Hickory wood boasts a unique combination of qualities that set it apart, rendering it an excellent choice for furniture with attributes not commonly found in other woods. If you’re contemplating the use of hickory wood for your kitchen fixtures and wondering about its suitability for cutting boards and food safety, you’ve come to the right source.
In this comprehensive guide, I will delve into the merits of hickory for crafting cutting boards and outline its limitations when utilized for kitchen fittings.
All About Hickory Wood and Trees
The hickory lumber comes from its massive tree trunk, measuring at least 2 feet in diameter and 160 feet tall. The hickory tree is slowly growing and thrives in most areas of North America, wherein you can find their subspecies: pecans, pignuts, and shagbarks.
Hickory is the strongest wood with a Janka hardness of 1,820 lbf, measured using a steel ball halfway of the wood. Other species claim to have 2,140 lbf.
It also has a strength of 13,700 psi and a stiffness of 1,730 psi. It has a density averaging 620 kg/m3, and when processed or kiln-dried, the tangential shrinkage reaches 8.9% with a radial shrinkage of 4.9%.
From its strength and durability, hickory wood can be used as furniture and kitchen fittings because of its natural beauty and unique appearance. It combines the medium texture with its straight grain pattern and a touch of light to medium brown shades with a reddish color.
While hickory wood certainly possesses distinctive visual appeal and impressive durability, it’s important to acknowledge certain drawbacks associated with this wood variety.
These drawbacks include its relatively low natural sheen, moderate drying characteristics, and the challenges it presents when working with hand tools.
Even though you’re using machine tools, there is a high possibility of tearing it if mishandled. Otherwise, you can have furniture, kitchen fittings, floorings, ladder rungs, and tool handles made of hickory wood.
Where Does It Come From?
Hickory comes from the Carga genus of trees, and you can find 18 species worldwide. In parts of China and India, five to six species of hickory can be found, four species from Mexico and an average of two to four in Canada.
The remaining 12 species of hickory, or the majority of its species, are native to the United States, making it affordable and accessible to your local markets.
Hickory Wood’s Grain
However, hickory has a more porous wood structure than other hardwoods and is considered medium open-grained wood. Such wood grain is a downside for hickory as cutting board because of food safety concerns.
If a cutting board material is porous and open-grain, it can quickly absorb and trap moisture, food debris, and meat juices, which can hardly be removed even though you clean it thoroughly.
A cutting board that needs to be cleaned appropriately can contaminate any food that comes with it. You should pay attention to this concern because bacteria and fungi grow over time if the board is left behind unclean.
But hickory wood has a fine, straight grain ideal for making end-grain wood cutting boards. These wooden boards absorb beyond standard knife cutting and resist impact during food preparations, proving the best wood for making cutting boards.
Should You Use Hickory For A Cutting Board?
Hickory wood is good for making cutting boards, better than red oak. In fact, it works better than plastic cutting boards. Hickory is great wood with excellent resistance to cutting, which would not dull your sharp knife. It could also last longer than any other wooden cutting board.
You can have different perks of using hickory wood cutting board and consider the restrictions of having one.
Pros and Cons of Using Hickory for Cutting Boards
Is Hickory Wood Food-Safe?
Hickory wood, without sealants or finish, can contaminate food because it traps food debris, residues, and other elements from food preparation. Thus, it is not considered a food-safe wood for kitchen utensils and fittings.
Therefore, you can use some wood finishing or sealing products to prevent the bacteria and fungi from taking home in the pores of hickory wood. You can use some wood finishing or sealing products.
You can also apply grain filler to close the open-grained woods, which serve as the entry point of these residues. You can use the following food-safe finishes:
These wood finishers are food-safe and provide a barrier or protective layer to your hickory cutting board. Once you apply proper sealants to your wood, bacteria, water, and moisture won’t penetrate your wood, achieving a food-safe cutting board.
Also, it can accentuate the hickory’s pattern and color, making your hickory cutting board a more appealing kitchen fitting.
Nonetheless, hickory can be used safely for kitchen fittings by cleaning it thoroughly and using it properly for food preparations. You must ensure to wash the cutting board with warm water. Use a soap, rub the surface gently, and rinse it thoroughly.
