Is hickory difficult to work with?

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Forum topic by ndguy posted 01-02-2009 02:47 PM 24512 views 1 time favorited 51 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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30 posts in 4167 days

01-02-2009 02:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

My finished carpentry skills are still in the developmental stage. I have built some cabinets in oak and birch, but my next project is a bar for my basement and I want to know what to expect when I change to Hickory. I have heard it is more difficult and if so any tips to help out would be great. Thanks!


-- Jeff, Fargo, ND

51 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


118155 posts in 4554 days

#1 posted 10-30-2009 01:19 AM

I’ve never used Hickory so I’m interested in what others have to say about it too.


View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4745 days

#2 posted 10-30-2009 01:20 AM

it is a difficult wood to work with…. it doesnt like to be worked by hand tools period… chisels hand planes doesnt matter it doesn’t take well to them… also very very hard… splinters alot too

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 4869 days

#3 posted 10-30-2009 01:27 AM

It’s the toughest wood I have ever worked with. My planer growls when I run hickory though it. For this reason, I tend to shy away from using it. Purpleheart is probably the next hardest wood I work with, but it is soft compared to hickory. However, hickory is pretty wood, especially with a good mix of heart and sap wood running though it. I have seen some outstanding cabinets made out of it.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View knotscott's profile


8406 posts in 4352 days

#4 posted 10-30-2009 01:51 AM

Hickory is hard and heavy….worse than hard maple.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View commajockey's profile


16 posts in 4257 days

#5 posted 10-30-2009 02:33 AM

Man, you guys are all Hickory-haters. ;-) I built my entire set of kitchen cabinet doors out of hickory and actually enjoyed working with it. Yes, it’s heavy. Very heavy, in fact. Yes, it’s tough to work with hand tools. But keep your bits and blades sharp, plan your edge routing carefully, take very light cuts with a surface planer, and don’t plan on doing too much hand mortising and I think you’ll be pretty happy.

Actually, I used hand tools a bit here and there in my hickory work to fine tune tenons, muntins and so on and had pretty good success. And I’m not exactly a Chris Schwarz when it comes to hand work.

I don’t know how intricate you’re planning your bar to be, but hickory does quite well with relatively straightforward work and finishes really nicely. The tone is anywhere from blonde to a deep chocolate color and looks terrific with a nice clear satin oil-based poly.

Super intricate/delicate work however and I’d concur with our brethren that hickory might be challenging for that. But I’d happily turn to hickory again any time.

-- Anything worth doing is worth redoing several times.

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4745 days

#6 posted 10-30-2009 03:01 AM

yeah Hickory is beautiful. intricate work stay away from hickory. i like it for handles and stuff but for a bartop it should be good. personally im not a fan of the heartwood i like the darker pieces of hickory heart as opposed to the lighter ones… it takes awhile to pick through the pile but if you take your time selecting the wood its beatiful…. it also has some of the most beautiful knots ive even seen

View Gary's profile


9417 posts in 4409 days

#7 posted 10-30-2009 03:17 AM

I agree, its really hard to work with but I think it’s worth it. But, as was already said, keep the tools sharp

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View cabinetmaster's profile


10873 posts in 4535 days

#8 posted 10-30-2009 03:29 AM

I have to agree with commajockey. Hickory is beatiful wood and makes beautiful cabinets. It is hard wood but hey. It works about like Oak to me. We make cabinets with hickory all the time here.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

View Karson's profile


35269 posts in 5377 days

#9 posted 10-30-2009 03:32 AM

Hard on tools. and heavy. The grain paterns have to be something that you can live with. I heard that some people use a whiting finish to kill some of the grain patterns.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View ChunkyC's profile


856 posts in 4231 days

#10 posted 10-30-2009 03:35 AM

And the nuts are great to eat too but they take a sledge hammer to open, no joking! :( Hardest and heaviest darn wood I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

As a kid, we had 1,000’s hickory trees on the farm. Dad and I must have cut 20 truckloads of hickory a year for firewood. Breaks my heart now to think of all of that wood that kept us warm all winter. We always used hickory to make the handles for the axe and sledge hammers. They would last a long time, or at least until I missed and split the handle.

-- Chunk's Workshop pictures:

View ndguy's profile


30 posts in 4167 days

#11 posted 10-30-2009 05:04 AM

So, what I am hearing is buy a new saw blades before I start, take small amount off with the planner and joiner at a time so a few extra passes will be necessary and if I am not concerned with matching grain pattern (which I do not want it to match) and if my design is not too difficult I will still be challenged, but not disappointed. I am in!

I am fortunate to live about 60 miles from Renneberg Hardwoods and they sell rustic Hickory plywood. I looked at it today and it has tremenous character!

-- Jeff, Fargo, ND

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 4523 days

#12 posted 10-30-2009 07:10 AM

The best wood in my opinion. We have built 3 kitchens out of Hickory so far, we are building a hickory kitchen right now. I agree with Commajockey. Great wood and awesome charactor. It is very hard, it takes me more passes to raise a panel in hickory then in say oak. I think it compares favorably with hard maple in hardness. My table saw blade cuts it like butter and I actually think my current blade is nearing the end of it’s life. Go for it, you will enjoy it. I actually use a shaper when building doors so I am not sure how a router table would hold up doing the same task for say raising panels. I cut door lip edges with my PC 690 in the hickory with no problem.

-- .

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4262 days

#13 posted 11-01-2009 03:56 AM

I have built quite a few cabinets and entertainment centers with Hickory. Everyone is right. Very hard and brittle. Loves to blow out if you try to mill too much at one time. A new saw blade and remember to take twice as many passes with the planer, jointer, and router. I love the look of Hickory and if you take your time to pick your panels first from your stock of Hickory, You can make a real statement with the flow of grain from one to the other. Let the light and dark grain flow from one to the other. It will be almost impossible to pick all light or all dark. That’s the beauty of Hickory. The first major piece of furniture my 16 year old son built in my shop was a hickory corner home entertainment center. I figured if he could build it in hickory, he could handle anything. Turned out great!

-- John @

View cabinetmaster's profile


10873 posts in 4535 days

#14 posted 11-01-2009 04:09 AM

Be sure to pre-drill all your screw holes for hinges, etc. If you don’t, the wood will split. If wood doesn’t split the screw will break. Lesson learned the hard way….............LOL

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

View Xtreme90's profile


193 posts in 4169 days

#15 posted 11-13-2009 04:11 AM

Has anybody tried to turn it? It’s some hard stuff to turn when I can’t turn it on my 1000lb jet lathe. :) but it is sooooooooo beautiful!

-- "I don't cut wood. I machine it!" G.M. The wood machinest

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