Pecan wood comes from the pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis), a species of hickory native to southern North America. While the pecan is best known for its delicious edible nuts, the wood from pecan trees is also highly valued. Pecan wood is prized for its strength, attractive grain patterns, and sweet, mild aroma.
This comprehensive guide will explore everything you need to know about pecan wood. We’ll discuss the characteristics of pecan wood, including its physical and chemical properties. We’ll compare pecan to other types of wood and look at common uses for pecan lumber, like furniture, flooring, tool handles, and more. Pecan wood also has some interesting culinary applications that we’ll cover.
Whether you’re a woodworker, chef, or DIYer, this guide will provide key information to help you understand the versatility of pecan wood. Let’s start by looking at what makes this material unique and desirable.
Characteristics of Pecan Wood
Pecan wood has several notable physical and chemical characteristics, making it well-suited for various applications. Here are some of the most important properties to understand about this material.
Hardness and Durability
One of the standout qualities of pecan wood is its hardness. On the Janka hardness scale, which measures the resistance of wood to denting and wear, pecan scores 1,820 lbf. This ranks pecan as a hardwood, making it extremely durable and resistant to scratches and dents. Pecan’s hardness comes from its dense, straight grain patterns which provide strength. This high degree of hardness makes pecan wood ideal for flooring, furniture, tool handles, cutting boards, and other items that must withstand heavy use.
Visually, pecan wood is quite attractive. The sapwood, or the lighter outer portion of the wood, is a creamy white or pale yellow. The heartwood, or inner wood, is reddish-brown, sometimes with darker brown or black mineral streaks. The light sapwood and rich heartwood contrast makes for dramatic grain patterns. Pecan wood also often exhibits spalting, forming black lines caused by fungus. While spalting can weaken wood, it makes the grain more decorative and unique in pecan. Overall, pecan’s color variations and markings make it a beautiful choice for projects with highlighted natural wood.
Despite its hardness, pecan wood is relatively easy to work with. It turns, sands, finishes, and glues well. Pecan also responds favorably to steam bending, making it easy to bend into curved shapes. When working with pecan, the main challenge is the potential for tearout when cutting, planning, or routing the wood if cutting edges are not kept perfectly sharp. The interlocked grain can cause splintering. With proper precautions, pecan machines smoothly.
Regarding rot and decay resistance, pecan wood is considered non-durable regarding heartwood decay. The sapwood is very prone to powder post beetle attacks. Proper drying and indoor use are recommended to prevent degradation. While not the most rot-resistant species, pecan wood holds up better than less dense woods when kept dry.
Odor and Allergies
Pecan wood has a very mild, sweet aroma when worked. It does not have a strong scent like cedar or pine. The wood dust may cause minor allergic reactions in some individuals, but pecan is not known as a major irritant or sensitizer. It does not contain tannins or oils that typically trigger allergies seen in oak or tropical woods. Overall, pecan has minimal odor and allergy risks.
Pecan Wood vs. Other Woods
How does pecan wood compare hardness, appearance, and workability to other popular species? Here are some key comparisons between pecan and woods like oak, walnut, and hickory:
Pecan vs. Oak
- Hardness: Pecan is harder and denser than all varieties of oak. Pecan rates 1,820 lbf on the Janka scale, while red oak rates 1,290 lbf and white oak rates 1,360 lbf. This makes pecan more scratch and dent-resistant.
- Appearance: Oak tends to have more dramatic and varied grain patterns than pecan’s relatively straight grain. Both woods can display attractive colors and figures.
- Workability: Pecan and oak have similar workability and machine well, though pecan is more prone to tearout.
- Rot Resistance: Northern red oak has better rot resistance than pecan. White oak also outperforms pecan in this area.
Pecan vs. Walnut
- Hardness: Pecan is slightly harder than black walnut, rating 1,820 lbf vs. 1,710 lbf for walnut. However, the two woods are quite comparable in hardness and durability.
- Appearance: Walnut has a richer, darker color and grain than pecan. But pecan displays attractive creamy sapwood and reddish heartwood.
- Workability: Pecan and walnut can both be challenging to work because of interlocking grain, but walnut is more resistant to steam bending.
- Rot Resistance: Due to its tannins and oils, black walnut has naturally high rot resistance. It has far better decay protection than pecan.
Pecan vs. Hickory
- Hardness: Pecan is denser and harder than most hickory species, though they are comparable. Shagbark hickory rates 1,730 lbf while pecan rates 1,820 lbf.
- Appearance: Hickory tends to have a more varied grain pattern with swirling figures than pecan’s straighter grain.
- Workability: Both wood machines work well with sharp tools. Hickory is considered slightly easier to work.
