Hickory is known as a very hard and dense wood. But does this make it a good choice when it comes to woodcarving?
This article will examine the pros and cons of using hickory for carved projects.
- Hickory is extremely hard and durable, making carved items resistant to wear and able to withstand frequent handling.
- Even when dried, hickory retains its strength well, allowing functional carved pieces like tool handles.
- Hickory's grain patterns and heartwood/sapwood contrast can create visually appealing carvings.
- The hardness makes hickory very difficult to cut and shape. Carving it requires sharp tools and a lot of effort.
- Tools will need frequent sharpening and honing to handle carving hickory, or carbide-tipped carvers should be used.
- Careful prep and finishing is needed to achieve a smooth surface and avoid blotchy absorption of stains/sealers.
- Hickory's hardness means it may not be suitable for beginner carvers, but offers durability for experienced carvers.
Hardness and Durability
One of the main advantages of hickory for carving is its hardness. On the Janka scale of wood hardness, hickory rates very high at 1820 lbf.
This hardness makes it extremely resistant to impacts, compression, and wear and tear.
Carvings done in hickory will be highly durable and able to stand up to repeated handling and use.
The density also gives good resistance to splintering or cracking.
Even as a dried wood, hickory retains its strength very well.
Many woods can become brittle when dried out, but carvings done in dried hickory will still remain tough and resilient.
This allows using hickory for functional carved items like tool handles, walking sticks, and kitchen utensils that need to withstand stresses of daily use.
Beautiful Grain Patterns
When polished and finished, the grain patterns of carved hickory can be quite attractive.
The wood exhibits a range of grain patterns from wavy to interlocked layers, which can produce visually interesting carved pieces.
The contrast between the heartwood and sapwood allows for eye-catching designs.
Difficult to Cut and Shape
Herein lies the biggest challenge of using hickory for carving – it is extremely hard to work.
The density that gives hickory its strength also makes it difficult to slice and shape with carving tools.
Hand cramps and frequent sharpening of tools are likely.
Even power carvers may struggle with hickory. Deep stop cuts are needed around curved shapes to prevent splitting.
Requires Sharp Tools
Carbide-tipped carving tools are recommended for hickory to handle the hardness. But even sharp traditional forged tools will require extra force.
Chisels will need frequent honing to retain their edges through a hickory carving project.
Using dull tools risks tear out and ruining the work.
Wood May Blunt Tools
The very nature of hickory that makes it great for tool handles means it can rapidly dull cutting edges.
Working hickory forces tools to work harder than with basswood, butternut, or other "carver-friendly" woods.
Plan on resharpening tools more often, or dedicating a set of carving tools just for hickory work.
Care Needed When Finishing
The open pores and grain patterns of hickory need careful prep and finishing to achieve a smooth surface.
Using a wood conditioner helps, followed by filling the pores with wood filler before final sanding.
Multiple layers of finish may be needed to avoid blotchy absorption. Take time with the finishing process.