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finish for hickory

Art_Brazee's picture

Help - Does anyone have any experience finishing shagbark hickory? I have a modern style cabinet and desire a modern look, i.e. not cover the grain, lighter color, and emphasize the exposed joinery. I used walnut for wedges and pins, and gouged butternut for panels and wish to use one finish - the butternut being major, walnut minor.

I used both the early and late grain in the hickory, and thus have the nice chocolate color and the brilliant white grain throughout. I really want to keep the contrast, yet bring out the chocolate color (hence the walnut details). Any suggestions? By the way, working with hickory is similar to working on a rock - gosh, it machines so nicely, but it is so prone to tear-out and it just destroys an edge. It's so hard I'm a bit afraid of the finish - it is such a different wood.

Rob A.'s picture

(post #112068, reply #1 of 12)

I have used hickory and walnut together on one jewelry box. I finished it with blonde shellac and was very pleased with the look on both woods. It only slightly darkened the hickory and there is no worry about it darkening over time as their is with some oil based finishes.


Art_Brazee's picture

(post #112068, reply #4 of 12)

Rob- thanks, I have never used shellac, but I have been interested in delving in. I've read quite a bit so I have a good idea on the application and details. I've put a lot of time in this piece, so I a bit nervous about the finish - I really want the hickory to pop. The whiter grain isn't so interesting, but the chocolate grain I picture as finishing very nicely.

roqqytop's picture

(post #112068, reply #2 of 12)

have been working with Hickory for the last week and plan on using a combo of Tung oil, boiled linseed oil and perhaps 15% varnish.
I dont think there will be hardly any change in color.

Key to lessening/eliminating tear-out is to CUT close so routing only cleans up the edges.

Art_Brazee's picture

(post #112068, reply #3 of 12)

Thanks, I typically use a finish like you described, but with about 50% poly. I will consider changing mine up a bit and use your mix. When do you plan on finishing? I have some time until I finish and so you might be first.

I didn't get too much tear-out with any routing, most just in the planner. Upon reading I found many others have the same problem. I found planes mostly a mess and I typically have no such problems. It is just a very, very hard wood. I do love the sharply machined edges

roqqytop's picture

(post #112068, reply #11 of 12)

I should be finishing by the weekend or sooner.
I have some Shagbark but havent broken that large stack down yet - its only been 4 years - lol.
The hickory I am working with is Pignut and while I get almost no tear-out planning or routing, I will say it hand sands quite slowly.
Will post a picture for you.
And yes, I didnt mention it, but the 15-20% varnish in the mix will be Rock Hard.

frenchy's picture

(post #112068, reply #5 of 12)

let me second shellac.

  It's the finish of choice for antique finishers and nothing makes the wood as beautiful..

Art_Brazee's picture

(post #112068, reply #7 of 12)

Thanks Frenchy, shellac is now at the top of the list. Have you ever used it on hickory as I described my piece?

bigfootnampa's picture

(post #112068, reply #6 of 12)

I like to use "Breakthrough" by Vanex.  Here's a pic of my counter top.  As you can see I embraced the tearout look.  You can minimize it though by wetting your plank surface just before sending it through the planer... it makes a very big difference... works the same for handplaning too.  Your wood will finish beautifully!  Despite it's hardness hickory is a wonderful wood to finish.  You could just use your standard finish (from your posts I assume a poly-tung oil blend... which I have used for many many projects).  My finish on this counter was tinted to minimize the contrast between the sapwood and heartwood and also to darken the overall look to harmonize with my near black granite tops and dark cabinetry.

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Art_Brazee's picture

(post #112068, reply #8 of 12)

Nice to see your finish on hickory. You and I are on the same page - I too embraced the tear-out with a very similar idea. I used a gouge to create some patterns around the bad areas. My hickory planed ok, but I got almost always some tear-out around grain changes or near knotty areas. I will try the wetting idea next time - it certainly seems like a good idea.

Thanks for the trouble of the picture!

terrylee86's picture

(post #112068, reply #9 of 12)

Hickory finishes beautifully.  I would use the finish you are most comfortable with.  I use precat lacquer, but that is what I have used for years.  Your mix sounds good if you are comfortable with it.  I would keep your varnish level up and your oil level down or not at all.  I am not a big poly guy so you may want to talk to others, but I think Behlens rockhard varnish or Pratt& Lambert Varnish mixed 50/50 with mineral spirits is hard to beat, but like I said I use precat 95% of the time.  Hickory in the natural state fades very quickly so you might want to look for UV blockers in your finish as well.  Hickory stain very well also.

Art_Brazee's picture

(post #112068, reply #10 of 12)

Your comment with regard to go with what you know is insightful - you do get a good feel for a finish and anything new has a level of mystery despite the fact that there may be no mystery at all.

I didn't know about hickory fading - that's is some very good information and something I didn't read anywhere. I assume you learned that with experience. I really want to keep the contrast so I will definitely use something to maintain it.

Thanks, I appreciate the input of your experience.

terrylee86's picture

(post #112068, reply #12 of 12)

I did not realize hickory faded as much as it did until I moved a large rug at our cottage in Northern Michigan.  Our family room has a natural hickory floor with a conversion varnish finish and after a year it is faded dramatically.  The table I made from hickory is stained with Mohawk light walnut wiping stain and looks great, but after lifting up the rug I was a little surprised at how much it had faded.  You will always be able to see your contrast, but the differences will be softer and more muted.  Since hickory is in the walnut family I suppose it behaves like walnut where it fades to a softer richer tone.