This post discusses the use of a relatively uncommon wood, Pecan wood, for wood turning and other wood working applications.

Geographical Distribution

The Pecan tree, scientifically known as Carya illinoinensis, is a relative of the hickory, a more wood more commonly used for wood turning and other applications.  Pecan is native to North America with a native range stretching from southern Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana to Virginia, southwestern Ohio, south through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Florida, and west into New Mexico.  The tree is also native in Mexico from Coahuila south to Jalisco and Veracruz.  The tree is mostly known as the source of the very popular food nut, the Pecan, of which the United States is the major producer in the world today.

General Characteristics

Pecan heartwood is generally a light to medium brown color, with an occasional reddish hue depending on the specimen and how close to the heart the piece was cut from.  The sapwood is a paler version of the heartwood, not white, but a pale brown with yellowish highlights instead of the reds of the heartwood.  The grain is usually straight, though occasionally wavy, with a medium texture.  Pores are medium-sized and open but are generally not so pronounced as to require filling before finishing.

The wood is considered to be non-durable both in terms of its susceptibility to decay and its weakness in the face of insect attack.  While these characteristics might well be of great importance to the Pecan growing industry, the limited uses for the wood are generally unaffected by these characteristics.  Perhaps surprisingly given the famous hardness of hickory species wood, these weaknesses tend to be true across other hickory relatives as well.

Working Characteristics

As is not uncommonly reported with hickory species woods, Pecan is considered by at least some as difficult to work with and tearout is reported to be commonly encountered during machining, especially if cutting edges are not kept sharp.  Sharp tools are always essential, but with some woods even more so.  Frequent touch ups on sharpening are likely to needed as Pecan has a known blunting effect on cutting tools.  Alternatively, use tools with replaceable carbide cutters to eliminate tool sharpening altogether.  Pecan tends to glue, stain, and finish quite nicely.

Most users don’t report a distinctive scent associated with Pecan wood but I personally find that there is a slightly fruity scent.


Pecan is considered to be a low-value wood and it doesn’t have many applications that can’t be duplicated by the more widely available species of true hickory.  Pecan should be low priced therefore, no more than other utility grade woods such as Red Oak or Soft Maple.  However, as with many woods, availability will drive pricing.  In areas where Pecan trees are commonly found either wild or in cultivation, you might be able to find the wood easily and cheaply.  However, this is not likely to be the case in areas of the world where trees are not readily found.  Pecan is not generally harvested as a timber wood and is therefore not likely to be exported to non-local markets.  If you want to work with Pecan, you should look in areas where it is native and/or cultivated, and given its generally uncommon nature, buy when you find.

None of the wood retailers that I routinely use stock or price Pecan, so I have no idea what to expect.  My samples of Pecan came from an area of cultivation and most likely from a tree grown either as an ornamental or for the nuts.  It was given to me free of charge and if you should be so lucky yourself don’t let it escape you.

Woodfinder is a website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers and I can’t speak to the quality of any of them, but they do have the advantage of performing searches based on your location which might allow you to visit a wood dealer in person to hand pick what you want to work with at a price you are comfortable paying.  A quick search of Woodfinder indicates multiple vendors claiming to have Pecan in stock at least some of the time.  Individual follow ups would be required if you are in the market.

Because Pecan wood is used as a flavor wood in cooking and smoking meats, you might find Pecan chips or chunks sold for this purpose, but they are unlikely to be of a size useful for woodturning or other woodworking applications.


Pecan has slightly lower strength values than some of the other species of Hickory, but it is still among the hardest and strongest of woods native to the United States. Because of this strength and hardness, the wood is mostly used where such characteristics are paramount such as in the manufacturing of tool handles, ladder rungs, wheel spokes, and occasionally flooring.  Again, other Hickory species are much more likely to be encountered in these applications than is true Pecan wood.

Pecan also has very high thermal energy content when burned, and is sometimes used as fuelwood for wood stoves.  Additionally, Pecan is also used as charcoal in cooking meat, with the smoke imparting additional flavor to the food.

Health Hazards

There have been no adverse health effects associated with Pecan, however, wood dust of many species has been known to cause reactions in sensitive individuals.  Therefore, care should be taken especially if an individual has experienced allergic reactions with other woods or wood dust.

Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database along with additional information about the best use of a dust collection system, coupled with the use of personal protective equipment such as respirators, which is highly recommended when machining this wood.  Fortunately, I have never experienced any negative side effects from working

My Personal Experiences

As I have indicated, my piece of Pecan was given to me free of charge and I feel lucky to have it.  I received a long plank that will make several shallow but nice bowls.  The wood was very well dried and seasoned when I received it.  I realize that some folks have reported difficulty with working Pecan but I found it turned like a dream.  I experienced no tear out and very little cross grain issues, much less than is common with a more typical wood, for example walnut.  The wood is hard but that makes it turn beautifully and finish nicely as well.  My first piece from the plank had some swirling the grain which was nicer than a simply straight grain would have been.  There were even some small knots included which did not blow out but add interest to the final piece.  A simple paste wax and shellac finish worked wonderfully.

I have also worked with true Hickory in the past, and while the trees are related, I find Pecan to be a much more reasonable wood to work with, and it also has far greater visual appeal in its coloration and grain as opposed to the often very plain Hickory.  While Hickory can be turned it is noticeably harder than Pecan and is also much more likely to split and have rough open pores.

If I had the chance I would gather more Pecan wood without question and I would encourage other wood turners out there who might have access to this rather unusual turning wood to try it without delay!