Pecan vs. Hickory

A wealth of information on these two very closely related wood species. July 5, 2006

I have a customer looking at hickory for his kitchen. I normally get doors from Decorative and they say they only carry pecan. It looks similar, and both are nuts, but how close are they really? I'm in Wisconsin and hickory is common but pecan is very rare. Is it so similar that I could use hickory for the FF and pecan for the doors?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
The sales rep at my supplier told me that they were the same. That said, I think salesmen arenít always correct. If they are not the same they appear to be very similar. I have hickory from one supplier and pecan from another and they look the same.

From contributor B:
They are so close, and the color varies so much in each, that there is no difference in appearance. You have to be careful when ordering doors or lumber because different companies grade the product differently. You may get a solid color from Decorative and striped plywood from your lumber supplier. Be specific in what you want.

From contributor C:
Pecan is sometimes called Hickory, Butternut, or Sweet Pecan. Heartwood is light to dark reddish brown and sapwood is white.

From Brian Personett, technical advisor CNC Forum:
Hickory and Pecan are the same Genus, but different Species. Hickory (Carya laciniosa) is self pollinating and Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) requires a mommy tree and a daddy tree. The wood is very similar and I'm not sure anyone really knows the difference. From what I can tell, Hickory tends to go to lumber while Pecan tends to go to veneer. Perhaps someone more in the know could help us out here.

From contributor D:
Pecan and hickory are not the same regardless of what salesmen will tell you. They are simply trying to push what they have in stock, which is most likely hickory and it may be acceptable by some standards, but really, when was the last time you saw hickory nuts growing on a pecan tree? To me they are very close, and the average customer would not know poplar from mahogany, but I would try harder to make it all the same. Perhaps you should order a sample pecan door from Decorative and compare it to your hickory and decide for yourself.

From contributor E:
When this discussion has come up over in the Sawing and Drying Forum, it is usually concluded that pecan is often sold as hickory, and that in terms of their properties, there is no appreciable difference. I would suggest searching the Knowledge Base in Sawing and Drying to see exactly what was said from the sawyer's point of view.

From contributor F:
The Hickory is a tree of the genus carya. There are about 20 species in this Genus. One of them is carya illinoinensis, commonly called the Pecan hickory. There are 12 or 13 species in North America. With the variety in hickory, it is important to make sure you get a supplier who can give you a good looking door. I used to use Decorative Specialties, but on hickory doors, they had very loose tolerances in dealing with color so I would get doors that were either all white or all brown and they did not look good as a whole. I have now switched to Precision Wood Products in Camden, Ohio. The colors are blended evenly and they have tighter joints and less defects.

From contributor G:
From a veneer standpoint, hickory and pecan are often intermingled as the same specie. Be that right or wrong, I have heard that from the sales guy's mouth on many occasions while looking for a volume of either type of wood.

From contributor H:
My supplier intermixes the two woods and sells them as hickory/pecan - you just never know what you are getting. The plywood I have gotten usually is light and most likely pecan where the solid wood is varigated in color and most likely hickory. The two are not the same and don't mix very well. I usually try and sell some other wood.

From contributor I:
The biggest difference I have noticed is the density. The Hickory I have is much more dense than the Pecan. I would worry about them staining the same.

From contributor J:
Buying 6/4 pecan, gave me a medium, even color. The 4/4 pecan was more of a mixture of sapwood and heartwood, and the 1/4" pecan plywood for the doors, had the most dramatic grain color difference between heartwood and sapwood. So I ended up with a picture frame effect on the doors, I did stain the whole job. I did use some hickory veneer to finish the ends of some cabinets. Hickory has more difference of grain colors and the little knots in it, as compared to pecan. But the whole job comes off as looking very neutral. It can go with most any decor.

From Gene Wengert, technical advisor Sawing and Drying Forum:
Hickory lumber (Genus: Carya) comes from eight different trees - four species of "true hickory" (shagbark, pignut, shellbark, and mockernut) and four species of "pecan hickory" (bitternut, pecan, water hickory, and nutmeg hickory). (Note that there are many local, common names for these species, but I have given the most often used names.)
HERE IS THE KEY: In the market place, you can get any of the eight species when you buy hickory lumber.

True hickory is found throughout the eastern U.S. However, the range of pecan hickories is limited - bitternut is throughout the eastern U.S., pecan is found from Texas to Louisiana, through Missouri and Indiana, water hickory in Texas through South Carolina, and nutmeg in Texas and Louisiana.

Separation of lumber into the two groups is impossible (they have the same color, which varies from site to site) unless chemical or microscopic tests are used. I do know that hickory, and not pecan, is used for drumsticks as pecan sticks thud and do not ring. Further, I have seen more pecan with poor color (streaky, variable) than hickory and I suspect that this relates to using wood from orchards.

Some hickory is denser than some pecan, but again the variability from site to site means that density is not a perfect separator. On the average the density of true hickories average about 50 pounds per cubic foot at 8% MC. This is heavier than oak. Pecan hickories average about 42 pounds per cubic foot, which is 16% lighter and which means that strength and machining will be quite a bit different. Strength and machining are very sensitive to density--10% less dense can mean more than 20% weaker.

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

Comment from contributor K:
Pecan and hickory are not the same. I read somewhere about pecan lumber and pecan trees a while back. Pecan nuts come from tame domestic pecan trees, which are not very good for lumber because of they have such a short trunk. Pecan trees that yield lumber are wild pecan trees, much taller than the nut yielding domestics. The wild ones also yield nuts, but they are bitter and not very good to eat. Hickory lumber is much more common and is passed off by unscrupulous salesmen and lumbermen as pecan. Actual pecan is harder than hickory.

You can actually hear the sharpness and the loudness difference when you clack two pieces of pecan together as opposed to two pieces of hickory. Both can be from blond to dark reddish brown. The pecan can be more blond and the hickory more ashy blond. The hickory that is darker is browner than the pecan that is darker. The pecan that is darker has a more red tone to the wood than the hickory that is darker. If you are using either for any project it is good to get the lumber matched well, or you can have major differences on the same door.