Species Highlight: Hickory Wood

Species Highlight: Hickory Wood

Sharpen your tools now before Hickory hits your workshop! Hickory is an incredibly strong hardwood that can be used to make durable, lasting cabinetry, flooring, tool handles, and other woodworking projects. While it can be challenging to work with due to the ultra-strength of the wood, Hickory wood guarantees lasting pieces that will withstand against the elements, while featuring beautiful color and grain. Learn all about why Hickory is the best species to feature in your next workshop project by reading on:

Hickory tree growth

With 12 species of Hickory native to North America, the Carya genus has a wide region of growth throughout the United States. The Carya genus belongs to the Juglandaceae, or Walnut, family though Hickory and Walnut tree species are distinctly different. In the Northeastern United States, the four main species prevalent are Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra), Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomesntosa) and Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis).

Most Hickory trees grow along streams rivers and in bottom lands, as well as in Oak-Hickory woodlands. They generally prefer moist soil and have an incredibly slow growth rate with some species taking up to 200-years to mature. Only 4 out of the 19 Hickory tree species are economically viable due to this slow growth rate.

Growing Shagbark Hickory tree. Forest 2 Home premium hardwood lumber tree Shagbark tree

Hickory heartwood and sapwood make it easy to differentiate from other tree species as there is extreme contrast in color. Sapwood of Hickory wood is white to cream in color, while Hickory heartwood is light brown to dark brown. When the Hickory tree’s heartwood and sapwood are featured on the same wood board, it may be referred to as Calico Hickory.

Forest 2 Home premium hardwood lumber grain photo Hickory wood featuring Hickory sapwood and hickory heartwood

Are Hickory trees hardwood trees?

Hardwood species are classified by the seeds the tree produces. Each hardwood tree species has a coating that takes the shape of a fruit or a shell that becomes a flowering plant. These flowering seeds are known as angiosperm, which translates in Greek to “vessel seed.” Additionally, hardwood trees lose and regrow their leaves annually, making them deciduous trees.

Hardwood trees differ from softwood trees, as trees classified as softwood’s seeds do not have a coating and are instead dropped to the ground to deal with the elements. Examples of softwood tree seeds are needles and cones that are dubbed gymnosperm, meaning “naked seed.” Except for the Larch tree species, all softwood trees retain their needles year-round, making them evergreen trees.

Hickory trees are hardwood trees, falling into the angiosperm group with their seedlings.

True-Hickories versus Pecan Hickories

The Carya genus is divided into two main groupings: true-hickory and pecan-hickory. The two groups are divided by characteristics including leaf structure, size and shape of their nuts, density, and bands of parenchyma. Trees in the True-Hickories category include Pignut Hickory, Shellbark Hickory, Shagbark Hickory and Mockernut Hickory. Trees in the Pecan Hickories group include Water Hickory, Bitternut Hickory, Pecan and Nutmeg Hickory.

Hickory tree byproducts

While Shagbark Hickory, Shellbark Hickory, Mockernut Hickory and Pecan Hickory are all types of Hickory trees that produce edible nuts that are an excellent source of dietary fibers, mono-unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Of the various Hickory nuts produced it is Pecan Hickory nuts that have gained popularity and become an integral part of our diets, used for dietary benefits as well as become apart of sweet desserts and candies. Pecan nuts are especially beneficial for human health as regular consumption can prevent development of gallstones in females, aid in lowering blood cholesterol level, and can prevent neuromuscular degeneration! Not only can you feel great creating something out of Hickory in the workshop, but you can feel good about consuming its nuts in the kitchen! Not only are hickory nuts popular for human consumption but many forest animals such as woodpeckers, chipmunks, turkey and deer eat the bark, leaves and fruit.

Pecan Hickory tree nuts. Pecan nuts

Outside of Hickory tree nut consumption, other parts of the Hickory can be used in the kitchen. The bark of Shagbark Hickory can be used to make syrup and Hickory tree species can be used to smoke meats, providing a sweet and smoky aroma.

Hickory wood density

The Janka Hardness Scale is used to determine the relative hardness for domestic wood species, like Hickory wood. The test measures the amount of force that is required to embed a 11.28 mm steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. While the Janka Hardness test is traditionally used to determine whether a wood species is suitable for flooring, it is a good measure of determining a wood species resistance to wear and its overall durability. Wood species with a higher number rating are harder than wood species with a lower rating. The data from the Janka Hardness Scale is expressed in pound-force or lbf.

On the Janka Hardness Scale, the ranking for Hickory hardwood is 1820 lbf. This Janka Hardness Scale ranking is indicative of the strength of Hickory wood in contrast to other wood species. Hickory wood has the highest Janka Hardness Scale ranking of the wood species offered by Forest 2 Home, with other wood species paling against Hickory in terms of strength: White Oak wood has a ranking of 1360 lbf, Ash has a ranking of 1320, Red Oak has a ranking of 1120 lbf, Walnut wood has a ranking of 1010 lbf, Cherry wood has a ranking of 950 lbf and so on.

Forest 2 Home premium hardwood lumber hardness scale of hardwood tree species. Hardwood species ranked from Hardest to Least hard based on Janka Hardness Scale

Different kinds of Hickory trees

There are 19 species of Hickory trees with 12 of those species being native to the United States and Canada and the 7 remaining species being native to Asia. Some of the species native to North America include:

  • Pecan (Carya illinoinensis): one of the largest Hickory tree species, the Pecan tree grows between 65 feet and 130 feet tall with a canopy of 75 feet. Pecan trees are popularized by their nuts of the same name.
  • Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis): named very literally for the bitterness of the nut it produces, Bitternut Hickory trees grow to a height averaging 80 feet tall and take 25 years to start producing seedlings.
  • Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa): Mockernut Hickory trees are also called White Hickory trees. The Mockernut Hickory grows between 60 feet and 80 feet tall.
  • Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra): otherwise known as Black Hickory, the Pignut Hickory species received its name as hogs enjoy eating their seeds, and when broken open, the seeds begin to resemble a pig snout. The Pignut Hickory tree grows between 50 feet and 80 feet in height.
  • Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa): also known as Kingnut Hickory, this Hickory tree type can grow 75 feet to 120 feet tall with a spread of 50 feet to 75 feet. The Shellbark Hickory features naturally occurring shaggy bark.
  • Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata): closely resembling the Shellbark Hickory tree with its peeling bark, the Shagbark Hickory has an average height of 60 feet to 80 feet though it can grow as large as 120 feet tall. Shagbark Hickories are broken into two varieties:
    • Southern Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata var. australis)- otherwise known as the Carolina Hickory, this Hickory tree type is sometimes considered as a separate species
    • Northern Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata var. ovata)

Forest 2 Home Hickory woodworking projects

We do not have any Forest 2 Home Hickory wood woodworking projects to share just yet but we want to know what you would create! Comment down below your Hickory wood project ideas and lend some inspiration to the F2H community! 

Want to share your Hickory woodworking projects with us? Email marketing@forest2home.com so we can see and share your work! Happy Woodworking! 


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