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EDITOR'S NOTE: Article excerpted from Wood of the Month archives.
click image to zoomFAMILY NAMES
Carya ovata, carya glabra, carya tomentosa, and carya laciniosa of the family juglandaceae
Shagbark hickory, white hickory, red hickory, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, shellbark hickory
Height ranges from 60 to 120 feet with straight cylindrical boles and diameters of two to three feet.
Weight ranges from 45 to 56 pounds per cubic foot with an average weight of 51 pounds.
Wood is heavy and strong, but shrinks during drying. It is dense, with high toughness, bending, stiffness and crushing strengths and exception shock resistance. It can be difficult to machine and has a moderate blunting effect on tools. Experts recommend a 20-degree cutting angle when irregular grained-wood is used. Stains and finishes very well. When people talk about hickory lumber and wood products, the adjectives fly. Hickory is not just tough, it is very tough. The wood isn’t simply hard, it is extremely hard. As to being dense, strong and durable, well you get the picture. Albert Constantine Jr. writes in the book Know Your Woods, “Some woods are stronger than hickory and others are harder, but the combination of characteristics such as strength, toughness, hardness and stiffness possessed by hickory has not been found to the same degree in any commercial wood.”
Hickory sold as lumber and veneer — the so-called true hickories — comes from a variety of Carya species, usually Carya ovata, Carya glabra, Carya tomentosa, and Carya laciniosa. Of the 16 species of Carya in North America, Carya ovata, also called shagbark hickory, is considered by many to be the most commercially important hickory. Carya illinoensis and other species of Carya are collectively and commercially known as pecan. Other species of the pecan group of hickory include Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory), Carya aquatica (water hickory) and Carya myristicaeformis (nutmeg hickory).
Hickory grows from the Northeastern United States southwest to Mexico. Its many uses include furniture and cabinetry, athletic goods, flooring, lawn furniture and agricultural implements. Traditionally, one of the major uses for hickory has been in tool handles.
“Selected, straight-grained hickory is the first choice for handles of striking tools, particularly hammer and pick handles and axe helves, and for picking sticks in the textile industry, railway shunting poles and highly stressed parts of agricultural machinery,” writes B.J. Rendle, editor of the book World Timbers, North and South America.
Hickory also is known for its excellent steam bending properties. “Hickory is outstanding among temperate hardwoods for its combination of high bending strength, stiffness, hardness and shock resistance. It is particularly resistant to suddenly applied loads and almost 100 percent superior to ash in this respect,” Rendle adds.