Hickory Wood: Characteristics & Uses

Instructor: Jennifer Perone

Ms. Perone has taught College Engineering, Ethics, Psychology, Perception, Statistics, Experimental Design & Analysis, Physics and secondary STEM topics for more than 15 years!

Hickory wood is an exceptionally heavy, hard and strong substance that also offers amazing bending properties. It is used in industrial settings, for tool handles, athletic equipment and home decor.

Characteristics of Hickory Trees:

Hickory trees are members of the Genus Carya. There are 19 species found worldwide, with the majority in North America and the remainder found in Asia. Hickory trees are deciduous (shedding leaves annually) angiosperms (possessing an enclosed, flowering, fruiting seed). Hickory trees possess flowers that are small, yellow-green catkins (a flowering spike of trees that are typically downy, pendulous, composed of flowers of a single sex, and wind-pollinated) that bloom in the spring.

Hickory Tree Catkins

The fruit of the Hickory tree is an oval nut that is enclosed in a four-valved husk, that splits open at maturity. The nut shell is thick in most species, thin in a few, notably the pecan. The fruit divides into two halves that split apart when the seed germinates. Note that not all hickory nuts are created equally, some are wonderful food sources like pecans, but others are horribly bitter, such as the aptly named bitternut.

Pecan fruit & leaves

Hickory trees grow to an average range of height between 60 to 120 feet. Hickory trees make up only two percent of commercially available hardwoods in the U.S. Hickory trees have a slow rate of growth and can take up to 200 years to mature. Only four out of 19 species are economically viable.

Red Hickory Tree

Hickory sapwood (the outer rim of wood, directly behind the bark) is white to cream-colored, while the heartwood (wood in the center of the trunk) is tan or reddish brown. The extreme contrast in color between the heart and the sapwood makes hickory easy to differentiate from other wood species. A particularly desirable grade of hickory wood is known as calico hickory and this type of wood guarantees the reddish-brown heartwood and the creamy white sapwood on both faces of each piece. Many consumers like the appearance of contrasting bands of color.

Finished hickory cabinet door

Hickory is exceptionally heavy, hard, strong and shock resistant, but flexible, with a coarse and straight grain. The hardness of hickory can make it difficult to machine, even blunting metal power tools. Due to the dryness of hickory wood, it tends to split, so it is suggested that woodworkers seal the ends of the wood to avoid this issue. Hickory is a dry wood and as such, it accepts stains and adhesives readily and will finish to a lustrous shine

Hickory Wood Flooring

It is difficult to dry hickory in open air because it tends to warp and crack. The density of hickory wood is 27 pounds per cubic foot.

Hickory Wood Uses:

Hickory Charcoal

Hickory is highly prized for fuel and for smoking, curing and seasoning meats of various types. Many organisms, including humans, enjoy feasting on the fruit of certain types of hickory tree fruits, especially pecans.

Pecans are a type of hickory tree fruit that is delicious and has high nutritive value.

Woodworkers love hickory because it is the hardest of the hardwoods, with the highest resulting Janka Ball Test (pounds of force required to embed a 0.444-inch-diameter steel ball to one-half its diameter into the radial and tangential surfaces of solid wood) rating. Not only is hickory strong, it requires quite a bit of pressure to crush it, and it is able to withstand both shearing and straining stress, to make an unparalleled strong structure. This is why Hickory is utilized for tool handles (hammers, picks axes, etc.), sporting goods equipment, industrial applications and home décor, such as flooring options, cabinetry and furniture.

Antique Hickory Golf Clubs

Native Americans used Hickory for hundreds of years to construct their bows. Early European settlers to North America used Hickory wood to fashion wheels and spokes for carriages and caravans, ladders and even homes. Fun fact: Hickory wood was used to construct wheels and spokes on early automobiles!

Caravan with hickory wheels and spokes

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