The Timeless Appeal of Hickory Cabinets

Hickory Kitchen from Brighton Cabinetry

The Timeless Appeal of Hickory Cabinets

Hickory cabinets – people either love them or hate them. The contrasting grain patterns in a kitchen filled with hickory cabinets definitely bring the charm of rustic living to a new kitchen. However, not everyone loves the “wild wood” look of hickory.

Clear hickory vanity
HIckory kitchen cabinets with lots of grain and color

Hickory wood for kitchen cabinets is a popular choice because hickory is a durable and sturdy hardwood that can stand up to the daily wear and tear of a busy kitchen. Further, people like the distinctive grain pattern of hickory for its natural warmth and down-home charm.

And it has a timeless appeal. As we said, some people love it and have been using hickory in their kitchens for years.

If you enjoy a casual vibe, you’ll find the character of hickory cabinets is a good match for your taste. Although using hickory for kitchen cabinets isn’t anything new, its popularity has increased in recent years as people are looking to include natural elements in their homes.

In today’s fast-paced world, people want to include elements from nature in their homes. Hickory wood in the kitchen helps to bring the outdoors in. It’s a good anecdote to what’s happening outside, like traffic gridlock and long lines everywhere.

Advantages of Hickory Cabinets

Beyond its timeless appeal, Hickory has many advantages that outweigh its disadvantages.

1. Hickory is a Hardwood.

 Hickory is a hardwood — emphasis on the “hard.” It is highly sought after for kitchen cabinets, thanks to its unique combination of strength, hardness and toughness that can’t be found in any other species.

Hickory is among the hardest of woods native to the United States. On average, Hickory is denser, stiffer and harder than either White Oak or Hard Maple. In fact, it’s about 41% harder than Oak. It is considered an extremely durable wood in that it can withstand nearly anything.

2. Hickory is Durable.

 All hickory kitchen cabinets are inherently durable. These cabinets can resist scratches, holes, dents, dings or any impact that can otherwise damage the wood.

It stands up well to pets, children and other daily wear and tear, making it an excellent choice for busy kitchens, bathrooms or laundry rooms.

3. Hickory is Strong.

Hickory is one of the strongest and densest hardwoods native to North America. It is stronger even than white oak or hard maple. If you’re concerned about durability, choose hickory. (More on Hickory’s strength below.)

4. Hickory is Versatile.

Hickory wood cabinets are versatile and can easily work in various styles. No matter whether you want a rustic farmhouse or a contemporary kitchen, hickory cabinets are highly adaptable and can serve as the blank canvas you design around.

Whether you want a natural finish that highlights the wood’s graining and character, or a stained finish that adds depth of color to your living space, hickory is a versatile wood that can be customized to fit your style.

5. Hickory Brings the Warmth and Character.

The imperfections in hickory cabinets separate them from kitchen cabinets built from other woods. People want to see the varying levels of natural imperfections, such as differences in grain patterns, mineral streaks, color variations, knots, etc.

Raw hickory lumber showing rustic imperfections

6. Hickory Cabinets Will Keep their Value.

Kitchen cabinets are a big investment, and homeowners want their cabinets to stay functional and beautiful for as long as possible. Hickory wood cabinets will keep their value for years.

7. Hickory Can be an Eco-Friendly Choice.

Homeowners’ awareness of climate change and global warming has increased demand for eco-friendly items. Cabinets manufactured from hickory that was harvested from responsibly managed forests are a good choice.  

Brighton Cabinetry participates in the Environment Stewardship Program. One of the requirements of the program include purchasing woods from responsibly managed forests.

What Do We Mean When We Say Hickory is Strong?

Let’s take a closer look at hickory and how it compares with other types of woods in terms of strength.

Strength refers to a material’s ability to withstand pressure and/or compression without breaking. Hickory has great compression strength. Most building materials have a maximum amount of force they can withstand before breaking. For example, a 2×4 can support a certain amount of weight. If you put more than the recommended weight on top of that 2×4, it will collapse under the strain.

Hickory actually springs back when it’s compressed. It reverts back to its original shape when bent in the direction opposite its grain.

This characteristic probably won’t be a deciding factor when you are choosing the wood for your cabinets. However, it’s good to know one of the features that makes Hickory special and why you would want it for your kitchen cabinets.

HIckory cabinets in a laundry room

Disadvantages of Hickory

We found several disadvantages of Hickory for cabinets, but they mostly relate to the ways in which craftsmen have to work with the wood. These disadvantages won’t be a deciding factor for you when choosing the wood for your cabinets.

However, here’s a big one you need to be aware of.

1. Hickory’s Appearance is Inconsistent.

Hickory tree leaves

Up to 12 species of hickory grow in the U.S. They are split into two groups: the true hickories and the pecan or fruit-bearing hickories. The wood is virtually the same for both.

The hardwood lumber industry doesn’t distinguish between them. They’re usually mixed together and sold simply as “hickory.”

Because these multiple species are bundled together, it can be difficult to find consistent grain pattern and color.

Hickory Grain

Hickory grain can range from straight and fine to wild and wavy and everything in between. This variability means that each piece of hickory wood is truly one of a kind, and it gives the wood a natural look that can’t be duplicated.

If you want hickory for your new kitchen because of its strength and durability, but you also want a “consistent” look, ask about straight grain or clear hickory. (More on clear hickory follows.)

Hickory Color

Colors of hickory are all over the place. To say they vary is an understatement. Hickory is “one of those wild woods” where you will see lots of contrast and different colors.

Hickory wood is known for its dramatic variation of colors. The colors can range from white to a dark brown in the same door, a feature that gives hickory its unique characteristics. It’s also why people who choose it for their kitchen cabinets really love the wood’s natural look.

Its heartwood can range from tan to light brown to dark brown with a reddish tint. People find these colors warm and inviting.  

The color of hickory sapwood is light, a paler brown than the heartwood. It can be white or cream-colored, or simply have a yellow or creamy hue. These color variations within a single piece of wood are part of what makes hickory unique and beautiful.

Are Hickory Cabinets Expensive? 

Hickory is reasonably priced because it is native to North America. Another factor that contributes to its affordability is that it’s not highly desired for fine furniture.

Further, the cost of hickory cabinets can vary depending on the quality of the wood, the complexity of the style and design and the manufacturer.

Clear or Select Hickory | Rustic or Character Hickory

Clear or select hickory is the premium grade of hickory wood. It’s called clear because it exhibits less than 10% minor character marks. However, it will contain a mix of heartwood and sapwood and show its multi-colored whites, creams and browns to tan streaking. It just won’t have the holes, mineral streaks and other character marks.

A clear hickory vanity. Notice grain and color variations but no character marks.

Select hickory is “nearly” free of character marks and defects and has a uniform appearance. The industry standard reports that small knots (no larger than 1/4”), dark streaks that do not exceed 3” and small burls are acceptable.

Integrity Cabinets offer both rustic and clear hickory.

According to the pros at Baird Brothers Fine Hardwoods, rustic or character hickory is “a really busy product.”. It displays the same color variations as clear, but now there’s streaking, bark pockets, knots, burls, mineral streaks, stains, splits, broken knots up to 1/2″ in diameter, numerous other dark streaks, pitch pockets and bird pecks. These character marks will be random.


Hickory is a strong and durable wood, making it a popular choice for cabinetry in a busy home. The unique wood grain patterns and warm tones of hickory kitchen cabinets exude a warm, natural, rustic feel that works in any kitchen style, from farmhouse to contemporary.

KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.