Hickory is a dense, strong hardwood that is prized for its durability and resistance to rot and decay.
This has led some to believe that it makes an ideal wood for outdoor furniture and other exterior applications.
However, hickory's suitability for prolonged outdoor exposure is debated among woodworking experts.
This article examines the pros and cons of using hickory outdoors.
- Hickory is a very dense, hard, and durable wood that resists rot, decay, and insect damage. This makes it appealing for outdoor use.
- However, hickory lacks natural oils that protect other woods like cedar and teak from weathering. It is prone to cracking, checking, and discoloration when exposed to elements.
- Frequent maintenance is required on outdoor hickory, including regular applications of oil, stains, or sealants. Without maintenance it will deteriorate.
- Hickory is difficult to work with and outdoor hickory furniture is expensive to produce due to the wood's extreme hardness.
- The density and weight of hickory can also be a downside for exterior applications like decking.
The Advantages of Hickory for Exterior Use
Strength and Durability
Hickory is an extremely hard, dense wood that is known for its strength. Its Janka hardness rating, which measures resistance to dents and wear, is 1820, making it over three times harder than pine.
This hardness helps hickory stand up to years of exposure to sun, rain, and other elements.
Its dense grain also makes it difficult to penetrate, slowing decay.
Resistance to Rot and Insects
Hickory's density and hardness also make it naturally resistant to insect damage and rot.
The tannins in hickory act as natural pesticides.
While no wood is fully immune to rot, hickory's resistance means it can last for decades with proper care and maintenance.
This makes it a popular choice for structural applications like fencing, decking, and outdoor furniture where rot resistance is highly valued.
Attractive Wood Grain
Hickory has an attractive reddish-brown heartwood and sapwood that lightens to a creamy white.
When finished, it has an eye-catching grain pattern.
Its handsome looks make it a frequent choice for rustic outdoor wood furniture and accessories.
The Disadvantages of Hickory Outdoors
Lack of Weather Resistance
While hickory is dense and resistant to rot, it lacks natural oils found in woods like cedar and teak.
This means it is susceptible to checking, warping, and discoloration when exposed to sun, rain, and other elements.
It requires diligent maintenance.
Difficult to Work
Hickory's extreme hardness makes it difficult to cut, sand, and shape compared to softer woods.
Outdoor hickory furniture is more labor-intensive and costly to produce.
The density also dulls cutting tools rapidly.
Frequent Maintenance Required
While hickory is rot-resistant, it needs regular oiling, staining, or sealing when used outdoors. Without maintenance, it will quickly weather, crack, warp, and deteriorate. This maintenance must be kept up for the lifetime of the wood.
Hickory is exceptionally heavy, which makes outdoor hickory furniture large, bulky, and difficult to move.
The weight also puts more strain on structural supports like decking.
This can be a downside for exterior applications.
Is Hickory Right for Your Exterior Project?
While hickory has qualities that make it suitable for exterior use like decks, furniture, and fencing, its downsides mean it requires caution and maintenance to live up to its potential.
Here are some tips for deciding if hickory is the right choice:
- Use hickory for structural applications like pergolas, trellises, and retaining walls where its strength is an asset. Avoid finely finished furniture.
- Choose higher grade, knot-free hickory lumber to minimize future cracking and checking.
- Use premium exterior finishes like marine varnish to protect the wood.
- Maintain the finish regularly to keep the wood sealed from moisture.
- Expect to refinish periodically as the coating wears.
- Use hickory in protected exterior areas like covered porches rather than fully exposed.
With proper selection, finishing, and maintenance, hickory can be an attractive, long-lasting exterior wood.
Its natural durability gives it an advantage over woods like pine that rot quickly outside. However, it lacks the weather-resistance of alternatives like cedar or composite lumber.
Understanding these trade-offs allows you to decide if hardy but high-maintenance hickory is a good choice for your next outdoor project.