Clear and Knotty Hickory Kitchen Cabinets

Hickory kitchen cabinets are divisive; 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.

Why is Hickory for Kitchen Cabinets Popular?

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.

Homeowners who enjoy a casual vibe find the character of hickory cabinets is a good match for their tastes. 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 are looking for ways to slow things down. One way to add some calm is 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.

Hickory kitchen cabinets bring in natural element

Advantages of Hickory for Kitchen 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 Kitchen Cabinets are Durable

All hickory kitchen cabinets are inherently durable. They 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.

rustic transitional hickory kitchen

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 your clients are concerned about durability, help them choose hickory for their new kitchen. (More on Hickory’s strength below.)

4. Hickory is Versatile

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

If the homeowner wants a natural finish that highlights the wood’s natural graining and character, or a stained finish that adds depth of color to their space, hickory is a versatile wood that can be customized to fit their style

5. Hickory Brings the Warmth and Character

Rustic hickory boards

The imperfections in hickory cabinets set them apart 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.

6. Hickory Kitchen 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 their 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 includes purchasing woods from responsibly managed forests.

Hickory vanity from Brighton Cabinetry

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 compression without breaking apart. 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 certain amounts of weight. If you put more than the recommended weight on top of the beam, 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 clients are choosing the wood for their cabinets. However, it’s good for you to know if they ask what makes Hickory special and why they would want it for their kitchen cabinets.

Disadvantages of Hickory Wood for Kitchen Cabinets

1. Hickory is Difficult to Work With

Although it is prized for its strength and beauty, Hickory is difficult to work with. Its tight, dense grain makes staining and finishing more challenging than other woods. Craftsmen must open the grain to accept stain.

2. Hickory Shows Marks

Hickory is a beautiful hardwood with a nice, light color. However, this light color also shows cutting and sanding marks more visibly than darker hardwoods.

3. 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: true hickory and pecan hickory (fruit-bearing).

The wood is virtually the same for both and is typically sold together. 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, it can be difficult to find consistent grain pattern and color. No grain matching in a hickory cabinet run.

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 your clients want hickory for their new kitchen because of its strength and durability, but they also want a more “consistent” look, you can introduce them to 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.

clear hickory door with heartwood and sapwood
rustic hickory door with character marls

Are Hickory Kitchen 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 hickory vanity cabinet from Brighton

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 white creams and brown to tan streaking. It just won’t have the holes, mineral streaks and other character marks.

Select hickory is “nearly” free of character marks and defects and has a uniform appearance. Th 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.

Hickory kitchen cabinets with lots of character

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.