Is Hickory Good For Turning

Hickory is an excellent wood species for dowels, spindles, and other cylindrical wood components due to its favorable turning properties.

The hardness, straight-grained nature, and interlocked grain of hickory make it well-suited for products that require durability, strength, and stability during the turning process.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hickory is an excellent wood species for turned items like dowels, spindles, and handles due to its hardness, straight grain, and good turning properties.
  • The extreme hardness of hickory makes it very durable and impact/wear resistant, though it can be more difficult to turn and machine.
  • Straight-grained hickory turns smoothly and provides strength when used vertically for structural applications.
  • Interlocked grain is dense and shock-absorbent but may cause some tearing issues during turning that can be mitigated with sharp tools and light cuts.
  • Hickory is summarized as having fairly good turning properties overall, suitable for both decorative and utilitarian uses.
  • Common applications for turned hickory include furniture parts, sporting goods, tool handles, and musical instruments where its natural strength and hardness are advantageous.
  • With proper techniques, hickory can be turned into attractive and highly durable components thanks to its favorable wood properties.

Is Hickory Good For Turning


One of the standout properties of hickory that makes it ideal for turning is its hardness. Hickory is an extremely hard wood, ranking very high on the Janka hardness scale.

The Janka scale measures the force required to embed a steel ball halfway into a sample of wood, with harder woods requiring more force.

Hickory has a Janka hardness of 1820, which is nearly three times harder than oak (1360) and over five times harder than pine (670).

This exceptional hardness allows turned hickory products like dowels, spindles, and tool handles to better withstand impacts, abrasion, and compression forces without distorting or breaking down prematurely.

The hardness also makes hickory more challenging to turn and machine.

However, this difficulty is outweighed by the durability and longevity achieved with finished hickory turnings.

Straight Grain

In addition to hardness, hickory's generally straight grain improves its turning properties and performance.

Straight-grained wood has fiber direction that runs parallel to the length of the board, rather than interlocked or spiral grain which changes directions.

Straight-grained hickory is easier to turn smoothly than wood with wilder grain patterns.

The cutters slice cleanly through the long wood fibers for a refined surface texture.

Straight grain also minimizes the chance of tear-out around the edges as the wood turns, improving quality.

For certain hickory applications like chair parts, straight-grained wood is often specified.

The parallel fibers provide maximum strength when used vertically for structural stability. 

Interlocked Grain

While some hickory will have straight grain, other boards may exhibit an interlocked grain pattern.

Interlocked grain means the wood fibers zig-zag rather than running linearly down the length of the board.

This interconnected fiber structure makes hickory denser and resistant to impacts.

Interlocked grain can present challenges during turning operations, causing more vibration and chattering as the cutters interact with the changing fiber direction.

Using freshly sharpened tools and taking lighter finishing cuts helps mitigate this issue.

The cutting angle may also need to be lowered to 20 degrees versus standard 25 degree planing angles.

Despite being slightly more difficult to turn cleanly, the hardness and density from interlocked grain produce durable turned items.

Occasional tear-out defects can be easily sanded or scraped smooth during finishing.

The impressive mechanical strength of interlocked grain hickory outweighs any disadvantages for most applications.

Fairly Good Turning Properties

Considering the hardness and grain patterns covered already, hickory is summarized by woodworkers as having fairly good turning properties overall.

While it may not turn buttery smooth or have a lustrous surface like finer exotic woods, hickory's positives make it well suited for functional turning uses.

The good turning qualities mean tools stay sharp longer than woods with high silica content, reducing abrasion on edges.

Turned hickory products also take finishes nicely, whether glossy varnishes or hard waxes.

And while interlocked grain may present challenges, the straight-grained material turns nicely.

Hickory turns well enough to make handsome decorative items in addition to durable tool handles and furniture parts.

The natural creamy white color and reddish-brown heartwood give an attractive appearance.

When turning hickory, keep tools sharp, take light cuts, and sand thoroughly for best results.

Common Uses for Turned Hickory

The beneficial turning properties of hickory make it the material of choice for a variety of applications:


Hickory is commonly turned into dowels, spindles, and legs for furniture. Its hardness provides durability under heavy use and compression forces.

The straight grain gives strength to chair parts like legs.

Sporting Goods

Baseball bats, golf club shafts, and hockey sticks utilize turned hickory because of its density, strength, and shock-resistance.

The interlocked grain helps these items withstand repeated impacts.


Axes, hammers, and sledge handles along with broom and shovel handles are turned from hickory which stands up to heavy striking and leverage forces without breaking.

Musical Instruments

Drumsticks and mallets turned from hickory are less likely to chip or warp than softer woods, providing long service under constant percussion.

Wyatt Keith

Wyatt is a hickory tree expert with 25 years of experience studying and working with these majestic trees. Wyatt has worked on various research projects and has conducted extensive field work, studying the growth and behavior of hickory trees in different regions of the country. In addition to his research, he has also worked with landowners and land managers to help them properly care for and manage their hickory trees. Wyatt is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise with others, and he frequently gives talks and presentations on hickory trees to various audiences.

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