December 30, 2022
A hickory tree is a type of tree that produces hickory nuts. This tree produces hickory wood that is considered a hardwood. Hickory trees typically grow in the eastern part of the United States. The central, southern, and northern parts have different climates in which at least twenty species have already adapted to their climates. Lately, hickory woods have gained popularity because of their notable sapwood colored in cream, which perfectly complements the dark-red colored duramen of the hickory woods. Duramen is also called heartwood or central wood of trees.
In North America, hickory woods are considered valuable and well-known hardwood in their region. The eastern part of the United States has hardwood forests in which you can commonly find these expensive hickory trees. Before the composite materials were considered the industry standard, hickory woods were heavily utilized to manufacture tennis rackets, skis, golf club shafts, bats, and other sports items requiring durable materials. Due to hickory woods’ weight and extreme durability, a wide variety of tool handles are created from hickory woods.
Table of Contents
- Hickory Wood Properties and Characteristics
- Major Uses of Hickory Woods
- Advantages of Using Hickory Wood
- Disadvantages of Using Hickory Wood
- What is Hickory Wood?
- Is Hickory a Hardwood?
- Is Hickory Hard Enough for Most Wood Projects?
- Working with Hickory Wood
- Hickory and Oak: What is the Difference?
- Hickory and Walnut: Which is Better?
Hickory Wood Properties and Characteristics
Hickory is solid and rigid. Yet it exudes an elegant appearance. You will see its well-delineated grains, which give it a traditional and rustic look. Floorboards made of Hickory sport a natural color variation, ranging from rich cocoa brown to white. Hickory wood offers versatility, making it a favorite wood for rustic retreat houses and contemporary bungalows.
Hickory wood has straight grains. Its colors range from white to reddish brown. Moreover, the clear aging rings of this wood are evident within its trunks. This wood is also ring-porous, making it easy to identify.
Hickory’s early-growth rings have pores different from those of the slow-end growing age. If you examine these pore patterns, you will perceive the difference and can decide quickly whether the wood is Hickory.
Hickory bears a medium to light color with hues of red and medium texture. These properties produce a rustic and traditional appearance for this wood. A cursory look at its end grain reveals its ring-porous wood with huge early pores and narrow rays with close spacings.
The complimentary light shades of its sapwood and the dark shades of its heartwood give it the attractive appearance that many describe as “calico”. The hickory board with differing amounts on each side of sapwood and heartwood is often described as calico. Calico gives such an aesthetic and distinctive appearance to your household design which makes it in demand on the market.
You will not end up disappointed if you use hickory wood for your next woodworking project. To achieve the aesthetic image that you want, you should look for a calico-quality product. It might be more expensive, but its catchy appearance will satisfy your art standard.
Major Uses of Hickory Woods
As a dry wood, hickory quickly absorbs dyes and adhesives and finishes to a glossy texture. Due to its extreme durability and eye-catching textures, you can find that cabinets, sports items, hardwood flooring, tool handle, and other home decorations are now usually made out of hickory woods.
If you want to create cabinets, hardwood flooring, or any other furniture type that requires durability, hickory woods are one of the best types of wood for this job. Hickory woods are proven and tested to have extreme durability and long-lasting economic life, making them the ideal material for such uses. Nowadays, designers are fond of using hickory woods as their material for their masterpieces.
In the past, hickory woods were not ideal for making hardwood flooring, cabinets, and other home furniture due to the difference in the color of its sapwood and heartwood. However, during the late 1990s and beyond, it was found that the contrasting color of its sapwood and heartwood gives an aesthetic and rustic touch to your home interior. The positive impact of the unique appearance of the contrasting color of heartwood and sapwood made hickory woods in demand. Now, woodworkers and manufacturers hold great value for hickory woods. Because of this, both small and big woodworking enterprises continue to increase their demand for hickory woods. This is why the price for hickory woods has exponentially increased over the years.
Nowadays, it is not surprising to realize that kitchen cabinet are mostly made out of hickory wood. Cabinets made from hickory woods have a rustic appearance and durable materials. They do not break easily compared to other cabinets made from other types of wood. If you want a durable and rustic kitchen, hickory woods would be the perfect material to build your kitchen cabinet and flooring.
Hickory wood is used uniquely in Indiana’s ‘Old Hickory Furniture’ style. Old Hickory continues to be popular because the items are comfortable, durable, and have a rustic design. The chairs are handmade in Indiana, as they have always been for more than a century.
