Does Hickory Stain Well?

Have you ever considered what hickory would look stained? Well, you’re definitely not alone. The unique qualities of hickory make it a top choice among homeowners across the globe. 

Hickory is not the simplest wood to stain, but it is doable with the right preparation. Hickory can be just as eye-catching as any other hardwood if you take the time to prepare and sand it

Does Hickory Stain Well?

Today we are going to go over what makes hickory unique, the surprising truth about its staining potential, and a few tricks of the trade on how to ace the staining process. Whether you’re pondering the best color of stain for those new floors or just curious about hickory’s potential, you’re in for a treat.

What Is Hickory?

Hickory is what is known as a hardwood, similar to maple and oak.  Maple and oak are much more commonly used in flooring products than hickory, but that isn’t to say they are necessarily better choices. This beautiful hardwood can actually hold its own when compared to more popular woods. By the end of this article, you’ll see hickory in a whole new light. Who knows, you may even decide to use it in your next flooring project.

The History Of Hickory

Hickory trees are native to North America and Asia, which explains why it has been a significant part of these region’s landscapes and architecture for centuries. These hardy trees grow across a wide range of North America, stretching all the way from Canada to Mexico. They are used in a variety of products on the market today and are most known for their strength and flexibility.

Hickory has a very high Janka hardness rating, which measures the density and strength of different types of wood. There aren’t many domestic trees that can outshine hickory in this aspect, which is why it’s a perfect option for flooring in high-traffic areas. Not only is it famously strong, but it is also well-known for its uniquely beautiful grain patterns and reddish coloring. If you are shooting for a rustic look in your home, hickory is a perfect choice.

Common Uses Of Hickory

Hickory’s strength and beauty make it a prime candidate for a plethora of different construction-related products. Here are some of the most common uses of this popular wood.

  • Flooring: Thanks to its durability, hickory makes for perfect flooring in areas with heavy foot traffic, and when installed correctly, you can expect to get more mileage out of it than maple or oak. It also exceeds many people’s expectations when it comes to beauty.
  • Furniture: Hickory’s resilience makes it ideal for items like chairs, tables, and cabinets. Unlike some hardwoods, hickory actually has a fair amount of flex, considering how dense it is. 
  • Tools: Hickory’s sturdy nature makes it a popular choice for tools as well. If you swing a hammer for a living, there’s a good chance you’ve used a hickory grip at some point.
  • Cooking: Hickory is one of the most popular and tasty woods used in cooking. Its distinctive flavor makes it a favorite of BBQ pitmasters everywhere.
  • Home Decor: Hickory’s unique grain patterns and colors are unrivaled when it comes to adding a rustic flair to any piece of home decor.

Does Hickory Stain Well?

Today’s million-dollar question: is hickory actually worth staining? The short answer is yes, but don’t rush to toss on a layer of stain just yet. Achieving a flawless finish is going to take more prep and planning than other softer woods. There are a few things that you should take into consideration before breaking out the rollers and brushes.

Factors That Influence Hickory’s Staining Potential

  • Color Variation: The shade of hickory can vary quite a bit from tree to tree, meaning that getting an even tone will be tougher than using a wood like pine. Dark spots might not soak up as much stain as lighter spots, leading to a multi-tonal finish.
  • Grain: The direction and pattern of the grain affects how the stain will settle. Expect to end up with more pronounced patterns with wavier grains.
  • Age Of The Wood: Fresh-cut hickory absorbs stains better due to open pores, as long as it has had enough time to dry out. The pores in older pieces of wood won’t want to accept the stain as easily, so they will need to be agitated to open them back up.
  • Moisture Content: Hickory needs to be dry enough for even staining. High moisture content equals a patchy-looking finish.
  • Pre-Stain Treatments: Consider using wood conditioners for even stain absorption, especially for hickory’s varied grain. These will also help prevent blotches in the finished product.
  • Type of Stain: Oil-based stains dive deeper into the wood and pop with color, but they don’t always spread as evenly as water-based stains. Water-based products are more consistently absorbed and distributed, but less vibrant.

Popular Stain Colors For Hickory Floors

It seems like there are almost an infinite amount of color options that look great on hickory floors. If you are new to projects like this, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. So we went ahead and picked some of our favorite colors of stain for hickory flooring.

  • Natural Finish: There isn’t anything wrong with keeping it simple. A clear or natural finish amplifies hickory’s contrasting tones and unique grain, giving you a genuine, rustic look.
  • Golden Oak: A classic choice for a reason. Golden Oak is perfect if you’re seeking that cozy, inviting ambiance.
  • Dark Walnut: The dark stain contrasts with hickory’s lighter-colored patches, resulting in an eye-catching finish.
  • Grey Wash: A grey wash stain pairs beautifully with a wide range of interior colors, making it hard to go wrong, no matter the scenario.
  • Cherry Blossom: This reddish tint can accentuate the already reddish hue that hickory is known for.

What Should You Do When Staining Hickory?

Diving into the staining process without some pointers can feel like trying to bake without a recipe. From prepping the wood to the all-important staining steps, we have compiled all of the best practices to make sure your hickory turns out beautiful.

Should You Sand Hickory?

In order to obtain the best-looking finish, hickory almost always will need to be sanded. The density of this wood makes it one of the strongest and most affordable options on the market, but this also makes it tougher to stain than other woods.

Hickory is so dense that stain has a hard time evenly penetrating the surface of this wood. That is why it is necessary to open up the pores using sandpaper so that the stain has an easier time moving throughout the wood.

The best way to achieve this is to use a grittier sandpaper (80-120 grit) when sanding the surfaces of your project. This will maximize the amount of stain that will get absorbed into the wood, ensuring a flawless finish.

Tips For Staining Hickory The Right Way

If you are ready to stain that hickory, then make sure you check off each of these steps as you go so that you get it done right the first time.

  • Prepping the wood: This includes sanding, cleaning, and applying a pretreatment if necessary.
  • Spot-testing: Hickory’s stain absorption can vary. Be sure to test an inconspicuous area first to get an idea of how the stain will absorb.
  • Conditioning: Pre-treatments help avoid blotchy results within the grain.
  • Apply stain evenly: Avoid overloading the brush, and make sure your strokes go with the grain for consistency.
  • Remove excess stain: Any leftover stain should be wiped off of the surface to avoid darker patches. If the stain pools up, you are using too much and should wipe it off.

Final Thoughts

Hickory is an all-around solid choice for almost any home improvement project. Yes, it may take some more planning and patience to stain when compared to other popular woods, but the finished product is absolutely worth it. As long as you give yourself ample time to account for these extra steps, you will end up with a long-lasting beautiful finish that you can be proud of.

Meet your Flooring Expert

Travis McCullough

Travis McCullough

Travis is a lifelong jack-of-all-trades in the construction industry with 20 years of experience in a variety of fields. He’s tackled flooring, carpentry, and everything in between on residential and commercial projects of all shapes and sizes.
Working independently and as part of a crew has equipped him with the know-how to not only complete a project but also teach others the finer points within most building professions. When he isn’t out hanging off of a ladder or crawling around on a roof, Travis spends his time educating people about the construction industry.

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