Working with hickory

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How to get around the difficult machining characteristics of hickory. July 24, 2001

I'm new to working with hickory and finding it difficult to shape. If I plane it, route it or shape it, it wants to chip out. The only success that I have had at dimensioning has been with my drum sander, but I have had terrible luck routing. Can anyone share some experience that might help me?

Forum Responses
Welcome to the world of working with hickory. You may check with your tooling supplier. They can do some things with various cutters regarding hook angle, shear angle, etc. Hickory is a wildcard--you can be running along fine and suddenly a great big chunk goes flying.

I've found the only way to get decent results is to always climb cut when routing or machining. A word of caution, though: never attempt to climb cut anything without automatic machines. Always use a power feeder on the table saw, shaper, etc. Never ever attempt this by hand.

Shagbark hickory characteristics

Hickory is wingy. Feed speed and cutter science is required. Beautiful wood, though. Worth the effort.

Over the years, many tests have been done on hickory. The cutting angle (the hook and grind angles) can be changed to reduce the tear-out. Due to the density and grain most people use carbide. Carbide creates a long-lasting dull cut. With the introduction of new heat reflective coatings, some high-speed steels can now be used in hickory with much success. This allows a sharper cut. This cut will provide a better finish. It will not last as long as carbide, but the difference in finish can be justified by many.

Dave Rankin, forum technical advisor

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

Comment from contributor A:
I am building cabinets with hickory now. I have had a lot of the same problems. I started on the router table cutting rabit joints, with pieces being trashed. Then went to a planer jointer, which does fine till blades start to dull, and this doesn't take long. My best luck has been with a dado blade doing the end grain first. When routing, doing the ends first has improved the quality, with an occassional blowout. Sharp tools are a must.

Comment from contributor K:
I recently wainscoted a wall with hickory. Its machining properties are terrible. This was overcome by routing at no more than a 64th of an inch at a time. The wall required 50 raised panels. It took 32 passes per panel but the results were well worth it. The moldings to hold the panels were cut once. With this method, not one panel had to be redone and the completed panels took a beautiful finish with minimal sanding.