Sawing Hickory for Flooring

Quartersawn may be most stable, but flatsawn is prettiest. February 15, 2009

I intend to saw, dry and mill some hickory and white oak from timber on my property for flooring and trim of the older house I'm remodeling. My basic question involves how well hickory performs when quartersawn. I'm concerned about performance during milling, such as grain tearout, as well as the performance of quartersawn hickory for flooring. My reason for quartersawing is primarily due to understanding that hickory shrinks/swells less when quartersawn than when flatsawn but I have not heard of it being supplied that way commercially. I intend to mill it with traditional T/G, probably in some random widths but not exceeding about 3". Are there other considerations unique to using hickory for flooring that I should consider?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor J:
We have milled hickory into T/G many times for customers (a big job of 1/4 sawn too). I have never had any complaints but it was always from the mill and dried to 6-8%. It's a little tougher on the tooling. Carbide is recommended but really not needed unless you’re running a lot of it. I haven't heard of hickory moving a lot. You should (like any other wood) let it acclimate to the room before laying it.

Are you milling it into flooring yourself? I ask that because most wood that people bring in that was cut from their own land is full of knots, twisted, bark edged, nails, and want a premium floor. Then they cringe at what they get compared to what they brought in. There is a lot of waste in what we call "home grown lumber".

I think hickory makes a beautiful floor. We don't deal with it all the time so I'm interested in reading what others might have to say about it. I know it mills fine with the right tooling. I just haven't heard from the people laying it.

From contributor T:
Assuming it will be kiln dried quarter sawn will be more stable as a floor as it will expand across its thickness not its width as plain sawn would. If you are thinking about milling it green or air dried you will have problems with twist, bow, shrinkage, staining, and etc. Hickory is very dense and will wear HSS tooling quickly, tearout may also be a challenge with HSS.

From the original questioner:

You've given me some things to keep in mind as I proceed. I presently intend to mill all the wood myself with the exception of the final T/G operation. I am aware of the waste I can expect but have enough wood to be fairly choosy. Fortunately, the trees are forest trees ranging from 8" to about 20" and I have a couple different species of hickory from which to choose and keep all the wood the same. Additionally, I will have it custom sawn to get it as close to true quartersawn as is possible. According to my hand book, I can expect about 60% shrinkage in the radial direction from what it would be in the tangential, with some variance between species.

I have done a fair amount of air drying of various woods, including a little hickory, with good success. I've actually had very little degrade that I could attribute to air vs. kiln drying. I've got the time to do it properly, including acclimation in the room it will be used.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Virtually all degrade is air drying and not kiln drying. Only cup (sometimes) and inadequate stress relief and wrong final MC would be kiln defects.

From contributor G:
I have sawed, dried, and built custom cabinets out of hickory and I hate it! It blows out, tears out, and grinds steel knives like you're planing rocks. It has no rot resistance at all when exposed to the elements. You have to pull a router backwards to profile the stuff. It is really good for smoking ribs on the grill, and that's pretty much what I use it for now.

From contributor A:
Yes the quartersawn hickory will be more stable but the downside is the appearance will be very plain. Knots will be of "pin" type and larger knots will have to be cut out. Bird peck shows up different and boards that have sap/heart wood will bow badly. Hickory will show its best face flat sawn. Most of the lumber seen on the market came off of logs that a tie came out of the middle so flat sawn lumber is what you see mostly. It is hard on HSS tools but makes a very durable floor.

From contributor R:
We had a hickory floor installed over a year ago and now it's cupping badly. The first floor finisher (over a year ago) screwed the finish up badly. We just had it redone by a highly recommended finisher and it looks beautiful, but now many boards in our GR are cupping badly. Any idea what the cause could be? Will it go down as the weather gets colder?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
It takes some detective work to isolate the cause of cupping. However, we know that either the top side has dried (rare in the summertime as it is usually more humid in the summertime) or the bottom side has gained moisture (common if on a slab or crawl space with high moisture). I suspect that if you find an excellent flooring person, they can help you determine what went wrong. If you have a pin-type moisture meter with insulated needles, you can drive the needles into the wood and take a reading every 1/4". If the MC goes up as you go deeper, then you know what happened and all you have to do is determine the source of moisture. Until we know the cause, it is hard to state that the cupping will flatten in the wintertime, but my guess is that it will not flatten a great deal.

I just saw a hickory floor in a studio in Sister Bay, WI. It’s beautiful and has lots of character and it was flat and over a year old.