Is Hickory a Hardwood Or Softwood? (Ultimate Guide!)

Ever strolled across a hardwood floor, admiring its strength and beauty, and wondered, “Could this be hickory?” Let’s unravel the hardwood mystery together!

Is Hickory A Hardwood

Hickory is a popular wood in flooring, cabinetry, home decor, and furniture. It is a medium-sized tree with lots of great qualities that are important in woodworking.

When I was working with Hickory I was surprised because of its qualities and curious about its hardness.

So, I did some research with the help of my fellow woodworking experts.

Now, with years after working with Hickory wood for many projects, let me explain to you, Is Hickory a hardwood?

Yes, Hickory is a hardwood. It has an exceptional hardness, strength, and shock resistance. Hickory has a hardness rating of 1,820 lbf (8,096 N) which is higher than most woods. Hickory is the hardest wood of all domestic woods. The high hardness makes it tough and durable for many projects.

But there’s more to know about the hardness of Hickory.

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    In this article, I’ll explore is Hickory a hardwood, how hard is Hickory, Hickory wood characteristics, the pros and cons of Hickory, and its uses of Hickory wood.

    Furthermore, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions as well.

    Let’s dive in deeper.

    First of all, let’s have a quick look at what is Hickory wood.

    Hickory wood furniture and woodwork
    Hickory wood furniture and woodwork

    What Is Hickory Wood?

    Hickory is a type of hardwood that originates from the Carya genus of trees. This genus is divided into two key groups: True Hickory and Pecan Hickory.

    Each of these groups consists of four main species. Now, you might be wondering, why is it essential to know this?

    Well, it’s because each species contributes to the unique characteristics that make hickory a popular choice for various applications, particularly hardwood flooring.

    Let’s explore this further.

    Hickory’s Unique Aesthetic Appeal

    Besides its hardness, hickory wood is beloved for its distinct appearance. The color contrast between the heartwood (the denser, inner part of the tree) and the sapwood (the lighter, outer section) of a hickory tree is quite remarkable.

    This natural contrast brings a rustic charm that’s difficult to replicate artificially.

    Let me share a personal experience. I remember walking into a friend’s newly renovated living room.

    My eyes were immediately drawn to the floor – it was a rich tapestry of hues, from cream to dark brown, harmoniously weaving together to create a warm, inviting atmosphere.

    I later learned that it was a Hickory floor. The stark color differences within a single plank were not defects, as I initially thought, but rather, a standard feature of hickory.

    That experience stayed with me, and now every time I think about hardwood flooring, Hickory is on top of my list.

    Benefits of Hickory wood
    Benefits of Hickory wood

    Practical Considerations with Hickory Wood

    Despite its many benefits, working with hickory wood does require some extra care due to its density.

    It’s more susceptible to expansion and contraction with moisture level changes.

    I learned this the hard way when I had a hickory table made.

    One excessively humid summer led to the wood expanding more than I expected.

    However, with careful moisture testing and control in your home, you can avoid such issues, particularly with hickory flooring.

    Overall, Hickory wood is not just a hardwood. It’s a durable, aesthetically appealing choice that can stand up to the daily demands we place on our floors.

    With its unique color contrasts and superior hardness, hickory offers a blend of practicality and rustic charm.

    Did you know? Hickory is one of the Best Wood for Axe Handle!

    Now you know how versatile Hickory wood is. So, let’s start to talk about its hardness.

    Did you know fact about Hickory wood
    Did you know fact about Hickory wood

    How Hard Is Hickory?

    Hickory is considered the hardest domestic hardwood. it is the second hardest wood in North America.

    Hickory is 41% harder than Red Oak and it is a combination of hardness, strength, and durability.

    According to the Janaka hardness ratings, Hickory has a hardness rating of 1,820 lbf (8,096 N) which is harder than most of the woods.

    Hickory comes from a deciduous tree like all other hardwoods. But it has some unique characteristic features that make it special from other hardwoods.

    Because of having high hardness, Hickory is extremely durable and tough. It is hard as nails with a good appearance.

    High shock resistance and scratch resistance are added advantages of Hickory because of its extremely high hardness and density. Therefore, it is a popular option in flooring.

    If you think about the typical demands we place on our floors—constant foot traffic, the occasional furniture drag, pet claw scratches—you’d appreciate the robustness of hickory.

