Walnut vs. Hickory: Which One to Use?

Walnut vs. Hickory: Which One to Use?

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If you are looking to build something out of solid wood, then you have some really great options at your disposal, with both walnut and hickory wood being extremely popular.

With that being said, there are some major differences between these materials that you need to know about, and this is exactly what we are here to figure out today. Let’s determine whether walnut or hickory is the best option for your next woodworking project.

What Is Walnut?

First, we have walnut, specifically the eastern black walnut tree. This tree enjoys growing in well-drained soil and in a lot of sunlight.

This is a tree that can be found all throughout eastern Canada and in the eastern United States. The walnut tree can grow to well over 15’ tall and reach a diameter of 8,’ making them very large.

Walnut wood usually has a very straight and tight grain, although it can have some curves at times. This wood does also at times have some gaps, voids, and knots, although not very many of them. As for the color, walnut has a fairly deep brown color, something like chocolate or coffee.

It is interesting to note that as far as North America is concerned, this is the only tree that naturally grows very dark, and unlike other types of wood that will get darker with time, walnut actually gets lighter.

This wood is known for being very dense and hard, which means that it does have great physical resistance as far as denting and scratching are concerned. Also, due to the natural oils that it contains, it is also a decent option for outdoor use, although not overly so.

Walnut wood is more often used for indoor purposes, such as for furniture, flooring, veneers, knickknacks, gunstocks, and carvings. This tree also takes a long time to grow, which means that it is very expensive.

What Is Hickory?

The hickory tree is a deciduous hardwood tree, with many different species existing in Mexico, Canada, and the United States, as well as in India and China. The type of hickory that we usually use for construction here in North America often originates in Canada and the United States.

Hickory generally features a tight, close, and straight grain, although there may sometimes be a bit of waviness. This wood has a medium texture.

This wood can also range in color, and be anywhere from white to light brown. Hickory wood is extremely dense, which makes it very resistant to all sorts of physical damage.

This wood doesn’t contain a lot of natural oils or sap, but it is somewhat moisture-resistant. That said, untreated hickory wood is generally not moisture or pest resistant enough to be used for outdoor purposes. Hickory also isn’t very expensive.

Walnut vs. Hickory: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both walnut and hickory are, let’s take a look at what makes them different from each other.

1. Hardness

One of the major differences here is that walnut is the much softer of the two kinds of wood, as it comes in at roughly 1010 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, whereas hickory comes in at a whopping 1900 lbf.

This, therefore, means that hickory wood is much more durable and resistant to denting and scratching, as well as other types of physical damage.

2. Density and Weight

Another major difference here is that hickory is also much heavier and denser than walnut wood. Walnut wood comes in at 43 lbs per cubic foot, while hickory wood comes in at about 58 lbs per cubic foot.

This means that hickory is about ⅓ heavier and denser than walnut wood, therefore making it more durable and structurally sound. That said, it is also much heavier and therefore harder to work with.

3. Moisture and Pest Resistance

Next, what you also need to consider here is that walnut and hickory are actually not ideal for outdoor use, as they both don’t have very good insect, fungus, or moisture resistance.

With that being said, if you have to choose one of the two, walnut is slightly more resistant to pests and moisture.

4. Overall Strength and Durability

When it comes down to it, besides moisture resistance, hickory is the much more durable and stronger of the two. It is much stronger in more or less every single way, therefore making it more structurally sound and ideal for purposes that require great strength.

5. Workability

In terms of how easy these types of wood are to work with, hickory is much more difficult, because it is much harder, heavier, and denser. With that being said, walnut is not overly easy to stain whereas, if hickory is sanded very well, it does become easy to stain.

6. Appearance – Color and Grain

One of the other major differences here is that walnut is much darker brown in color, and actually gets lighter over time, whereas hickory is much lighter brown in color, and will get darker over time.

If what you are looking for is a deep brown color, walnut is the better option to consider.

7. Cost

Walnut is a very expensive type of wood and can cost you up to $25 per board foot. Hickory on the other hand is not overly expensive and shouldn’t cost you more than $7.50 per board foot.

When to Use Walnut Wood?

If you are looking for something that has a very beautiful deep brown color and is somewhat moisture resistant and is ideal for furniture and all sorts of other purposes, then walnut is a good choice to consider.

Just keep in mind that walnut is rather expensive. If you are making trims, veneers, carvings, musical instruments, and furniture, then walnut is also a great choice.

When to Use Hickory Wood?

If you are looking for an extremely durable type of wood that has great impact, scratch, and dent resistance, and is also very structurally sound, while also being very affordable, then hickory is a much better option to consider.

If you are making an object that will take a lot of abuse, then hickory is a fantastic option. On a side note, hickory is also the preferred type of wood used for smoking meat.

Alternatives to Walnut and Hickory Wood

Both kinds of wood we looked at today are hardwood, but if you would rather have a softwood, then going for something like Douglas fir, pine, redwood, or cedar is recommended.

In a separate article, we wrote in detail about walnut alternatives.


What it really all comes down to here is what you prefer in terms of appearance, as walnut is much darker than hickory, but also much more expensive. In terms of overall hardness and durability, both can withstand great deals of punishment, although hickory is the slightly more durable of the two.

Now that you know what makes these types of wood different from each other, you can choose the one that works best for your next project.