside. In addition to being flavorful, these leaves have a strong fragrance. The undersides of bitternut hickory leaves are even downy.

Despite the fact that hickory leaves are all green, they may come in a variety of hues. Nutmeg trees have white undersides and dark green top surfaces on their leaves, whereas shagbark trees have yellowish-green leaves. During the autumn, the foliage of most hickory trees turns yellow. The form of the crown, which is spherical in mockernut and cone-shaped in bitternuts, is another way to tell them apart. The limbs of the pignut hickory are drooping or spreading.

Different Types of Hickory Trees

The Hickory tree species may be identified by looking for these distinctive features in a Hickory tree. To begin, here are a few of the more common Hickory tree varieties you may come across. 

Southern Shagbark Hickory

With their jagged edges and sharp tips on the leaflets, this kind of Hickory tree is readily distinguished from others. The Southern Shagbark nuts are oval in shape and range in length from 1.2 to 2 inches. To top it all off, you can count on this kind of Hickory to have large, thick brown twigs and rough, raised bark. 

Kingnut (Shellbark) Hickory 

The medium-sized waxy green leaflets of the Kingnut Hickory are unnoticeable. At 9 inches, a stalk is very lengthy. When it comes to nuts, look for a thin, dark brown husk that protects a delicious kernel. Since the nut is the biggest in the family, it’s known as a Kingnut or Giant Nut. In contrast to other hickories, Kingnut Hickory has narrow and long bark and slender twigs with spherical-shaped bulbs. 

Red Hickory 

The Hickory tree is native to North America. The Red Hickory, like many other trees, grows on hills and slopes in forests. Both green and red tints may be seen on the leaves. The husk on the nuts is thin and dark brown, and it develops to a length of 1 to 1.2 inches. Red Hickory trees may be identified by their rugged, thick, and non-flaking bark. 

Mockernut Hickory 

Mockernut hickory grows on slopes, on dry ground, and on hills in the United States. The nuts are around 1.5 to 2 inches long on average. The medium-sized, waxy, light-green, and spherical leaves are seen on this plant. A rachis usually has around seven leaves.

Furrows in the bark run deep and vertically, making it stand out. If the Mockernut Hickory is an older one, the bark may be furrowed and starting to fade.

Sand Hickory

Sand Hickory has a distinctive appearance with light-colored wood. The leaves have smooth edges and are slender and small. The nut is tiny, with lengths varying from.5 inches to 2.5 inches for each one. The bark has a smooth, light-colored appearance with small furrows, making it easy to identify. 

Bitternut Hickory 

Unlike most other hickories, Bitternut Hickory’s leaflets are smoother and considerably bigger than usual. The nuts have a thin, dark brown husk and grow to a length of between.8 and 1.5 inches. The husk protects the nut within.

The bitter flavor of hickory nuts gives the tree its name. Last but not least, check for the thin green twigs and the pale green or brownish bark that distinguish this kind of Hickory from others.

Pignut Hickory 

As far as appearances go, Pignut Hickory stands out. The glossy leaflets have a dark green hue and are pointy, serrated, and dark green in appearance. Light brown in color, they are spherical and 1 inch by .8 inch in size. The nuts are distinctive as well.

The twigs stand out due to their thin growth and a color gradient ranging from deep purple to pale green. Pignut Hickory’s deep-recessed, flaky, light-gray, and brown-colored bark further identifies it. 

Final Thoughts

We hope that this helpful guide will allow you to identify a Hickory tree and other Hickory-related trees the next time you’re out in nature. Which hickory species, if any, do you believe are simpler to identify? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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