What To Know About Hickory Wood

Updated: May 24, 2023

Wondering what you should know about hickory before choosing it for a woodworking project? A pro woodworker shares his insights.

Hickory is a tough cookie. As one of the densest and strongest American domestic hardwoods, it has a reputation for being tough as nails and difficult to work. However, for experienced woodworkers, it still has a place in the shop. Here, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about hickory before your next woodworking project.

What is Hickory Wood?

Hickory is a hardwood — emphasis on the “hard.” Up to 12 species grow in the U.S. alone, though they’re often mixed together and sold simply as “hickory.”

The heartwood tends to have a light- to medium-brown color with a reddish hue, while the sapwood is a paler brown. It’s a durable natural material best suited for high-wear products, such as tool handles or flooring.

Types of Hickory Wood

In North America, you’ll find hickory trees grouped two ways:

  • “True” hickory: True hickories are, on the whole, slightly denser and stronger than their counterparts. The difference is mostly negligible for our purposes. True hickories grow in the Eastern U.S.

  • Pecan hickory: The softer of the two hickories grows in the Southern and Eastern U.S.

The hardness of wood is determined by its Janka rating, from a test that measures the density of wood species. Most North American species fall in the 1,800 to 1,900 pounds-force (lbf) range.  Hickory has a Janka hardness range of 1,550 to 2,140 lbf.

Pros and Cons of Hickory Wood

Pros

  • Strength: Hickory is one of the strongest and densest hardwoods native to North America. On the whole it is stronger than white oak or hard maple. If you’re concerned about durability, choose hickory.
  • Accessibility: Hickory is reasonably priced because it is native to North America and not highly desired for fine furniture. It’s not often available at big box stores so you’ll need to visit a hardwood dealer.

Cons

  • Workability: Due to its density, hickory is notably difficult to work with. It often tears out if blades are not kept sharp, and it dulls new blades quickly. It can be worked with hand tools, but it takes patience and frequent resharpening of tools often. Because of this, beginner to intermediate woodworkers should avoid hickory.
  • Inconsistency: Because multiple species are often sold together, it can be exceptionally difficult to find consistent grain pattern and color. That may not be a dealbreaker for projects like a new tool handle, but it can be frustrating for furniture designers and makers.

What Is Hickory Wood Used For?

You’ll find hickory in these products:

  • Tool handles: Its density is a plus where strength and shock-resistance are important.

  • Flooring: Hickory’s toughness and wear-resistance make it an exceptionally durable flooring material.

  • Chair seats: In some styles of chair making, like Windsor style, the carved seat is the structural keystone. So hickory is an excellent choice for a long-lasting chair.

  • Cooking: Hickory’s high thermal energy content works well for wood fires, charcoal and smoker fuel.

Hickory Wood Cost and Purchasing

Hickory is widely available in North America and reasonably priced compared to other hardwoods. It could be categorized with woods like red oak or soft maple as more “utilitarian.”

Expect to pay from $4 to $10 per board foot depending on board width and whether it’s pre-surfaced or in the rough. Most other furniture-grade domestic hardwoods cost from $5 to $15 per board foot.