Canadian Woodworking


Carya illinoinensis

Author: Peter Mac Sween

Famous for the tasty fruit they produce, pecan is a wood that is usually taken for granted by woodworkers.  A member of the hickory genus, pecan shares many woodworking characteristics with its more widely known relatives.

Pecan is found in the central region of the United States, typically following the Mississippi River south to the Gulf of Mexico and reaching into northern Mexico.  It is a large tree growing to 140 feet in height with trunk diameters of 2 to 4 feet.  A lot of pecan trees are grown on plantations for the production of their delicious nuts.

Pecan is considered a semi-ring-porous wood with a medium texture and a dull luster.  The wood is usually straight grained, but the occasional appearance of wavy grain will produce a curly figure.  Pecan is not durable because it has little rot resistance.




Pecan end-grain

The hickories produce wood that is tough, dense and strong.  Pecan rates a little below the true hickories in this regard, but it is still one tough customer.  While it can be used for cabinetry and furniture, pecan is a good choice where strength is important such as tool handles, ladder rungs, sporting goods, drumsticks and golf club shafts.  Pecan wood is also used for smoking meats and is a popular firewood.  Pecan is also sliced into decorative veneer.

Working with pecan is challenging.  Your tools must be very sharp to prevent tear out and will also dull quickly when working this dense wood.  Carbide tooling is highly recommended because of their durable edges.  You probably won’t want to use nails with pecan; but if you do, they will have to be predrilled.  Gluing pecan is easy and you can use a variety of different finishing techniques with it.  Being semi-ring-porous, it will respond well to staining.  Pecan is also a good candidate for projects involving steam bending.

Pecan offers up an array of visual looks, especially when sliced into veneer.  The heartwood is a light brown often shading to reddish tones.  The sapwood is a pale to greyish brown. Pecan offers up a lot of colour variations from wood that is all light grey sap to a calico effect produced by reddish overtones randomly overlaid on a brown heart. Woodworkers looking for character can find wood with various amounts of bird peck and other inclusions.

The true hickories are the dominant species commercially with demand for pecan lumber secondary.  Hardwood graders are not expected to separate pecan from hickory, so a lift of hickory lumber is usually a mixture of hickory and some pecan.  That said, there are lumber mills in the southern United States that specialise in producing pecan lumber. I suspect the lumber comes from pecan plantations.

Pecan is widely grown for its fruit, and there are many different cultivars.  Each variety will have subtly different characteristics both in terms of appearance and workability.  Trees grown in a plantation environment can produce lumber that behaves differently as well.  Choose your solid pecan carefully, looking closely at the growth rings for evidence of nice even growth.

In the end, you can also substitute solid hickory for pecan if you need a solid to match some pecan veneer.  The species are so close that only microscopic examination can tell them apart.  Pecan and hickory are in the middle of the domestic woods when it comes to cost.  Hickory is widely available, but if you’re determined to use pecan lumber, you might have to use the services of a good lumber importer who can bring the wood up from the United States.

Working with pecan veneer is intriguing due to all the visual possibilities it presents.  The challenge will always be finding genuine pecan solids.  In the end, perhaps the most enjoyable way to enjoy pecan is to put down your tools and enjoy a nice piece of pecan pie.

More about Pecan

The Wood Database specifications: Pecan
Last modified: September 10, 2022

Peter Mac Sween - [email protected]

Peter's woodworking journey began with a career in carpentry followed by a decade buying and selling veneer. His spare time is spent abusing his guitars and exploring the great outdoors.

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