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Hickory Cabinetry


Holiday Kitchens uses hickory from two closely related species shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata).  Hickory is a deciduous broadleaf hardwood.  There are about a dozen different species of hickory native to the United States.  Pecan trees are included in the hickory family, though Holiday Kitchens does not include any pecan wood in its cabinetry.  The bark on these two species of hickory is distinctive in its rough, shaggy appearance on mature trees.  Hickory leaves are pinnately compound, meaning that an odd number of leaflets are arranged alternating on a central leaf stem.  Each leaflet ranges in size from 3-8 inches long, with the entire leaf structure ranging from 1-2 feet in length. 

Hickory Leaves
Shagbark Hickory Bark
Shagbark Hickory Tree


Shellbark hickory grows primarily in the Ohio and upper Mississippi river valleys, but its total range is wider.  Shagbark hickory is found throughout most of the eastern United States, except for the Gulf coastal plains and lower Mississippi Delta areas. 

Natural Range of Shellbark & Shagbark Hickory


While both species of hickory are widely distributed, they are not common.  Shellbark hickory may be found in pure groups of several trees, but are more frequently found singly in association with other hardwoods.  It is generally found as a minor species in established forests in bottom-lands with moist, deep, fertile soils.  Hickories are quite shade tolerant, allowing them to grow in established forests and other shady conditions.

The minimum tree age for seed production in shellbark hickory is about 40 years, with maximum seed production between ages 75 and 200.  Shagbark hickories can grow to 130 feet tall with trunks up to 4 feet in diameter.  Shellbark hickories are slightly smaller.  Both trees can live around 300 years.  Hickories produce nuts that are valuable food sources for wild animals.

Hickory wood has long been valued for its strength and hardness.  It has been used to make bows, tool handles, axles, skis, golf club shafts, drumsticks, flooring, furniture, and cabinetry.  It has also been prized as a source of charcoal, due to the unique smoky flavor it imparts.

Wood and Grain Characteristics

Hickory wood is very hard, very stiff, very dense, and very shock resistant.  While there are woods that are harder than hickory, and other woods that are stronger than hickory, no other wood has a better combination of strength and hardness. 

Hickory is a relatively straight grained wood, with some waviness and arching grain patterns visible based upon cutting.  The grain is slightly coarse.  It is a difficult wood to work with using hand tools, because of its extremely hard nature.  It sands well, though grain ridges may still be felt to some degree even when well-sanded.

Sanded Hickory Panel

Natural Wood Color

There are sharp differences between the heartwood and sapwood of hickory.  The sapwood tends to be very light brown to an almost white color.  The heartwood can range from a light caramel color to a deep reddish brown.  Dark grain stain and heavy graining variation are common in hickory.  Holiday Kitchens uses both heartwood and sapwood in its solid wood components, alternating between light and dark pieces where possible to create a visually striking calico pattern. 

Sheet goods, such as plywood or veneered panels, are not normally laid up with the same alternating pattern.  Though the entire range of color may be present, the variation within a piece will tend to less than with solid wood components.

Finishing Characteristics

Hickory‚Äôs dense, hard surface takes stains slightly less well than most other species.  In finishing characteristics, it is much like oak.  Stains used on hickory are designed to only slightly soften the inherent color variations.  Holiday Kitchens offers a fewer number of stains on hickory, but the overall color range of choices remains broad.  Holiday Kitchens stain formulas are specially designed for use with hickory.

Paints and primers are not offered on hickory as standard options, due to the deep grain pattern and sharp variation in color.  The variation in color will telegraph through the paint or primer and sharply affect the overall color.

Glazes will bite deeply into hickory, creating beautiful dark accents in both the grain of flat surfaces and all shaped profiles.

Vintage Artistry can also be included with Hickory.  The density and hard surface of the wood minimize the depth of some options, like distressing.  Still, the antique look of many Vintage Artistry options is a natural fit for Hickory.  Splits and wormholes, for example, represent two potentially common characteristics of aged hickory.

Wood Quality

Hickory has many knots.  Knots tend to be dark and conspicuous, often ranging from dark browns to black in color.  Grain tends to swirl widely around knots.  Holiday Kitchens does not limit the size or number of knots in its hickory.  All knots will be sound (that is, they do not move) and solid (that is, flush across the surface). 

The surface of hickory will generally split over time.  Surface checking or splitting is common and acceptable in hickory.  Holiday Kitchens will not allow any cracks or splits that extend completely through a component and compromise the strength of the component; however, surface cracks are allowed.

Mineral streaks, grain stain, areas of bleached grain, and dark grain lines are all commonly found in hickory.  Holiday Kitchens allows all natural color variations in hickory.  Gum pockets, soft spots, decay, and wormholes are all considered defects and are sorted out by Holiday Kitchens.

Holiday Kitchens takes great care in selecting high quality hickory.  



Typical Sound Hickory Knot
Typical Sound Hickory Knot
Typical Acceptable Color Variation

Cabinetry and Furniture

Hickory is an interesting choice of wood for cabinetry and furniture.  It is a strong, durable and lasting wood that will resist dents, scratches, and other wear and tear very well.  Its unique color and grain characteristics give it a rustic appearance that will greatly appeal to many customers.  Though not ideal for all design applications, hickory will provide a unique and reliable cabinetry option.


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