staining hickory

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Forum topic by sarahss posted 03-07-2011 11:34 PM 40788 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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258 posts in 3526 days

03-07-2011 11:34 PM

We’re tossing around the idea of building some cabinets out of hickory. Does anyone know of any problems that we might encounter in staining hickory? I see some people on the internet claim that it’s a bear to stain due to the density. I need to mention that we have not picked out a stain yet, so as long as it’s a color we like, we are open to water based, gel, solvent based, etc. Just don’t want anything that ends up looking “muddy” like some of the stuff at the big box stores. Will probably use a low gloss poly finish—not sure if wipe on or spray. Something durable for bathroom or kitchen use. Any advice would be welcome.

22 replies so far

View Gary's profile


9416 posts in 4310 days

#1 posted 03-08-2011 12:08 AM

I think Robin Renee “Woodchick” built her kitchen out of Hickory. Might check with her

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

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5307 posts in 4838 days

#2 posted 03-08-2011 12:35 AM

Stay away from the typical borg offerings, and go with a dye. The oil based stains (in my experience) will just wipe off after loading the pores.
Do you have a real paint and finish dealer in your area? If so, head that way with some off cuts that you can play with to get the color and penetration.

-- [email protected]

View terry staggs's profile

terry staggs

19 posts in 3514 days

#3 posted 03-08-2011 06:54 AM

hey sarah. we build out of hickory all the time in our shop and there is nothing to the staining process. we use lacquer based stains because they dry faster but any oil base stains are great. the secret is in the sanding. most think you have to polish the wood super smooth. that is why it doesnt take stain. we finish sand with 100 grit paper on oribital sanders. the stain will come out uniform in color. hope this helps Terry

-- [email protected]

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 4424 days

#4 posted 03-08-2011 07:47 AM

we have done plenty of hickory. Hickory stains just fine and accepts the stain even. A couple customers wanted a “fruit wood” stain that i get from Sherwin. The fruit wood color goes really nice with the hickory. But, with this said, i would strongly advice against staining hickory. Hickory is extremely beautiful and does not requirw any help feom stain to look stunning. Hickory boast such beautiful colors and charactor. Hickory has some areas of beautiful streaking ebony colors running through areas of light blondish wood.

One other thing about hickory, it is heavy in your hand and it is very hard, it rivals hard maple.

-- .

View ScottN's profile


262 posts in 3557 days

#5 posted 03-08-2011 03:18 PM

I agree with flyforfun…Not sure why anyone would want to stain hickory.

Also agree with terry on sanding.Except 220 would be my minimum grit I would use. And I would spray on the stain, you have more control on how much the wood can absorb.

-- New Auburn,WI

View Jeff's profile


531 posts in 4072 days

#6 posted 03-08-2011 03:25 PM

I have to chime in on the non-stain side. Before you decide try some clear finishes on some samples. Look at my roll top desk project to see natural hickory with a clear satin finish.

View sarahss's profile


258 posts in 3526 days

#7 posted 03-08-2011 03:33 PM

Your roll top desk is beautiful. I’m glad to hear hickory takes stain easily. We are building and have selected a hickory flooring (Shamrock brand, saloon series, the color is “saddle”) and want to use hickory for all the floor, door and window trim, in addition to vanities, cabinets, etc. The reason we want to stain it is so that it matches the floor and all flows together nicely. I agree that it is beautiful, but with the flooring we’ve picked, I think it would look better stained. I guess the other question is about working such a hard wood. I read that you should pre drill—no problem, as we’re using a lot of Kreg screws anwyay. I also read that you should use carbide tipped tools since it’s so hard. Any tips on machining it? Gonna get about 100 bf of wood to practice with before we commit to enough for the whole house.

Here’s a link so you can see the color. Opinions welcome!!

View Jeff's profile


531 posts in 4072 days

#8 posted 03-08-2011 03:52 PM

It is very hard and you should definitely use carbide tipped router bits and of course saw blades. If you have to plane some wood then just be sure your planer blades keep sharp.
On matching the color of floor and cabinets that’s usually not advised. You should have at least a bit of shade difference between the floors and cabinets.
I did my kitchen with natural hickory cabinets. Actually this experience was why I built my desk out of hickeory. But my floors are natural red oak.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16286 posts in 5095 days

#9 posted 03-08-2011 04:22 PM

Another vote for not staining.

As others have mentioned, hickory has a lot of natural color and grain variance. I think it is one of the most beautiful and underused woods around. I’m not trying to tell you what color your cabinets should be, but I would highly recommend that, if you do decide to stain, test finish a fairly large slab first to see how you like it. All the natural wildness in the hickory may affect the appearance of your chosen stain color in ways you were not expecting.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View sarahss's profile


258 posts in 3526 days

#10 posted 03-08-2011 04:45 PM

What about the trim at the floor and around doors? I can see everyone’s point on the cabinets being natural, or lighter than the floor, but would it look strange to have something so light right up next to the floor? What would look best?

View TJU's profile


72 posts in 3534 days

#11 posted 03-08-2011 04:59 PM

I use to work as a trim carpenter and most of the time the cabenets and floor were not the same. That’s not to say it wont look good if you match them, sometimes it’s like it is too much of a good thing. Usually the shoe molding and toe kicks around the cabinets match the cabinets and the baseboard around the floor is the same throught the house. There are always exceptions.

-- Although the voices aren't real they have some pretty good ideas.

View Jahness's profile


70 posts in 3641 days

#12 posted 03-08-2011 05:25 PM

At one of the shops I use to work at we would add the stain color right into the Lacquer so when sprayed it was always uniform in color. We used that technique on many different types of wood. Never did work too well with water based and Poly was not an option at that shop.


-- John

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5307 posts in 4838 days

#13 posted 03-08-2011 05:25 PM

Leave some contrast between the cabs and the floor. If you don’t, it’ll look like everything is runnin’ together. Some demarcation adds interest to the layout.

-- [email protected]

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 3803 days

#14 posted 03-08-2011 05:51 PM

I would agree with Tim and Bill, variation of color or species between floor and trim or cabinets provides interest.

I really like the look of walnut, and decided to use it for our main floor. To make sure it contrasted with the millwork, we changed our mind from using walnut cabinets and used a lighter color material and we are very happy with that appearance.

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View woody57's profile


650 posts in 4304 days

#15 posted 03-09-2011 01:39 AM

I built the cabinets in my kitchen out of hickory. I used a light brown oil based stain. I wanted to minimizes the contrast between the light and dark wood. I sanded to 120 grit. To finish I used a spray laquer and sanded with 220 grit between coats. I like the look. I think it turned out great.

-- Emmett, from Georgia

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