Advice for Working with Hickory

Use extra-sharp, hard tools and expect to see some waste anyhow. September 3, 2011

I'm about to do a kitchen, most likely in hickory. Due to its hardness, are there any tips for cutting, nail sinking, sanding, etc. to cut time and error?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
It is chippy and splits easy. If you use pocket screws, you might want to pre-drill them. Climb cut most of your router cuts except for the last bit where the bearing touches. That will prevent most blowouts.

From contributor R:
Just get out your torch and welder and put the woodworking tools away for this one! Hickory is probably our fourth most popular wood we do after alder, cherry, and paint grade, but it's the only one I outsource. I'm a glutton for punishment, but it's just too big of a pain in the butt to make doors out of hickory for me.

From the original questioner:
Oh no! Sounds like some painful realities. Better to brace for them rather than find them out the hard way, though. Thanks! Anything else?

From contributor D:
Sharp carbide tools are a must. Waste factor is usually high, so buy extra materials. Watch out for slivers, cause if you get one it will be big.

From contributor K:
The only time I ever worked with hickory was for a preacher friend of mine. After I finished I told him that he had caused me to sin numerous times by making me build his cabinets out of hickory. They did turn out beautiful, but wow that is some hard wood to work with.

From contributor C:
The best thing I have ever done with hickory is outsource the doors and drawer fronts. Man, it is just hard on everything.

From contributor A:
We run hickory/pecan moldings fairly often. Sometimes it runs very nicely, other times lots of blow outs. You will need more of it than if you were using oak. Use really sharp tools and you get a beautiful surface, most of the time. Outsource your doors!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the great responses! I'm already weighing my options for local door outsourcing and planning to get my blades in for extra early sharpening.

From contributor J:
Whatever blows out, just cut them down and use them for the bbq!

From contributor T:
Hickory is very easy to work with once you understand how. The biggest factor is your tooling. You can't use the same cutter you use for pine and expect to use it on hickory (such as molder heads, pine 20 deg, oak 12 deg, hickory 5 deg). You can't buy off the shelf tooling and use it on hickory.

From contributor H:
I've completed a full kitchen of hickory. Nobody told me it was hard to work with. Sharp tools, take plenty of time, shaper or router, little cuts slowly are best, cut the ends of door pieces as one big piece and cut to width when finished. Have fun.

From contributor M:
I just finished a portable island for the kitchen. Most of the project went well, but turning legs out of hickory was really a challenge. Couldn't find any online, but next time I will outsource that part or make it from different wood. Sharp tools a must!