Hickory is a hard and heavy wood. It has a unique appearance with a combination of light and dark colors, which creates one-of-a-kind furniture pieces that often carry a rustic charm.
A mix of light and dark colors is what you will see,
When bringing home furniture made with hickory,
One of the hardest and strongest wood types you’ll find,
With a pure rustic look that stands the test of time.
The Colors of Hickory Furniture
Hickory heartwood is a light to medium brown color with a reddish hue. The sapwood is a paler yellowish brown, creating a distinguished contrast of light and dark colors that look beautiful stained or unfinished. The color variations create a dramatic, natural look that lends itself nicely to rugged, rustic style hickory furniture. A varying amount of heartwood and sapwood occurring on the same board is referred to as “calico” since it includes both light and dark shades.
Hickory Wood Grain
Hickory wood grain is usually straight with some waves and a medium to coarse texture. Some hickory may contain “bird peck,” where a bird makes a small hole or indentation and a darkish mineral streak forms.
While hickory wood contributes to a rustic look by its very nature, rustic hickory wood includes more imperfections like burls, knots, color streaks and grain variations than regular hickory wood.
Is Hickory Wood a Strong Wood?
Yes—hickory wood is ultra-strong!
Hickory wood is at the top of the list for hardness, topping both white oak and hard maple, which are heavy hitters for hardness in their own right.
Hickory wood is heavy, hard, strong, dense and shock resistant, and this blend of traits is not found in other commercial woods.
Hickory wood has a Janka* hardness rating of 1820. Hard maple comes in at 1450 while white oak holds a 1360 rating.
*The Janka Rating is used to test the relative hardness of wood. It measures the amount of force needed to embed a 0.444” steel ball into the wood to half of the ball’s diameter.
Can Hickory Wood be Stained?
While its hardness, heaviness and strength are applauded, hickory presents some challenges. Its hardness makes it challenging to work with both hand tools and machinery. It can also be a difficult to finish.
The drastic changes in color that run throughout hickory wood inspire many to choose to have their hickory furniture finished without a stain.
It takes a seasoned professional to stain hickory furniture, but the result is a magnificent finish that emanates warmth.
Characteristics of Hickory Furniture
- Popular for rustic and log cabin styles.
- Offers a rugged, all natural, outdoorsy look and feel.
- Heavy, hard and strong.
- Not easy to work with due to its exceptional hardness—hickory furniture requires a seasoned professional.
- Dramatic color contrast is prominent.
- Hardness, strength, toughness and stiffness are unmatched by other wood types.
- Excellent shock resistance and good steam bending qualities.
What is Hickory Wood Good For?
With a wood like hickory, there’s so much strength and ability to withstand impact that it makes a good candidate for items that need to handle heavy use like:
- Tool handles
- Sporting goods equipment
- Ladder rungs
- Wheel spokes
Hickory wood’s high energy content makes it ideal to use in wood burning stoves, and it is used as a charcoal of sorts to smoke cured meats, adding to their flavor.
Is Hickory Wood Good for Furniture?
Hickory wood is ideal for rustic style furniture that will be full of color and can handle heavy use. Many are drawn to the contrasting colors while others prefer a more consistent color.
Quality hickory furniture must be made by someone who knows their hickory wood since its hardness makes it a challenge to build with.
Members of the Hickory Family
Hickory trees belong to the genus carya (Greek for nut). There are 19 species worldwide, with most growing in the eastern United States.
Pecan and shagbark are the two popular hickory types with shagbark hickory (carya ovata) being the most prevalent. Shagbark hickory trees are considered “true hickory” and are a bit denser and harder than pecan hickory trees. They are called shagbark due to the shaggy appearance of their bark.
Pecan hickory trees belong to the walnut family. They bear edible nuts. They are fast growing and the largest of the hickory trees. Hickory trees can grow from 60 to 120 feet tall with a trunk 2 to 4 feet wide.
How to care for Hickory Furniture
For tips on maintaining your hickory furniture, please visit our Caring for Wood Furniture Page.
If you have any questions about hickory furniture or hickory wood in general, please call one of our furniture specialists.