Is Hickory good for carving? All you need to know

is hickory good for carving

Hickory is the best commercially available wood in North America. It is used for tool handles, such as axes and mauls, and for sporting equipment. Even its wood chips are useful; they are often used in smoking meat! What about carving you ask, is hickory good for carving?

Hickory is a hardwood and therefore supports details well. Hickory is a good wood to carve with. However, Hickory is quite tough, and if hand carving is required it’s best to use mallet and gouges/chisels.

Carving Hickory with knives is still doable and there are those that have been successful whittling hickory. But whittling hickory is something that can easily turn frustrating. In This article, we will take a look at hickory and how it responds to carving.

Is Hickory good for carving? Carving hardwoods with ease!

Wood spirits carved in hickory
Wood spirits carved in hickory

What is hickory good for

Hickory is a very tough wood. Other than being tough hickory wood is also known to have very good bending properties. On top of this, as a hardwood, hickory takes finishes very well. These characteristics make Hickory wood good for:

  • Sporting equipment
  • bentwood furniture
  • chairs
  • striking handles
  • plywood and veneers
  • walking sticks
  • carving

While carving hickory, tools will regularly get blunt given how tough the wood is. A lot of patience and correct techniques are required to conquer hickory wood with carving tools.

Is Hickory hard to carve?

Hickory is a hardwood and relatively hard to carve once dry. A lot of patience is required to successfully carve hickory. This wood will however hold detail well, and is quite durable and available. It’s probably very available in your locality. Therefore you may have already considered carving it.

Most people prefer carving it while green. Some carvers will rough out while green and let it dry and work the details then. more details on how to do this correctly are in the section that follows.

Check out easier woods to carve

Tips while carving hickory wood

Using shorter bevel to carve hardwoods

A longer 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 not good at holding an edge. A short bevel sacrifices a sharper edge for a stronger one. In this sense, the shorter bevel can stand up to the tough interlocking hickory grains much longer.

With a long bevel, you will be forced to sharpen after every few minutes. Hardwoods are best cut with a bevel of about 20 degrees.

Using shorter bevel to carve hardwoods

If a carving tool with a longer bevel, suitable for softwoods like pine, is used on a harder wood such as hickory, the cutting edge will disintegrate and produce a scratched and torn surface.

It was not unusual in the past for a carver to have more than one set of carving tools: a special set of tools with extra-long bevels was kept solely for work on softwoods.

Regularly sharpen your tools

Many carvers will not realize that the reason all of sudden carving is tiresome is due to the tools losing an edge. Regular sharpening of tools does indeed speed up work and reduces stress and frustrations while carving.

Sharpening may seem like a lot of work to a beginner but with the right mentality it becomes part of carving and in most cases the reason why carving is fun.

Working with hickory is not an easy task this tree is really tough! it doesn’t help the situation if you approach carving hickory with blunt tools.

Be aware of the angle of the bevel while sharpening. Make sure to use a bevel of a degree that is closer to what we recommend above.

Whittle small and while green

To whittle hickory, I would advise using the wood while green. This can be done in two ways.

the first option is whittling to completion while the wood is still wet then let it dry after. The second method is roughing out while green and working on the details later.

for the second option, you should give an allowance of shrinkage as your hickory dries. Once it has been completely seasoned, finishing the hickory can start.

Using power tools

Another great option while carving with hickory wood is power tools. Though some are not comfortable carving with power tools and consider it cheating, power tools are really handy when carving hardwoods.

Since hickory is strong it will be easy to work with power tools. Also, hickory will hold detail quite impressively. Taking advantage of this and Dremel’s ability to work in detail mind-blowing micro-details can be achieved.

Seasoning hickory wood for carving

If you have a hickory tree in your backyard and want to harvest some branches for carving later knowing how to season it can save you money and time.

We have a good article on air-drying wood at home. The article may not specifically talk about hickory but takes into consideration the fundamentals.

To season hickory makes sure to leave the bark on. the end grain should be sealed with a sealer. Make sure the place is dry. it takes hickory wood anywhere from 60 to 200 days.

Once the wood has been seasoned it’s good to leave it in the workshop for a few more weeks to readjust to the environment of the workshop.

Finishing hickory woodcarving

Finishing hickory woodcarving
Finishing hickory woodcarving

Because of hickory wood density, it is sanded to a nice smooth finish. Just like any other hardwood hickory takes finishes very well. Oils will make the grain pop. However, be careful while using oil as the grain tends to darken.

I would recommend using linseed oil to finish your hickory wood carving.

Wrapping up on carving hickory wood

To answer is hickory good for carving we have confirmed that indeed it can be carved using sharp tools and alternatively with power tools. Some patience is required given the toughness of the wood.

Hickory holds detail well and gives a beautiful finish. If you have some hickory wood you should give it a go.

Find out; Is cherry carvable?

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Hadwin Fisher

I'm basically a "Hobby Whittler." Everything I make is for Personal use, gifts for others, or other Items for charity auctions or other "Causes" i.e. "Local Hospital" Etc. Some health issues are interfering with me doing any large-scale projects in my workshop at this Present Time. That said I can't stay idle, whittling, and writing about whittling with my Friend ken Read keeps me sane and happy!

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