Ipe has earned its great reputation by being one of the only hardwood decking products that will last as long as you own your house. It has a 40+ year lifespan, and this Brazilian tropical hardwood will add value and a lifetime of use and beauty to any deck, porch, siding, or interior flooring project.
Ipe is also known appropriately as “Ironwood” because of its remarkable hardness and density. Additionally, Ipe is very stable. Wood moves as moisture is absorbed and dropped from the ambient environment. Most species of wood do not move the same amount in all directions either, and it is this difference that will cause a board to warp and twist.
However, with Ipe the ratio between these movements (tangential vs radial) is almost identical, meaning the board does actually move the same amount in all directions… almost. The T/R ratio (shown at right) is 1.1 making Ipe very dimensionally stable and therefore a top performer in decking and other exterior situations where climate is not controlled. Regardless of this near even movement, consideration should be given to gap size between boards when installing Ipe as decking.
This is a tough issue since there is no standardized grading system. The reality is that with such a high global demand, the mills are exporting everything they can make. The North American market demands are very clear, and most mills do their best to only send the higher quality material, but as with any organic product there will be a mix of grades.
Though there is not a standardized grading system for Ipe, we consider Grade A Ipe to be clear of defects on at least 3 sides. Defects include knots, borer holes, or sapwood. In other words, grade A Ipe will have a straight or cathedral grain pattern with no holes or knots.
Quartersawn Ipe will present some raised grain areas where the internal structure of the wood (medullary rays) is much harder and will appear as ridges that may need to be sanded. This is not a defect; rather, it is an indication of a quartersawn board which will have very straight grain and be extremely stable.
The difficulty lies in that the quality of the Ipe that you want can’t be so easily broken down into grade A or grade B since using as much of the log and eliminating waste is a high priority all the way up the supply chain. The material that is available for sale will have a wide variety of grade and pricing can change to reflect how much A and/or B grade you really want.
Ipe Color Variation
The color of Ipe is mostly a deep reddish brown, though variation is possible as with all woods. The enormous geographic range of Ipe especially can create variance in color and appearance based on local climate and soil chemistry and even how and when it is cut. Obviously, this is where some amount of quality control is necessary.
Ipe quality control is very important to us; follow the link to learn more about our quality control efforts. Ipe wood is prized for its lustrous rich brown color, but like all wood, it will fade in sunlight to an attractive silvery-gray patina if left untreated. You can retain the brown hue and radiant texture by periodically treating your wood with an appropriate timber oil or by periodically using a deck cleaner and deck brightener.
Ipe is most commonly used for decks, bridge building projects, boardwalks, marinas, outdoor furniture, and other outdoor applications. If the boards are kiln dried, Ipe wood can also make for an attractive interior flooring option. Because of Ipe’s incredible durability, it is usually chosen for very high traffic areas, where it can last for many, many years.
Because of its density and hardness, Ipe absorbs minimal moisture and typically experiences only minor shrinkage and movement after installation. It machines very well, and it rarely splinters or splits. The wood also resists decay and insect attacks.
Ipe is so dense that, even in its untreated, natural state, it has a class A fire rating, making it nearly as fire resistant as concrete or metal.
In other words, there is no wood more suited to the harsh decking environment than Ipe.
J. Gibson McIlvain carries both air dried Ipe decking that is surfaced on 4 sides and eased on 4 edges (S4s, E4E) or kiln dried, rough sawn material. Decking is air dried to a 12-18% moisture content so as to prevent checking (cracks in the end of the board) and excessive movement as the material is exposed to the weather.
We end seal our boards to prevent checking during transit and acclimatization to new locations. We recommend you apply a sealer whenever you cut Ipe decking to length for the same reasons. Ask us about end sealer, and we can provide that with your order. For interior applications, the kiln dried material must be used since modern climate controlled interiors are much drier and the 6-8% kiln dried material is better suited.
Ipe InstallationOur Ipe decking can be installed by face screwing or by using hidden clip fasteners. We can groove the material at our millworks upon request. We also carry a full line of Ipe clips, screws, bits, sealer, and oil for your decking projects. Ipe is a tough wood and has some eccentricities when it comes to installing it.
Click here to learn more about Ipe installation best practices
Please remember that even though Ipe decking is a milled product it is NOT a finished product. Additional sanding, finishing, and/or cleaning may be required after installation. While we can offer sanding and pre-finishing services, we often discourage this as so much can happen to your Ipe from the time it leaves our lumber yard to the time you begin construction with it at your job site.
If nothing else, once your deck is installed, use a deck cleaner and deck brightener product to remove any dirt and to give you that freshly milled look. Ask us about these products, and we can include them with your order as well.