With more than twelve different varieties, hickory and pecan have the highest overall density ratings of all domestic hardwoods, identified by distinctive grain patterns on the surface of the wood. The density and appearance of pecan is so similar to hickory, that the National Hardwood Lumber Association will not separate it from the hickory species. The majority of hickory and pecan lumber products are simply referred to as hickory, with no distinction between the different species. Hickory is harvested throughout the Eastern United States.

Hickory Natural Background
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Close-up of hickory wood surface.

Hickory Is Hard

Identify hickory woods by their hardness rating. Ranking at 1,820 on the Janka scale -- a universal hardness scale that ranks all wood -- hickory positions above its nearest domestic competitor hard maple, which ranks 1,450 on the same chart. Hickory trees produce the strongest wood of any of the North American species. Hickory cabinet doors, for example, feel heavy; when shut, they produce a crisp, high-pitched clunk.

Hickory Handles

Hickory is used for tool handles of all kinds because of its inherent strength and resiliency. Axes, shovels, picks and hammers are a just few examples on tools that use hickory woods. Sporting items include baseball bats, golf club shafts and gymnastic equipment. Hickory withstands the constant impact from slamming and pounding that occurs with these tools. Hardwood flooring offers another application that relies on hickory's durability.

Hues of Hickory

Recognize hickory by its medium-brown, reddish hue, with yellow or gold highlights. Depending on the wood's grade, hickory may display black streaks or knots. When lower grade hickory -- complete with knots and streaks -- is used in cabinetry, it exhibits a natural rustic appearance that's ideal for homes in country settings, lodges and cabins. High-grade hickory is hand-selected for straight-grain, clear boards. This grade of wood exhibits a uniform, consistent quality that's ideal for use in high-end homes or businesses. Hickory is dense and hard, but it's considered non-durable concerning decay, because of its vulnerability to bug attacks. Hickory prices depend upon local availability, but are typically mid range and compare similarly to other hardwoods such as oak, ash or maple.

Handling Hickory

Hickory is somewhat difficult to manipulate. Splintering and blow-out are common during milling, particularly if cutting edges are dull, as the wood blunts regular steel blades and knives easily. Carbide-tipped blades are vital for clean cuts without chipping or burning. Hickory responds to adhesives as well as other hardwoods, but it's best to predrill for nails and fasteners. Finishing preparation includes sanding with 100-grit sandpaper, followed by 120-grit for a more glassy appearance. Stain enhances the natural waves and colors in hickory. High-grade, straight-grain hickory -- when finished without stain -- has an appearance similar to maple, but with more prominent grain patterns.