Shovels, hammers, axes, and other tool handles are usually made of hickory wood. The hardness and durability of hickory woods make it the ideal material to create tool handles, even in extreme activities. The wooden handles made out of hickory wood are proven to be strong and will not break easily. It would definitely be easier for you to use this tool. If you use a hammer, the wooden handle will absorb most of the shock, which would mean lesser impact on your hand while hammering. Indeed, hickory woods are the ideal tool to create comfortable and durable tool handles.
Nowadays, woodworkers and manufacturers use this wood for making tool handles because of its robust and durable features. Besides, it gets used for cabinetry and flooring. Its rustic and traditional look and exceptional durability make it ideal for these applications.
Firewood and Flavoring?
Knowing the fact that hickory woods are expensive, this may sound ridiculous, but hickory woods were used as firewood in the past. The aroma it releases when used as firewood actually adds up to the taste and smell of the meat you cook through it. But since the price for hickory woods exponentially increased, most producers are now using other cooking processes and flavorings to produce the taste the customers are looking for. There are still a small group of meat suppliers left who are still doing the traditional way of smoking meat through hickory woods. You can even find hickory chips for barbecue grills and other hickory products in a lot of local and online stores.
Manufacturers used it to make sporting goods like tennis rackets, baseball bats, golf clubs, and many others. However, with the advent of composite materials, the use of Hickory wood for this purpose has almost ceased.
Advantages of Using Hickory Wood
If it is your first time fiddling with Hickory wood, it will be best to understand its properties and characteristics. It will also help if you know the following advantages of its use:
Hickory has exceptional strength and density as a hardwood. It is solid, durable, and more robust than hard Maple and White Oak.
Ease of Access to this Wood
It is also highly accessible to woodworkers and is reasonably priced. If you live in North America, you can easily access this wood and make furniture out of this wood. Nevertheless, you can’t buy this more often at big box stores. Hence, it will be best to visit lumberyards and hardwood dealers to avail yourself of this wood.
Disadvantages of Using Hickory Wood
If you intend to use this wood, it is not enough to know the pros of its use. It will also help if you are familiar with the following downsides of its use:
Workability is an Issue
Hickory is not easy to work with because of its high density. If you don’t use sharp cutting tools, Hickory will tear out easily, and it can dull your new blades quickly. You can work with this wood using your hand tools, though you need to sharpen your tools more often. Hence, experts do not recommend this wood for beginners.
Inconsistency of Its Grain Color and Pattern
Another downside of its use is its grain pattern and hue inconsistency. The reason is that Hickory wood usually comes from various species, making it challenging to find wood with consistent color and grain pattern. So, if you use it for flooring or furniture making, you might find this issue a dealbreaker.
What is Hickory Wood?
The Hickory wood comes from a deciduous tree. All hardwoods, of course, come from deciduous trees which shed their leaves during autumn. Hickory’s genus is Carya which includes a group of trees with similar features to Hickory. Moreover, Hickory has eighteen different species. You can find fifteen of these species in North America, while three others are native to East Asia.
Hickory trees love temperate rainforests. Hence, most Hickory trees grow in temperate regions of Asia and North America. These trees are the sources of Hickory wood, loved and favored by woodworkers for its remarkable strength and high shock resistance. This wood features straight grain with a dense and stiff texture.
Hickory trees get classified as either Asian Hickories or North American Hickories. The eighteen species of Hickories get also classified into two-species groups: the Pecan Hickories and the True Hickories.
The True Hickory species get often used for timber, while the Pecan Hickory species are known for their flowers and nuts. Both classifications of Hickory species, however, are used for their woods. But the True Hickory exhibits better strength. Each Hickory species gets also named after its nuts or barks. One example is the Carya Aquatica which means Water Hickory.
Hickory wood is a popular choice in North America for various woodworking projects because of its availability and sterling properties.
Is Hickory a Hardwood?
“There is nothing like a nice piece of hickory,” said Clint Eastwood, and he is right. A piece of furniture made of Hickory is always a beauty to behold, solid, and shock resistant. This is because Hickory is an excellent hardwood with exceptional strength and hardness. It has a Janka Hardness rating of 1,820 lbf, higher than many types of wood. It is the hardest domestic wood in use.
Hickory is a popular hardwood for cabinetry, flooring, furniture, and home decor. It comes from the Hickory tree, which is a relatively medium-sized tree. Hickory wood has excellent qualities that are valuable for woodworking. Thus, if you want to dabble in woodworking, you should consider using Hickory in some of your woodworking projects.
Is Hickory Hard Enough for Most Wood Projects?
As mentioned above, Hickory is a hardwood with excellent toughness and strength. Among domestically used hardwoods, it is the hardest one. Besides, in North America, it is the second toughest and hardest wood.