- Rot Resistance: Pecan and hickory have similar, moderately good rot resistance. Both should be kept dry.
Pecan tends to be harder than oak and walnut, with better rot resistance than the latter. It looks and works similarly to hickory. While not always the top performer in every area, pecan combines excellent hardness, workability, and visual appeal.
Common Uses for Pecan Wood
Pecan wood is suitable for various applications thanks to its outstanding physical and mechanical properties. Here are some of the most popular uses for pecan lumber.
One of the most common uses for pecan wood is furniture manufacturing. The wood’s hardness prevents dents, scratches and wear, while the attractive grain patterns make it visually appealing for finished goods. Pecan wood is frequently used to make chairs, tables, beds, cabinets, and shelving. Turned pecan legs and posts are also common in upscale furniture. The wood’s steam bending properties also allow it to be shaped into curved furniture components. While pecan furniture tends to be expensive due to the high lumber cost, the finished products are durable heirloom-quality items.
Pecan’s hardness and resistance to surface wear make it an ideal choice for hardwood flooring. The rich heartwood colors and grain patterns create beautiful flooring with natural character. Pecan flooring is very long-lasting in high-traffic residential or commercial areas. It also takes stains and finishes well. The wood’s density provides good stability, minimizing the expansion and contraction that can cause gaps in flooring planks. Although pricier than oak or hickory, pecan flooring is valued for its beauty and longevity.
Tool Handles and Ladder Rungs
Pecan is an excellent choice for applications requiring strength and shock resistance, like tool handles and ladder rungs. The wood’s high density and hardness allow it to withstand repeated impacts and compression. This makes it well-suited for hammer and axe handles, chisel grips, hand saws, and other hand tools subjected to high friction and wear. Pecan also makes very durable ladder rungs and rails to support heavy loads.
Veneer and Carving
Pecan’s attractive grain patterns make it a popular choice for veneers used to surface furniture, cabinets, doors, and panels. Thin pecan veneers mounted over cheaper plywood or composites create high-end decorative effects at a lower cost than solid pecan lumber. Pecan burls are also valued for veneers, where the grain becomes deformed in swirling patterns. For wood carving pecan is too hard for detailed hand work. But it can be shaped nicely on a lathe and by power carvers to create decorative spindles, bowls and other turnings. The hardness does become a challenge for intricate designs.
Beyond primary uses like furniture and flooring, pecan wood has some unique applications:
- Musical instruments: The resonant tonal qualities of pecan work nicely for parts of stringed instruments like violin bodies and guitar backs/sides.
- Turned objects: Pecan’s workability on a lathe makes it suitable for bowls, pens, decorative spindles, and other turned wood objects.
- Carving boards: The closed grain creates a smooth, durable surface resistant to bacteria, making pecan a good choice for cutting boards and butcher blocks.
- Gunstocks: Pecan’s density absorbs recoil well for rifle butt stocks and shotgun stocks.
- Woodenware: Pecan’s hardness makes it a good choice for mallet heads, ruler bodies, and other wooden tools/implements.
- Smoking wood: Pecan wood’s mild, sweet smoke flavor makes it ideal for smoking meats.
Pecan Wood for Cooking
In addition to woodworking and building applications, pecan wood can also be used in cooking and grilling. The wood imparts a mild, sweet, nutty flavor that enhances many foods. Here are some popular ways pecan wood is used for cooking:
Smoking Meat and Fish
Pecan is a prized wood for smoking brisket, pork shoulders, sausages, turkey, chicken, and fish like salmon or trout. The smoke subtly complements and rounds out the flavor of the meat without overpowering it. Pecan wood chips, chunks, or pellets burned in a smoker or grill produce a clean, smooth smoke perfect for low and slow barbecue. The wood’s high oil content creates excellent smoke production.
Grilling Planks and Pellets
Soaking pecan planks in water then placing fish fillets directly on the wood is a popular grilling technique. The plank imparts flavor while keeping the fish moist. Pecan pellets burned in pellet grills and smokers also give food a sweet, nutty taste. Pecan pellets’ smoke penetration and heat beautifully cook meats with a hint of wood flavor.
Firewood for Ovens and Campfires
As a firewood, pecan burns hot, evenly, and efficiently, producing very little smoke and spark. This makes it an excellent wood for brick pizza ovens and campfires used for cooking. The heat output and mild aroma are perfect for roasting meats and vegetables over an open fire.
So whether you prefer low-and-slow barbecue, planked fish, or campfire cuisine, pecan wood can enhance the flavor in all types of cooking. It brings out the sweetness and imparts the right amount of smoky richness.
