Hickory wood is a strong, dense, stiff, and hardwood extremely resistant to shock. This combination of tough qualities gives hickory characteristics that you may not find in any other types of wood found commercially.
This post discusses the different types of hickory wood and interesting facts about this robust wood. This versatile wood provides wood as timber to make wooden items. It also goes into chips for imparting smokey flavor to barbeque meats and a host of other interesting applications. Read on to know all about hickory wood.
Background: Hickory Wood
We use hickory to make several wooden items like skis, sports bats and racquets, drumsticks, golf club shafts, wheel spokes, carts, tool handles, and bows.
Previously, hickory used to make baseball bats, but today we make them from ash. Hickory has a high energy content, so burn it for heating purposes. In the early days, aviators used hickory in aircraft construction.
It exhibits high resistance to moisture and water, making it a preferred choice for flooring. And, last but not least, many a naughty child has seen the business end of a hickory switch because it is such a flexible but hardwood.
Hickory produces a sweet-smelling smoke when burnt, which makes it ideal for cooking various types of meat. For this reason, we call it the “king of BBQ wood.”
There are almost 20 species of hickory, and many of them grow in the United States. Other species grow in China, Indochina, India, and Canada.
Hickory belongs to the Carya genus, which in Greek means nut because these are nut-bearing trees. Many but not all hickory nuts are edible. Besides the purposes mentioned above, hickory trees are also planted for shade and a habitat for birds.
Identification of Hickory Wood
Hickory wood is a hard, durable wood that may be difficult to distinguish from other types of wood. The hardness and durability vary among the different types of hickory wood.
Hickory wood is medium brown and has a reddish hue. It can also be golden-brown with yellow highlights. High-grade hickory is straight-grained with consistent and uniformed quality, making it suitable for high-end furnishing in homes and offices.
Lower-grade hickory may contain a few aberrations in the form of streaks or knots, and this quality goes to make cabinets. The rustic appearance of these knots and streaks makes this grade of hickory suitable for use in lodges, cabins, and country homes.
Types of Hickory Wood
We can identify the different types of hickory through their different characteristics. So, let’s take a closer look at the types of this tough, flexible, durable, and versatile wood:
Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
Shagbark hickory trees grow abundantly in the eastern United States. The trees grow up to 100 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 2 feet.
The heartwood is light to medium brown and has a reddish hue. The sapwood is light brown. Boards made from contrasting sapwood and heartwood are known as “calico hickory.”
The wood grain of shagbark hickory is straight but can also be wavy and has a medium texture. The wood has low durability to decay and insect attack.
Shagbark hickory is quite hard with a Janka hardness rating of 2,880 lbf. It is difficult to work and prone to tearout.
The wood might have a dulling effect on cutting blades. But it glues, stains and finishes quite well, and responds to steam bending.
We use shagbark hickory to make flooring, wheel spokes, ladder rungs, and tool handles. In addition to this, we use it for fuel and cooking meat.
Shellbark Hickory (Carya Laciniosa)
Shellbark hickory is native to the eastern United States, and the trees grow up to 130 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 2 feet.
The heartwood is light to medium brown with lighter sapwood. The light sapwood and darker heartwood combination make contrasting boards with a rustic appearance, and we call it “calico hickory.”
The grain of shellbark hickory is straight with occasional striations. The wood is hard 1,810 lbf. (JJ It is difficult to work with, and it is prone to tearout.
Many different wooden items and structures are made from hickory. Traders often club different types of this wood and sell them as “hickory.”
Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)
You will find mockernut hickory growing in the eastern United States. The trees grow to heights of 115 feet with a trunk diameter of up to 3 feet.
The heartwood is golden brown with paler sapwood. The grain structure of this wood is straight with occasional waviness. The wood is not durable and is susceptible to insect attack and rot.
With a Janka hardness rating of 1,970 lbf. shellbark hickory is hard and difficult to work with, tearout and blunting of cutting blades being common issues.
We use shellbark hickory wood for gunstocks, ramrods and tool handles. The tree also has many medicinal uses.
Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra)
Pignut Hickory grows in the eastern United States. The trees grow up to 100 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet.
The heartwood is light brown and has a reddish tint. The sapwood is pale yellow-brown. The wood grain of pignut hickory is straight with occasional waviness. It is not a durable wood and is susceptible to insect attack and rot.
Pignut hickory has a Janka hardness rating of 2,240 lbf. making it significantly hard and difficult to work with. Nevertheless, in the early days, the wood made broom handles, skis, wagon wheels and, early automobile parts. Today we make sporting goods, agricultural implements, and tool handles from pignut hickory.
Pecan Hickory (Carya illinoinensis)
Pecan hickory is native to the south-central United States and Mexico. The trees grow to 130 feet with tree trunks of up to 4 feet in diameter.
The heartwood is light brown with a touch of red with much paler sapwood. It has a straight grain pattern, and wood may exhibit occasional curliness. Pecan hickory comes under the category of non-durable hardwoods.
It is hard as most other types of hickory, with a Janka hardness rating of 1,820 lbf. The wood is difficult to work with, characterized by the risk of tearout in the wavy parts.
We use pecan hickory for tool handles and flooring. In addition, pecan nuts are popularly consumed throughout the United States and across the world.
Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis)
This species of hickory is native to the Eastern United States. The trees grow as high as 130 feet, with tree trunks up to 3 feet in diameter.
The wood has a light brown heartwood with lighter sapwood. Contrasting sections of sapwood and hardwood are used to make boards that we call “calico hickory.” The wood has a uniform, smooth grain with occasional waviness.
Bitternut hickory is characteristically hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,500 lbf. The wood is difficult to work on and has a blunting effect on cutting edges. It, however, responds well to steam bending.
We use bitternut hickory to make furniture, paneling, dowels, tool handles, and ladders.
Nutmeg Hickory (Carya myristiciformis)
Nutmeg hickory grows in the southeastern United States. The trees grow up to 65 feet with tree trunks of up to 2 feet in diameter.
The light brown heartwood is contrasted with the much paler, cream sapwood. The heartwood and sapwood of nutmeg hickory make boards and other contrasting wooden items. The wood grain is straight with a bit of waviness now and then.
Nutmeg hickory is a hardwood with a Janka hardness rating of 1,290 lbf. It is not easy to work on and tends to form tearout where the wood grain interlocks.
We use nutmeg hickory to make tool handles, ladder rungs, wheel spokes, and flooring.
Hickory is such a versatile type of wood that almost any hickory wood will do well for your woodworking projects. But you get a great advantage when you can identify the different varieties that you can use.
We trust that you now have a better insight into the potential of this tough, hard, durable, and smart type of wood. Then, try using hickory in your future projects for some interesting variations in the wood.