Is Hickory Good for Carving? Best Tips with Pros-Cons
Carving Hickory Wood Characteristics
Hardness and Strength
Hickory wood is known for its strength and hardness. It is one of the hardest and densest hardwoods native to North America. Hickory is stronger than white oak or hard maple, making it an ideal choice for carving projects that require a strong and durable material.
Hickory has a Janka Hardness rating of 1820 lbf, making it extremely hard – the reason it makes great hardwood flooring. For comparison’s sake, White Oak, a common hardwood that is known by many woodworkers to be very hard has a Janka Hardness rating of 1360 lbf.
The high density of hickory wood makes it difficult to carve with hand tools, but it is possible with patience, sharp tools and the correct techniques. Hickory is better suited to be used with power tools, such as chainsaws, angle grinders and rotary tools.
Color and Finishing of Hickory Wood
Hickory wood coloring varies a good deal with a light to medium brown color and a fine, uniform texture. The wood has a natural luster that can be enhanced with a clear finish. Hickory wood can also be stained to achieve darker colors, but it is important to note that the wood’s natural color variations can affect the final result. When finishing hickory, it is best to use a clear finish or a light stain to highlight the wood’s natural beauty.
Moisture and Drying
Hickory wood has a high density and low porosity, which makes it quite resistant to moisture. However, the wood can still absorb moisture if it is not properly dried and stored. Hickory wood should be dried slowly and evenly to prevent warping or cracking. It is important to store hickory wood in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent moisture buildup and warping.
You can carve hickory as unseasoned green wood, this will make for easier carving for sure. However, be aware that as your carving dries, it may shrink, twist, warp or crack if not dried slowly and methodically.
Other Hickory Wood Uses
Hickory wood is a versatile hardwood that can be used for a variety of purposes, from furniture and flooring to tool handles and sporting goods.
Some of these uses are something to consider for any scrap hickory you have laying around from your carvings!
Furniture and Flooring
Hickory wood is a popular choice for furniture and flooring due to its durability and strength. It is a dense hardwood that can withstand heavy use and resist wear and tear. Hickory furniture and flooring have a distinct look with a natural, rustic feel that adds character to any space. The wood’s natural color ranges from light to dark brown with a fine grain pattern, making it an attractive choice for home décor.
Tool Handles and Sporting Goods
Hickory wood is also commonly used for tool handles and sporting goods. The wood’s strength and durability make it an ideal choice for handles that require a sturdy grip, such as axes, hammers, and shovels. Hickory handles are also used for hockey sticks and other sporting goods due to their shock-absorbing properties, strength, and lightweight feel.
In addition to tool handles and sporting goods, hickory wood is also frequently used for smoking meat and BBQ due to its distinct flavor and aroma. Hickory wood chips are a popular choice for adding a smoky flavor to meats on the grill or smoker.
Hickory wood is a versatile hardwood that has a wide range of applications in woodworking, building, and industrial applications. While it can be more expensive than other types of wood, its durability and strength make it a popular choice for furniture, flooring, tool handles, and sporting goods.
Carving Hickory Wood
Techniques and Tools for Carving Hickory
As an extremely hard and dense wood, carving hickory can be challenging. It requires sharp and sturdy tools, such as a gouge or chisel, to remove material effectively. When carving hickory, it’s best to use a shallow gouge to avoid splitting the wood. A bevel-edged chisel can help create smooth and clean cuts.
Of course, power tools can also be used and I recommend them when working with such hardwoods like hickory. Angle grinders with the proper woodworking discs are my favorite to make quick work of roughing out the starting shape of my project.
To achieve depth and detail in your carving hickory, use a combination of tools with different sizes and shapes. Sanding can also help smoothen out the surface of the wood. However, be wary of the wood’s durability and shock resistance. Hickory is prone to splintering and cracking, so it’s essential to handle it with care.
Hickory Comparisons with Other Woods
Compared to softwoods like pine and cedar, hickory is significantly more durable and rot-resistant, making it an excellent choice for a carving that will need durability or exposure to outdoor natural elements. It has a distinct grain pattern that adds character and texture to your work. However, it’s not as easy to carve as softer woods like basswood, cedar, soft maple, etc.
When compared to other hardwoods like cherry or maple, hickory is still much harder, has a more pronounced grain pattern. It also tends to have more knots and irregularities, which can make it challenging to carve. Nonetheless, the unique texture and durability of hickory make it a favorite among carvers.
Tips For Carving Hickory Wood
Tips for Beginners
For beginners, hickory may not be the best wood for carving. It requires patience, skill, and the right tools to work with. If you’re just starting, it’s best to practice with softer woods like pine, basswood or butternut. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did!
When carving hickory, start with small scraps to get a feel for the wood’s density and texture. It’s essential to keep your tools sharp and take your time to avoid damaging the wood. As you gain experience, you can experiment with more complex designs and techniques.
Using Shorter Blade Bevel to Carve Hardwoods
A longer tool blade bevel gives a sharper edge, so why then are we advocating for a shorter bevel?
Well, the reason is quite simple, the longer bevel that gives a sharper edge is also weaker and will not hold the sharpness for very long. A short bevel sacrifices a sharper edge for a stronger and lasting blade. In this sense, the shorter blade bevel can stand up to the tough interlocking hickory grains much longer.
With a longer bevel angle, you will be forced to sharpen after every 10-20 minutes. Hardwoods are best cut with a bevel of about 20 degrees.
Geographical Distribution of Hickory
United States and Canada
Hickory is a tree that is native to the eastern half of the United States and Canada. It is commonly found in forests and swamps throughout this region. The leaves of the hickory tree are typically long and narrow, and they often have serrated edges.
In the United States, hickory trees are most commonly found in the southern and eastern regions. They are particularly abundant in the Appalachian Mountains, where they grow in both hardwood and mixed forests. In Canada, hickory trees are found in Ontario and Quebec, and they are typically found in mixed forests.
Swamp and Forest
Hickory trees are known for their ability to grow in a variety of different environments. They are particularly well-suited to swampy areas, where they can thrive in the wet soil. In forested areas, hickory trees can be found growing alongside other hardwoods, such as white oak and maple.
In addition to their natural distribution, hickory trees are also commonly grown in plantations for commercial use. These plantations are typically found in the southern United States, where the climate is warm and humid.
Hickory too hard of a wood for carving? Maybe consider a softer wood, especially if you are just beginning your journey into woodcarving. Even as a seasoned whittler and woodworker, I love to work with softer woods like basswood and butternut. Check them out, we have articles about the specifics of both of these woods, along with a great list of easiest to carve woods too!