Are you interested in trying something new? Hickory is not commonly used in woodworking, but if you can get your hands on some quality hickory, you will be able to build some beautiful furniture. Working with hickory has several benefits.
Hickory is strong and durable, which makes it difficult to cut. Nevertheless, it is beautiful and can create home furniture, tool handles, flooring, and more. You will need sharp blades and strong sandpaper — pre-drill holes to prevent splitting.
In this article, you will learn all you need to know about working with hickory. I will go over the pros and cons of working with hickory and some tips for working with hickory.
What Is Hickory?
Hickory refers to around 18 different types of species. Most of these are native to North America, especially the United States, but other hickory species are native to Indochina, China, and India. All hickory species belong to the genus Carya.
Hickory trees are quite beautiful. They shed their leaves every year, and they have small, beautiful flowers that bloom every year in the spring. Also, some hickory tree species grow pecan nuts. The rest of the hickory species are often referred to as “regular” or “non-pecan” hickories.
Nevertheless, the wood looks the same regardless of whether it comes from a species with pecans or one that does not. The nuts are not the same as non-pecan hickory nuts can be very bitter.
Why Is Hickory So Uncommon in WoodWorking?
One reason hickory is not very common in woodworking is that the trees grow very slowly. It can take a hickory tree 200 years to mature! That is why only around two percent of hardwood commercially available in the United States is from hickory trees.
Another reason hickory is not used often is that it is quite hard to work with compared to other wood types. As you will read in the next section, hickory is quite hard and tough. Also, hickory has many streaks, knots, and other unique characteristics, making it less favorable for those looking to create a more uniform look.
What Is Hickory Wood Like?
Hickory wood is strong and durable. That is why it is often used to create tool handles. However, this also makes it harder to work with and cut, which is why you can’t use weak tools or machinery when working with hickory. Not only is hickory strong and dense, but it is quite heavy too. You will need sharp tools and strong sandpaper when working with hickory.
This Youtube video explains the toughness of hickory:
Hickory is also a dry wood. It is very susceptible to moisture changes, which is why it is essential not to keep furniture made with hickory in a place with a lot of humidity. Also, because hickory is so dry, it splits rather easily.
The fact that hickory splits easily makes working with hickory even harder, as using large nails becomes problematic due to the possibility of splitting. It is not easy to air-dry hickory wood because, as mentioned, it is sensitive to moisture changes in the environment and is likely to warp or crack.
On the other hand, the fact that hickory is a dry wood has some benefits as well. For example, it is easy to stain. Glue sticks to hickory rather well, making it easy to attach different parts and attach hickory to other woods.
Hickory has a few colors. The outer part of the wood is white, while the inner part is more tan and red. However, the actual color can vary based on region and species; it is not entirely uniform. Also, some lumber companies may dye hickory differently.
Pros and Cons of Working With Hickory
There are both good things and bad things about working with hickory.
- Hickory is strong and durable.
- It is easy to stain hickory, and adhesives work well.
- Hickory comes in many shades and colors.
- It makes for beautiful furniture.
- Only four of the 18 or so hickory species are economically viable.
- Hickory will blunt your tools rather quickly. Extremely sharp blades and heavy machinery are needed.
- Hickory has large pores, which means that applying finishes can be tricky.
- It is harder to find hickory than other types of wood.
- Hickory splits and chips easily, so you have to be careful when putting in nails.
Tips for Working With Hickory
If you are used to working with softer wood types that are not as strong, working with hickory can be quite frustrating. It is important to have patience. It takes time to cut hickory, and you may need to keep sharpening your blades or buy stronger machinery than what you have right now. You may find yourself buying extra materials; working with hickory may not be cheap.
Since hickory splits easily, it is recommended to pre-drill holes, helping prevent splitting when putting in nails and screws.
Consider buying from the same supplier all the time. As mentioned, there can be variations in hickory based on the manufacturer’s processing and dying procedures. Using the same manufacturer for all of your hickory wood needs will help you create furniture with a similar look across the board.
Although adhesives stick well to hickory, the hickory needs to be flat. Otherwise, the glue will have a harder time sticking. Also, it is best to use glue that has longer open times. You may need extra-strong sandpaper for hickory as your sandpaper will wear out quickly. Nevertheless, be careful when you sand hickory. Cross-sanding will lead to scratching, so avoid that.
Filling the grains in hickory will not only help adhesives like a glue stick to the wood better, but it will also make it easier to apply stains. If you don’t do that, however, it will still be fairly easy to apply stains. As mentioned, hickory stains pretty well.
What Can You Make With Hickory?
There are many things that you can make with hickory. Here are some great ideas:
- Countertops: Hickory countertops look rather rustic. You can make hickory countertops for your kitchen or anywhere in your house.
- Tables: Tables are often made with hickory as well. Since hickory is so strong and sturdy, it is a great material to use for tables.
- Chairs: Chairs and benches made with hickory look great in your living room, on your patio, and in your garden.
- Cabinets: Hickory is often used to create cabinets. To match your cabinets’ look, you can make hickory tables and chairs as well, and even hickory countertops.
- Flooring: Because hickory is so thick and strong, it’s great if you want a rustic look for your floor.
- Tool handles: The reason hickory is used to create tool handles is due to its strength.
- Sporting goods equipment: Hickory is used to create sporting goods equipment for the same reason.
You can use hickory to create anything, but if you are looking for strength and durability, hickory is a great option.
Working with hickory is not for the faint-hearted. It is not easy. Some people outsource their hickory woodworking needs because they do not want to deal with the trouble of cutting tough hickory wood, constantly sharpening their blades, and buying new tools and sandpaper.
However, working with hickory will allow you to create beautiful pieces of furniture that will look great inside your house and outside if you have the patience. You may also enjoy the challenge, so go ahead, buy some hickory, and give it a shot. You will not be disappointed.