Is Pecan a Hardwood or Softwood?

Is Pecan a Hardwood or Softwood

Pecan pie is one of my favorites, warm, crunchy with those pecan nuts on top, gooey, and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the sides of the slice.  They’re easy to make, although perhaps not the healthiest of food to eat in bulk, with the corn syrup and white sugar, sweet in the extreme.  But, I can taste a bite right now as I write this piece.

What about pecan wood, though?  After all, this is a website about woodworking, not cooking or eating. 

Pecan is considered a hardwood.  The term hardwood does not necessarily refer to a hard wood, though.  Hardwood trees are noted for their broad leaves rather than thin needles.  We’ve discussed hardwoods and softwoods and their differences in past articles, and if you need a refresher, you will find them here and here.

They produce fruit or nuts, are deciduous (they lose their leaves in winter), and go dormant during the cold winter months.  Pecan trees are generally slower growing, too, take about 12 years to mature, and can live for upwards of 150 years.  They are native to North America and grow best in the southern states of the US and northern Mexico.

Pecan is a species of hickory, although botanically they are split into true hickory and pecan hickory, the latter the one that bears fruit.  However, the wood is virtually the same. 

Pecan Nuts

How To Identify Pecan Wood

Pecan wood has a relatively low density compared to other hardwoods but with warm tones.  Pecan heartwood (inner tree) will be a light to medium brown with a reddish hue; pecan sapwood (outer tree closer to the bark) will be a paler yellowish-brown. 

Most pecan planks and slabs will carry a little bit of both the warmer and lighter shades and hues.  By comparison, pecan wood is slightly lighter than walnut wood.

Is Pecan Wood Hard To Cut?

Sawmills report that pecan wood is very hard to cut and recommend using a newly sharpened blade.  The mills report, too, that pecan wood presents a difficult task when running it through a planer.

Sharp blades are good advice, generally, for cutting any wood.  But with pecan wood, it is especially true.  Even sanding pecan wood can be difficult and time-consuming. 

However, once cut, planed, and sanded, pecan wood presents a beautiful and warm grain and color, so the extra effort does have a good payoff.

What is Pecan Wood Good For?

It is that beautiful and warm grain and color that gives pecan wood it’s standing as an excellent choice for workpieces that will be seen in the home, including:

  • Furniture
  • Flooring
  • Cabinets
  • Doors
  • Tool handles like axes
  • Ladder rungs
  • Dowels (see, too, our recent piece on dowels and doweling jigs here)
  • Sporting goods (tough and very hard but only moderately heavy – think baseball bats)

The dust from pecan wood is useful in the making of stains.  It contains a substance that will darken the color of lighter woods like pine and oak and so is a fine additive in the making of wood stains.

Pecan wood also makes good firewood.  It burns longer and hotter than most other hardwoods and with less smoke, so there is even a cooking and barbecue use for it.

Is Pecan Good For Furniture?

Flash Furniture HERCULES Series Pecan Cross Back Chair

As noted above, pecan wood is often used in furniture making.  Although difficult to work with hand tools, it is quite strong.  It has a mostly straight grain, a somewhat coarse texture requiring much sanding, and sometimes will show a wavy grain.  However, its warm tones add great character to furniture made with it, making the extra work it requires well worth the effort.

Pecan has high strength, both bending and crushing, and high stiffness.  It resists shock very well, too, so dents and scratches are minimal.  These qualities make it a very attractive wood for furniture making.

Dining furniture of pecan wood, and even office furniture, are quite lovely.  Pecan veneer is also quite common, again because of its beauty and strength. 

On the Janka hardness scale used to measure woods, pecan wood at a score of 1820 is twice as hard as walnut.  Along with its open grain, this makes pecan a wood that takes stain well and withstand traffic/usage well, such as in flooring.

Is Pecan Wood Good for Cutting Boards?

Some more open-pored woods like ash and red oak should not be used for cutting boards, as they will be more difficult to keep clean over time and stain-free.  Pine is softer and will likely show cutting scars.

While maple, cherry, and walnut are among the best cutting board materials because of their density, pecan is also a fine choice.  Even though lower in density than these other hardwoods, if finished with a good cutting board oil and a butcher block conditioner, a pecan cutting board makes a fine addition to your kitchen.

Is Pecan Wood Expensive?

Depending on the grade, pecan wood is a low to moderately priced wood.  It is also easy to find here in the US, especially where it grows – southern US states and Mexico. 

A grade-A pecan wood with few knots and defects will run in the range of $4 to $5 per board foot.  A lower-grade pecan wood with more knots and imperfections will be in the $2 to $3 per board foot range. 

Walnut, by comparison, will be more expensive, but this has to do with availability due to the size of walnut trees.  Other hardwoods like cherry and maple (since we mentioned them earlier) have greater availability and inventory because they grow larger, making them less expensive than walnut, although more expensive than others such as pecan.

The greater availability and inventory of pecan are what make pecan less expensive, a cheaper alternative to other hardwoods.  Thus, pecan furniture will be less expensive than other hardwood furniture.

Right now, I am envisioning myself eating that piece of pecan pie at a pecan dining room set that maybe I will make someday for my home.

Speaking of a pecan dining room set, and to illustrate the warm tones and hues, the reddish, yellowish, light, and dark brown, check out this video for a beautiful pecan tabletop.