Pecan Versus Hickory Wood

What's the difference? The tree species are from related groups, and the wood is often considered interchangeable. April 24, 2006

I am building a bar top out of Florida cherry and pecan. I'm having a problem finding pecan locally in good quality. Two different people recommended using hickory instead of pecan. They said it would look the same. I can get plenty of good hickory. Can I substitute one for the other and get the same look? Finish is just a clear coat - no stain.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor F:
I could be wrong, but I think they are the same. Called "hickory" by some and "pecan" by others.

From contributor J:
As far as I know, they do not separate hickory and pecan at the mills. It will end up being a mix. Sometimes our lumber supplier will call the longer stuff hickory and the shorter pecan, but it is just to differentiate between the two lengths.

From contributor E:
They both fall into the same species, but pecan is usually lighter in color with less variance from heart to sapwood. Beware that even hickory has different subspecies, such as shagbark or pignut. True shagbark hickory has a dark heartwood and light sapwood, pignut is very light even in the heartwood, sometimes pignut is referred to as pecan.

From Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
In the lumber trade, we seldom separate hickory and pecan; if separated, they are called true hickory and pecan hickory. They are in the same genus, just different species. They are almost always sold as one. The fact is that there are 4 species of true hickory (pignut, shellbark, shagbark and mockernut) and 4 species of pecan hickory (water, bitternut, pecan and nutmeg).

Sometimes the color of pecan is not the same as hickory, but this can often be due to drying differences in veneer dryers or lumber kilns. The true hickory is a little stronger than pecan hickory.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the information. I have a buddy that has a sawmill and another buddy that is making a fireplace surround out of spalted pecan we custom milled and air dried for about 2 years in the top of a barn in Florida. The restaurant dude saw the spalted pecan and went ape-poo over it. I explained I couldn't get spalted, but I could try to get pecan. I'll fess up to him and order some hickory locally.

From contributor C:
Any pecan I have ever bought or cut is caramel colored; any hickory I have bought, especially from local mills, is shagbark and is white, and is referred to as white hickory by local sawyers. It can easily be stained to match.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I purchased pecan from Frank Paxton Lumber about 25 years ago to make chairs. The lumber was a creamy white with some variegation. The wood worked beautifully, was quite stable, and finished wonderfully smooth. I have worked with our local Wisconsin and Minnesota shagbark hickory. This wood is rough textured, very open pored, stringy, and not particularly stable (as compared to oak, maple, or the pecan above).

I wouldn’t consider offering a client a table, for example, made from hickory, but wouldn't have hesitated offering any piece of furniture made from the pecan Paxton Lumber supplied those many years ago. I relate this to point out that there is a very wide difference between the extreme members of the pecan/hickory family.