    Hickory has elements, vessels, and pores that exist in hardwoods only. When we look at its fiber structure, has diffused pores structure with distinct growth rings.

    To put that in perspective, its hardness surpasses other common flooring woods like White Oak (1350), Red Oak (1290), and Black Walnut (1010).

    Hickory has semi ring-porous structure which visualizes the gradual transition of pores from a large to a small diameter within the growth ring.

    So, let’s have a look at the hardness of Hickory according to the Janka hardness scale.

    Janka hardness test is a standard method of measuring the resistance of wood against wear and dent.

    If a particular wood has high wear resistance and dent resistance, it has a high value in Janka hardness ratings.

    Likewise, Hickory has a hardness rating of 1,820 lbf (8,096 N).

    Hickory dining table
    Hickory dining table

    Is Hickory the Hardest Wood?

    On Janka’s hardness scale, hickory stands out as a superstar. With a Janka rating of 1820 lb/f, it proudly holds its place as one of the hardest woods native to the United States.

    But does that make it the hardest wood overall? Not quite.

    There are a few species, particularly exotic ones, that exceed hickory in hardness.

    For instance, the Australian Buloke has a Janka rating of a whopping 5060 lb/f, and the Snakewood and Quebracho both boast ratings over 3500 lb/f.

    However, these woods are not commonly used in applications like flooring due to their scarcity, high cost, and sometimes challenging workability.

    Hickory in the Context of Common Hardwoods

    Let’s circle back to hickory and consider it within the context of commonly used hardwoods. Among these, hickory does indeed claim the throne.

    When compared to popular hardwoods like White Oak (1350 lb/f), Red Oak (1290 lb/f), and Black Walnut (1010 lb/f), hickory demonstrates its superior hardness.

    I remember a time when I was at a friend’s countryside cabin.

    We were chopping wood for a campfire, and there were several hickory logs in the pile.

    My friend jokingly warned me about how tough they’d be to split. I laughed it off at the time, but boy, was he right!

    My axe seemed to bounce off those logs, while it easily split the other types.

    That day, hickory’s hardness became much more than a number on the Janka scale to me.

    So, while hickory isn’t the absolute hardest wood on the planet, it is one of the hardest that you’ll commonly find in homes, especially as flooring.

    Its impressive hardness, coupled with its distinctive look, makes it a popular and wise choice.

    Hickory kitchen cabinet
    Hickory kitchen cabinet

    Hickory Wood Hardness Comparision

    So, let’s have a look at the Janka hardness rating of popular wood types compared to the Hickory to get an idea about how hard Hickory is.

    Wood speciesHardness value
    Brazilian Walnut3,684 lbf (16,390 N)
    Red Mahogany, Turpentine2,697 lbf (12,000 N)
    Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba2,350 lbf (10,500 N)
    Mesquite2,345 lbf (10,430 N)
    Golden Teak2,330 lbf (10,400 N)
    Guatambú, Kyrandy,2,240 lbf (10,000 N)
    Santos Mahogany, Bocote,2,200 lbf (9,800 N)
    Merbau1,925 lbf (8,560 N)
    Jarrah1,910 lbf (8,500 N)
    Purpleheart1,860 lbf (8,300 N)
    Hickory1,820 lbf (8,096 N)
    Hickory, Pecan, Satinwood1,820 lbf (8,096 N)
    Rosewood1,780 lbf (7,900 N)
    African Padauk1,725 lbf (7,670 N)
    Wenge, Red Pine, Hornbeam1,630 lbf (7,300 N)
    Hard Maple, Sugar Maple1,450 lbf (6,400 N)
    Australian Cypress1,375 lbf (6,120 N)
    White Oak1,360 lbf (6,000 N)
    Ash (White)1,320 lbf (5,900 N)
    American Beech1,300 lbf (5,800 N)
    Red Oak (Northern)1,290 lbf (5,700 N)
    Yellow Birch / Baltic birch1,260 lbf (5,600 N)
    Heart pine1,225 lbf (5,450 N)
    Teak1,155 lbf (5,140 N)
    Black Walnut, North American Walnut1,010 lbf (4,500 N)
    Cherry995 lbf (4,430 N)
    Black Cherry, Imbuia950 lbf (4,200 N)
    Red Maple950 lbf (4,200 N)
    Silver Maple700 lbf (3,100 N)
    Southern Yellow Pine (Loblolly and Shortleaf)690 lbf (3,100 N)
    Douglas Fir660 lbf (2,900 N)
    Cuipo75 lbf (330 N)
    Balsa70 lbf (310 N)

    As you can see Hickory is extremely hard. It is harder than most of the hardwoods that we use mostly.