You can also use a hickory cutting board for chopping vegetables and refrain from using it for raw meat preparations.
Why is Hickory Wood Too Porous For Cutting Boards?
Hickory wood, characterized by its open grain and high porosity, shares similarities with other hardwoods. However, when considering its application as a cutting board, its porous nature becomes a significant concern.
The porosity of the wood can potentially lead to cross-contamination or can trigger food allergies, especially if the same cutting board is used for various food preparations.
The large pores of hickory allow the penetration of moisture and food particles inside the wood. And since hickory is a tough wood, its drying time takes a while, so bacteria and fungi start to multiply.
Although it becomes dry, you can see the accumulation of molds on the surface, which can contaminate your raw food. You will also discover that your wood stains and starts to warp over time because of the moisture.
So, you must consider sealing your hickory wood cutting boards to prevent such circumstances.
Is it Good for Making Butcher Blocks? How About Charcuterie Boards?
Hickory is an excellent wood for butcher blocks and charcuterie boards. Most homeowners prefer a hickory butcher block (or a chopping block) because of its unique appearance. Because of their durability and hardness, you can use sharp knives without dulling them.
However, working with hickory is almost impossible and can eventually destroy your tools. Another downside of hickory for butcher block and charcuterie boards is its porous surface .
But you can apply food-safe sealants to your butcher block and charcuterie board to prevent the proliferation of bacteria and fungi. Porous and open-grained wood surfaces are susceptible to bacteria and fungi, making them a breeding ground.
Better Wood Types for Cutting Boards Than Hickory
Given food safety concerns, it’s advisable to explore alternative wood types for cutting boards and other kitchen fittings. There are other wood varieties that are better suited for these purposes, offering greater assurance in terms of food safety and performance.
Maple is good for cutting boards than hickory because it is a dense hardwood with a diffuse porous structure and close-grained or tight-grain surface.
Therefore, food safety with your maple cutting board won’t be a concern because bacteria and fungi can’t penetrate easily into your wood. However, apply a good finish to the maple for an additional protective layer. This will also lessen your maintenance of this wood.
Beech is suitable for cutting boards because it has a uniform texture and close-grained structure. Although beech wood is a beautiful and durable option offering excellent bending strength and good compressive strength, hickory is stronger.
Teak has similar traits as hickory when using it as a cutting board. Teak wood contains natural oil, making it resistant to water, but softer woods which can make your knife dull over time.
Although it is a durable wood that can take impacts and scratches better than a walnut, teak wood has large pores that make it prone to bacteria absorption.
Walnut is not considered a tough wood because it is more prone to scratches and dents than hickory. Therefore, walnut and hickory are almost similar for use as cutting boards.
It can sustain the impact of cutting knives, but its open-grained wood can absorb water and moisture, wherein bacteria and fungi can accumulate.
Also, maintaining walnut wood as a cutting board is high maintenance since it can shrink quickly. So conditioning it must be done quarterly or every two months.
How To Maintain Your Hickory Cutting Board
You can keep your hickory cutting boards in good condition by cleaning them thoroughly and storing them where they can dry completely and with less humidity.
Also, washing it with soap and water eliminates food residue and prevents bacteria accumulation.
Another technique to keep your hickory cutting board in good appearance is to apply food-safe oil regularly and preferably after use. You can use mineral or coconut oil, but apply a thin layer and wipe off the excess, if any. It is recommended to do this once a month.
Can You Use Hickory For Carving?
You cannot use hickory for wood carving because it is challenging to work with. Even though you will use woodworking tools, you may destroy your tools or tear up the wood.
Instead, you can find other dense wood than hickory for your wood carving project because hickory is best used for flooring and furniture making.
Certainly, hickory can indeed be utilized for cutting boards with positive outcomes. However, it’s imperative to emphasize the importance of employing food-safe sealants when working with hickory wood for cutting boards. This precaution ensures both the durability of the board and the safety of food preparation.
This method ensures no bacteria, fungi, water, or moisture can penetrate your cutting board. Besides hickory, you can also rely on maple and beech, which are closed-grain woods.