Sustainability and Pecan Wood
When sourcing pecan, buying from sustainable sources is important to protect these native trees. Here are some best practices for eco-friendly pecan lumber:
Seek Out Salvaged Wood
Using reclaimed pecan from old barns, factories, or homes takes pressure off living trees. Reclaimed wood is often highly figured and stable as well. Just confirm its providence.
Look for Sustainably Harvested Wood
This involves selectively harvesting dead, diseased, or mature pecan trees while leaving younger trees intact. This preserves the ecosystem while utilizing the resource.
Support Local Sawmills and Foresters
Buying locally harvested pecan supports small businesses while keeping transport emissions low. Ask suppliers about their harvesting practices.
Avoid Endangered Rainforest Wood
Some importers market exotic rainforest woods as “pecan,” which is unsustainable. Verify the source and species.
Go FSC Certified
The Forest Stewardship Council certifies sustainably managed forests. FSC pecan reassures buyers of eco-friendly sourcing.
Pecan wood can certainly be harvested in an ethical, eco-friendly manner with responsible forestry practices. Seek out suppliers who prioritize sustainability.
Purchasing Pecan Wood
You’ll need to know where and how to buy this specialty wood for woodworking projects and cooking. Here are some tips on purchasing:
Forms of Pecan Wood
Pecan can be purchased in various forms:
- Lumber – Boards, turning blanks, timber
- Slabs – Cut from the log for tables or decoration
- Logs – For milling lumber or veneer
- Burls – Valuable figured wood for veneer
- Veneer Sheets – Thin pecan for layering over other wood
- Chunks & Chips – For smoking foods
- Sawdust – For cooking/smoking or as fuel
- Pellets – For pellet grills and smokers
- Cordwood – For firewood
No matter what form you need, pecan can be found at specialty lumber suppliers, either locally or online.
Due to its desirability and limited supply, pecan wood is more expensive than oak or pine. Expect a premium for wide boards and highly figured pieces like burls. However, prices vary based on availability in your region. Buying directly from local sawmills can offer some savings compared to major retailers.
Here are some approximate pecan wood prices:
- Lumber – $8-20 per board foot
- Turning Blanks – $10-30 each
- Burls – $5-20 per pound
- Logs – $5-10 per board foot
- Veneer – $125+ per square foot
- Smoking Chips – $10-20 per bag
- Pellets – $20-40 for 20 pound bag
- Cordwood – $300-500 per cord
For fine furniture or feature pieces, the added expense of pecan wood is well worth it for the working qualities and visual impact. But less expensive woods can be used for structural frames and secondary parts to save on costs.
No matter what you have planned for it, pecan wood will impress with its strength, beauty, and sweet aroma. Keep these purchasing tips in mind as you seek out this fantastic material.
Pecan Wood FAQs
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about pecan wood:
How long does pecan wood take to dry?
Freshly milled pecan needs 6 to 12 months of air drying to reach an equilibrium moisture content of 10-15%. Drying the wood too quickly can lead to defects like cracks and checking. Proper air drying in a dry, covered area with good airflow is best.
Does pecan wood need to be seasoned?
Yes, pecan should be properly air dried/seasoned after milling. Seasoning reduces moisture which prevents warping and decay. The pecan should be dried to 6-8% moisture content for furniture. For firewood, seasoning for at least 6 months is recommended.
What’s the best way to stain pecan wood?
Due to pecan’s closed grain, oil-based wiping stains generally achieve the best penetration and color depth. Apply a sanding sealer first, then use a pre-stain conditioner before staining for optimal results without blotchiness. Lightly sand between coats.
What screws work best for pecan wood?
For strength and to avoid splitting, use standard wood screws in pilot holes. For extra holding power, consider deck screws or square drive screws designed for hardwoods. Avoid coarsely threaded drywall screws which can split pecan.
Is pecan wood good for smoking?
Pecan is an elite wood for smoking brisket, pork, poultry, and fish. It burns cool and imparts a mild, sweet, nutty flavor that complements meats wonderfully. It’s excellent as wood chips, chunks, or pellets in any smoker or grill.
With its exceptional hardness, rich coloration, and sweet aroma, pecan wood is one of the premium North American hardwoods. While the supply is limited relative to woods like oak and maple, pecan’s unique beauty and versatility make it highly desirable for furniture, flooring, cooking, and craft woodworking. By understanding pecan’s characteristics, uses, and purchasing considerations covered in this guide, you can take full advantage of this remarkable material in your projects and culinary creations. Whether you have access to pecan trees on your property or need to source it from specialty suppliers, pecan wood will reward woodworkers, chefs, and DIYers with its strength, elegance, and flavor.