    In other terms in terms of hardness Hickory is irreplaceable.

    Tip for using Hickory hardwood for flooring
    Tip for using Hickory hardwood for flooring

    Let’s discuss the characteristics of Hickory that directly affect its hardness.

    Hickory Wood Characteristics

    Hickory is a light to medium color wood with a reddish hue with straight grain and medium texture.

    It creates a rustic appearance. When we look at the end grain, it is a ring-porous wood with large earlywood pores with narrow rays and close spacings.

    Because of having extremely high hardness value, Hickory is difficult to work with. Cutting, nailing, and screwing are quite difficult in Hickory because of their high density and hardness.

    Therefore, I do not recommend Hickory for a beginner in woodworking to practice with.

    Your woodworking tools need to be sharpened well and you need to have a clear understanding of the wood before working with Hickory.

    Even though Hickory is so hard and dense, it has poor rot resistance and poor resistance against environmental elements.

    There is no characteristic odor in hickory. Therefore, it can use for any woodworking project including constructions and children’s toys.

    Here’re the top characteristic qualities of Hickory,

    • Hardwood
    • High density
    • Susceptible to insect attacks
    • Poor rot resistance
    • Poor workability
    • No characteristic odor

    Here’re the main characteristic features of Hickory,

    ColorLight to Medium
    Density0.72 kg/m3
    Wood TypeNorth American Hardwood
    Stiffness2.16 Mpsi
    Hardness1,820 lbf (8,096 N)
    ApplicationsFlooring, Constructions, Furniture

    So, let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of Hickory in terms of its hardness.

    Hickory patio furniture
    Hickory patio furniture

    Advantages and Disadvantages of Hickory Wood

    High HardnessPoor Workability
    Easy to glue, paint, stain, and sealProne to insect attacks
    High durabilityExpensive
    Dent resistant 
    High strength 
    Shock resistant 

    As you can see Hickory is a versatile wood with lots of pros than cons.

    Most of the disadvantages can be skipped if you’re good at woodworking and if you have well-sharpened woodworking tools.

    What is Hickory Used For?

    Hickory can be used pretty much for any woodworking project except for cutting boards because of its great hardness.

    Here’re some applications of Hickory wood,

    • Flooring
    • Wood construction project
    • Ladder rungs
    • Tool handles (hammers, axes, shovels)
    • Wheel spokes
    • Cabinetry

    When you’re using Hickory for different woodworking applications, make sure to maintain the sharpness of the hand tool frequently, and the cutting speed needs to adjust according to the wood’s nature to avoid burning.

    Better to slow down cutting speed and predrill for screws to avoid unnecessary wood splitting.

    Hickory wood bookshelf
    Hickory wood bookshelf

    How Strong is Hickory?

    Hickory is one of the strongest hardwoods on the planet. It has significantly high compressive strength and bending strength compared to most other wood types.

    Hickory can withstand any force because of its great strength. Overall, Hickory is extremely hard, dense, and strong.

    The compressive strength and bending strength of Hickory are as follows,

    • The compressive strength of Hickory is 9,210 psi
    • The bending strength of Hickory is 20,200 psi

    As you can see, the bending strength of Hickory is significantly high, and therefore it is a highly flexible wood.

    Being so hard, dense, and strong with high flexibility make the Hickory so special.

    Because of having narrow spacings between growth rings, the strength characteristics of Hickory influence.

    Hickory cupboard
    Hickory cupboard

    Hickory for Hardwood Flooring

    As we’ve established in the previous section, hickory is one of the hardest woods commonly used in flooring.

    This impressive hardness translates into durability that can withstand the test of time.

    A memory that stands out for me is visiting my grandparents’ home. They had hickory flooring installed when they first built their house, and even after decades of bustling holiday gatherings, energetic grandkids (myself included), and the everyday shuffle, the floors held up beautifully.

    Aesthetics to Adore

    Hickory isn’t just about practicality; it’s also a real looker. With its rich, grainy texture and range of colors – from light blonde hues to deep, earthy browns – it adds warmth and character to any room.

    A friend of mine recently renovated her mid-century modern home and chose hickory floors.

    She was thrilled with how they complemented her décor and gave her rooms a sophisticated yet homey feel.

