End grain is not often talked about and is a neglected part of your deck. You don’t think about it when you’re making your precise cuts. It’s only after you see some checking and cracking that you begin to really think about what effect the end grain has on the entire board.
These are the top 5 issues that usually arise from end grain neglect:
Screw cracking is very common especially if the deck is built by someone who’s unfamiliar with hardwoods like Ipe. This usually occurs when installers top-screw deck boards too close to the end especially without predrilling. Hardwoods have very tight grains and when you drive a screw close to the edge where the board ends, you risk splitting the board completely.
End checking occurs because of lack of end seal when cutting. A lot of deck builders install cut boards right away, but that can’t happen with Brazilian hardwoods. You have to remember that Brazilian hardwood’s wood fibers are very dense. When you expose the fibers through the end grain, moisture is rapidly absorbed and released, causing rapid expansion and contraction. This leads to checking in the wood ends. To prevent this, apply a wax based sealer like DeckWise Ipe Seal to every fresh cut you make.
One of the more serious issues that arise from improper end grain maintenance is board cracking. Board cracking is mainly caused when water gets into the end checks. When water enters small cracks during the colder months, it freezes, expands, and forces the cracks to grow until they run the whole length of the board. As more and more water enters, it feeds a vicious cycle that will ruin your deck.
Aside from the various issues mentioned above you can also experience cupping and warping of the board. If there is no end seal applied, the boards will quickly absorb and release moisture from the ends. This will lead to board movement near the ends, and no screw can prevent this.
Finally, remember that if unsealed ends are constantly exposed to moisture (for instance, near a pool, fountain, Jacuzzi, etc.) it can lead to rot. Brazilian woods are highly rot-resistant, but even they are no match when water penetrates the board to its core.
It seems like the stuff of nightmares, but all it takes to prevent it is a knowledgeable installer. Don’t put screws too close to the end, and apply end seal to all your cuts. They’re simple solutions that often go unheeded.
11 thoughts on “Top 5 End Grain Issues with Ipe and other Hardwoods”
So how close is too close for end board screw placement? If two boards are meeting over a 2×8 joist, there is little room available, i.e. 3/4″ from end at most to place the screws, unless additional blocking is provided. Need some recommendation advice on this point.
Using 1/2″ from the end as minimum will work out. As always, just make sure to predrill prior to installing the screw. That’s the most important aspect.
Thanks you for reaching out Dave.
Would living in an area with a lot snow and almost daily freeze – thaw cycles cause issues with cracking?
I’m already experiencing cracking on my hardwood decking (because the ends were not sealed!). Would applying IPE seal prevent further damage or is it just too late and I’ll need to replace when necessary. Appreciate any help.
Depends on how bad it is.
Checking will only worsen as water gets inside and freezes, widening the cracks. Further drying, accelerated by the existing cracks, will also cause the checking to worsen. Regular coats of Ipe Oil may help to slow this process, but it’s not what the product was designed for and won’t stop it indefinitely. Ipe Seal on the end grain will prevent new checks from forming, but won’t be a good solution for existing cracks (it would have to go on the deck surface, which will look bad and will wear off under foot traffic).
As long as the checks are small, they won’t compromise the structure of the deck.
If installing ipe decking with end grain facing pool will applying the end sealer you sell to boards prior to installation prevent all these issues? Do you need to re-apply to keep the protection? Is there alternative installation method that should be used in this senerio? Thanks
Generally you don’t need to reapply end seal. If it’s a concern you could do a picture frame border around the edge of the pool.
The installer didn’t apply an end-grain sealer while installing my Ipe deck. I am noticing minor cracks starting from the end grains and it has been ~3 months. Can I apply some end-grain sealer now to keep the damage in check?
You can try to apply it but depending on if you have any but seams you might have a hard time getting it in between. If you have all long length boards and the end grain is exposed then yes applying the Ipe end grain sealer will help but it will not fix the cracks/checks that have already started.
I have 5/4 Ipe decking installed for stairs. I live in the Northeast. I made sure I applied the IPE end seal wax to all my end cuts and did not screw to close to the edges. My ends still experienced some checking and cracking! Why did this happen when I am 100% positive, I applied a nice layer of the end grain sealer!
The wax helps prevent checking, sometimes it still happens unfortunately. If your end grain is exposed it’s possible you accidentally hit the ends with a pressure washer since most people will pressure wash their decks to clean them and refresh the color. If that happened it got washed off without you knowing it. If you live in an area that gets extreme temperature swings that could also make the wood more prone to checking as the wood is expanding and contracting more. Something you could try is using something stronger to seal the ends like and exterior rated epoxy or marine varnish. Ipe is incredibly tough so many products don’t adhere well so this would be trial and error and you definitely need something UV stable.