August 14, 2011 | 6:07 pm CDT

Nuts About Pecan: Most notable for the delicious pecan nut, pecan trees also yield wood that can have a wide variety of looks.

Family Name
Carya illinoensis and Carya aquatica of the Family Juglandaceae

 Common Names
Pecan, pecan hickory, Southern pecan, pecan nut, pecan tree, faux hickory, sweet pecan, water hickory, bitter pecan, low ground hickory, wild pecan, swamp hickory, wild pecan, pignut hickory, water bitternut

Pecan trees range in height from 100 to 140 feet. The average weight is 46 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.75.

Wood can be difficult to dry and may have shrinkage.

Care is needed to avoid problems with the buckling of veneer.

Moderate to severe blunting effect to cutters. Preboring for nailing is recommended.

Wood is usually straight grained and coarse textured but can have an irregular or wavy grain.

 Pecan has high strength, high bending strength and crushing strength, high stiffness plus a very high shock resistance and excellent steam bending properties.

Density and strength varies according to rates of growth.

Pecan trees are most notable for their delicious fruit, the pecan nuts, but the trees also yield beautiful veneer and valuable lumber. Pecan is a species of hickory and a member of the walnut family (Juglandaceae). Peter Rodgers, president of Oakwood Veneers, Troy, MI, sells paper-backed pecan veneer. He is a big fan of pecan and its close relative, hickory.

“Pecan is a cool wood. It has hundreds of looks. When clients call to purchase pecan, I stress that they be very specific about exactly the look they have in mind, because some people want clear pecan, some want light, some want the red and others want calico, which is a mix of both. Opinions vary on what is rustic pecan and clients will have to let you know how much character they want in the veneer,” he said.

Traditional uses for pecan range from furniture, cabinetry, and flooring to tool handles, ladder rungs and dowels. It is a favorite for sporting goods because it is very hard but only moderately heavy, tough yet resilient.

Scott Wright, production manager for Renaissance Specialty Veneer Products, Columbus, IN, sees pecan used in residential furniture, cabinetry and architectural applications. “Clients can get it very clear with no defects, or rustic with a lot of markings such as ‘cigar burns’ or marks that give it a lot of character.” His company also inventories pecky pecan veneer. “It’s a good choice for someone who wants action in wood,” Wright said.

According to Wright, pecan is a dense wood and veneer from it has a tendency to buckle after drying. “A little extra care in slicing and pressing it onto a board will solve that. Tension in logs, twisted grain and the way it grows probably accounts for any tendency to buckle.”

A Smaller Piece of the Pie

Connie Burton, product manager for The David R. Webb Co., part of The Danzer Group, Edinburgh, IN, has seen a drop in demand for pecan veneer after its heyday in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. “Its use started to trail off in the late ‘80s and we haven’t cut it in the last eight or 10 years,” said Burton. “I’m not sure why it isn’t being used at the same rate. It can take a gorgeous finish and the wood with all its ‘beauty marks’ can be very interesting.”

Burton said woods go in and out of style. “The rustic look, one of the looks provided by pecan, isn’t for everyone. Some people like the knots and burn marks, the bird pecks and other character markings of the wood, which can range from clear to semi peck to heavy peck.”

Marchita Croy, Erath Veneer Corp., Greensboro, NC, also has seen the demand for pecan veneer drop dramatically. “It is hard to say why people are using less. Many people substitute hickory for pecan. Hickory can sometimes lay flatter than pecan, which can buckle,” Croy said.

Pat Abney, sales manager, Louisiana Hardwoods/Anderson Tully, Alexandria, LA, agreed that some woods have a kind of cyclical popularity, but in his neck of the woods, pecan is a popular choice, selling very well for flooring, cabinetry, casegoods and high-end caskets. “Interest in pecan has been up for the past two years. We sell both pecan and hickory, but 95 percent of what we sell is pecan. The wide plank flooring is especially in demand. The market seems to be split evenly for clear looks and for rustic. The calico look is popular and some clients want the bird peck look. It is a good wood to work as it machines well and stains well,” he said. Abney estimates his company cuts between two to four million feet annually of pecan.

Ben Barrett, president of Berkshire Veneer Co., Inc., Great Barrington, MA, said his company gets more calls for hickory than pecan veneer, but he attributes that to hickory being more of a “Yankee” wood. “Pecan is considered a Southern species and it is probably more in demand in the South.” Barrett added he gets several calls for hickory. “From my lumber grading classes, I recall that one need not make a distinction between pecan and hickory lumber and the two are very similar in many respects,” he said.

The Other Hickory

In general, pecan trees weigh less than hickory trees. Pecan’s average weight is 46 pounds per cubic foot, while the average weight for true hickory is 51 pounds per cubic foot. Many describe pecan as more pink-hued than the true hickories and say hickory’s sapwood and heartwood is delineated more than pecan.

Pecan is one of many commercially important Carya species native to the United States. The USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Lab, Technology Fact Sheet reports that hickory (Carya species) is composed of at least 16 species native to Asia, Central America and North America. “This group can be split into the true hickories and the pecans based on microanatomy,” wrote the USDA.

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