    Hickory and Home Value

    Another point to consider when choosing hickory for hardwood flooring is the potential value it could add to your home.

    High-quality, durable floors are a selling point for many homebuyers. It was a significant factor when I was house hunting.

    A house with hickory flooring immediately caught my attention – I knew that it was a sign of quality and durability, and it was definitely a contributing factor in my decision to make an offer.

    The Install and Care Considerations

    Despite its many advantages, there are a few things to be aware of when opting for hickory flooring.

    Because of its hardness, it can be slightly more challenging to install than other hardwoods.

    You’ll want to ensure your contractor is experienced with hickory to avoid potential issues.

    Additionally, hickory can be more reactive to changes in humidity compared to other hardwoods, which may lead to warping or cupping over time.

    So, it’s essential to keep your indoor humidity levels consistent. In my own home, we’ve addressed this by using a humidifier during the dry winter months and a dehumidifier in the humid summers.

    With this little extra care, our hickory floors have stayed in great shape.

    Hickory hardwood flooring
    Hickory hardwood flooring

    So, let’s compare the hardness of Hickory wood with some other popular types of wood.

    Is Hickory Harder Than Oak?

    Hickory is harder than Oak. Hickory is considered one of the hardest woods and it is significantly harder than both Red and White Oak.

    Theoretically, it is 41% harder than Red Oak. Both Oak and Hickory belong to the North American hardwood species.

    According to the Janka hardness ratings, the hardness of Hickory and Oak is as follows,

    Wood TypeHardness
    Hickory1,820 lbf
    Red Oak1,290 lbf
    White Oak1,360 lbf

    Is Hickory Harder Than Maple?

    Hickory is harder than Maple. Hickory is harder than both hard Maple and Soft Maple. Plus, Hickory has high compressive and bending strength than Oakwood as well.

    Therefore, in terms of hardness, and strength Maple can be easily replaced with Hickory due to its exceptional qualities.

    According to the Janka hardness ratings, the hardness of Hickory and Maple is as follows,

    Wood TypeHardness
    Hickory1,820 lbf
    Hard Maple1,450 lbf
    Soft Maple950 lbf

    Is Hickory Harder Than Walnut?

    Hickory is harder than Walnut. Hickory has higher compressive strength, bending strength, density, and stiffness than Walnut.

    Therefore, I recommend Hickory over Walnut any day.

    According to the Janka hardness ratings, the hardness of Hickory and Walnut is as follows,

    Wood TypeHardness
    Hickory1,820 lbf
    Walnut1,010 lbf

    That’s it, folks! Hope you have learned everything you wanted to know about, Is hickory a hardwood.

    So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions.


    What makes hickory hardwood so special?

    What’s truly special about hickory hardwood is its incredible strength – it’s one of the hardest woods out there – and its beautiful, complex grain patterns, making it an excellent choice for hardwood floors or furniture.

    Does hickory hardwood require special care?

    While hickory is robust and durable, it’s slightly more sensitive to changes in humidity than other hardwoods, so maintaining consistent indoor humidity levels will help keep your hickory floors in top-notch condition.

    Does hickory hardwood add value to my home?

    Indeed it does. High-quality hickory hardwood floors are often a selling point for potential homebuyers, adding value to your property due to their durability and aesthetic appeal.

    Is hickory the hardest wood available?

    Hickory is one of the hardest woods commonly used for domestic purposes like flooring or furniture. However, there are certain types of wood, like Australian Buloke or Snakewood, which are technically harder but not typically used in home construction due to their scarcity or difficulty to work with.

    Did I cover all you wanted to know about: Is Hickory a Hardwood?

    In this article, I have deeply discussed is Hickory a hardwood and how hard Hickory is by taking its characteristic qualities, pros, and cons.

    I have discussed the uses and strengths of Hickory to get an idea about its exceptional hardness.

    Hickory is a hardwood, recognized for its exceptional hardness, toughness, and durability. This makes it an ideal choice for applications that require strength, such as hardwood flooring and tool handles. Its unique grain patterns also add to its appeal for aesthetic uses.

    Furthermore, I have answered some frequently asked questions as well.

    Hope you have gained a piece of good knowledge about the hardness of Hickory and how useful it is for many woodworking projects.

    So, let’s begin your next woodworking project with Hickory to sharpen your knowledge. Keep learning and have fun!

    Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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