If you would compare it with Red Oak, it is around 41% harder. Plus, as a wood, Hickory is quite hard, making it durable and shock resistant.
With a Janka Hardness rating of 2,350 lbf, the Brazilian Cherry is harder than Hickory. But it is almost as hard as the Purple Heart (1,860), African Padauk (1,725), and Jarrah (1910). Teak has a Janka Hardness rating of 1,000 lbf, which is way below that of Hickory.
So, gauging from the Janka Hardness rating of Hickory, you can see that it belongs to the hardest hardwood on the planet. In the list of hardwoods, it ranks seventh among the hardest hardwoods.
Hickory is highly durable and shock resistant, making it a perfect choice for many woodworking projects that require toughness and durability. It also exhibits high resistance to scratches, making it an ideal choice for flooring.
The wood structure of Hickory wood has vessels, elements, and pores uniquely found in Hickory wood. Its fiber structures feature diffused pores with distinctive growth rings. Besides, it shows a semi-ring porous form with a highly delineated transition of pores from small to large diameters within its growth ring.
Working with Hickory Wood
On the downside, since Hickory wood is extremely tough, it is not easy to handle and work with. You will find this wood tough to crack if you’re a beginner.
Cutting, screwing, and nailing it is challenging because of its high density. Hence, experts would not recommend it for beginners. If you want to work with it, you should ensure your cutting tools are sharp and understand this wood’s properties well.
Despite its excellent hardness and density, Hickory exhibits poor resistance to natural elements. It has a low level of rot resistance. Moreover, it doesn’t exude any distinct odor. Hence, when using this wood, you will not get allergic reactions due to the pungent smell.
Hickory and Oak: What is the Difference?
Hickory and Oak are two of the best options for many woodworking applications. If you’re an outsider into the world of woodworking, you might mistake Hickory wood for Oakwood. Yet, these two popular wood options have succinct differences:
Durability and Hardness
Hickory wood, for example, has a 1,820 lbf Janka Hardness rating, while Red Oak has 1,290. White Oak, on the other hand, has a 1,360 Janka rating. From their Janka ratings, you will see that Hickory is far harder than White and Red Oaks. It outshines both Red and White Oaks regarding hardness and durability.
Hickory is the hardest wood for domestic use. It doesn’t dent and scratch easily, even if the flooring is subject to heavy foot traffic. So, Hickory will withstand abuses.
Besides, Hickory will hold well against pet claw scratches and pounding feet. As such, it is perfect for living rooms, entryways, and anywhere there is heavy foot traffic.
Grain Pattern and Character
The grain patterns of both the Hickory and Oak differ from each other. Hickory, for example, has bold character marks and dark grain, making it stand out when used as wood flooring. Yet, this doesn’t mean that Oak wood is not ideal for flooring either. Hickory wood, for example, might be suitable for specific designs and applications.
Nevertheless, it might look inappropriate in different formats and home setups. However, if you use Hickory for flooring, it will be best to go for broader floor planks because narrow planks can make the wood stand out less. On the other hand, Oak is a reliable choice for flooring because it fits well with any form and design.
Hickory and Walnut: Which is Better?
Hardwoods get ranked according to their Janka Hardness ratings. As mentioned above, Hickory has a Janka Hardness rating of 1,820 lbf. On the other hand, Black Walnut has a rating of 1,010 lbf, way below the rating of Hickory. It is evident that Hickory wood is more durable and harder than Black Walnut. Besides, Hickory accepts stain finish well; thus, you can create various color schemes using Hickory wood.
Nevertheless, its strong appearance makes it challenging to create an even appearance using Hickory wood if you use lighter stain hues. So, it will be best to use dark to medium stain color if you want to achieve a more consistent tone for your hickory wood.
Walnut wood, however, is rarely stained because of its naturally rich brown heartwood. Despite being lower in the Janka Hardness rating, Walnut is more expensive than Hickory wood.
There are difficulties that you can face with hickory woods. The carbide-edged of power tools and the sharpness of hand tools should always be maintained. The cutting speed should be adjusted to keep the safety of the woodworking process and to avoid burning. It is recommended to make the speed slow when drilling to avoid damages. You should conduct pre-drilling for screws to prevent the hickory woods from splitting. Exercise caution when using clamp pressure as it may cause a glue starved joint.
The use of Hickory wood has its upsides and downsides. Knowing these upsides and downsides and the innate character and features of Hickory will help you decide wisely whether this wood is the perfect choice for your projects.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.