Ipe is not an abbreviation. Rather, it’s the common name of Tabebuia serratifolia, a tropical hardwood lumber specie. The correct pronunciation is “EE-pay”. Other common names for ipe include Brazilian walnut and ironwood.
The ipe tree is native to South America. However, it also grows throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, southern Florida, and other tropical regions.
Ipe wood is extremely dense, making it one of the most durable woods in the world. It’s also a beautiful wood, boasting a rich, dark brown color. As a result, ipe is highly sought after for high-end exterior woodworking projects. It’s a popular material for decks, siding, fences, and outdoor furniture.
AdvantageLumber.com carries the largest inventory of ipe lumber in North America. We mill ipe into decking, siding, interior flooring, live-edge slabs, and cabinet-grade lumber.
Ipe decking can last up to 75 years with hardly any maintenance. That’s great! But customers often wonder: what about the framing?
Deck framing is usually made of pressure treated pine. It’s cheap, easy to install, and readily available. But pressure treated pine is only rated to last about 15 years. So why would you spend all that money on 75-year ipe if you’re going to have to replace the deck in just 15 years anyway due to rotten framing?
It’s a great question! Here are a few way to make your framing last as long as your ipe decking:
Build the Frame with Ipe
The most obvious fix is to build your frame from the same material as your decking. This will certainly work, but it will be very expensive. And because ipe is so tough, it will be a lot harder to build the frame and secure the deck boards to it. For these reasons, we don’t typically recommend going this route.
Build the Frame with Metal
Metal deck framing comes with many of the same advantages and drawback as ipe framing: it’s expensive and difficult to work with. Additionally, metal products tend to react with ipe and stain the decking. Because of this, you’ll have to use joist and ledger tape as a protective barrier between the framing and the deck boards.
Metal framing can be a great solution if you don’t mind the extra cost and effort, but we don’t usually recommend it. However, now that we’ve brought up joist and ledger tape…
Build the Frame with Pressure Treated Lumber and Protect It with Joist and Ledger Tape
The third option—and the one we recommend—is to use pressure treated pine, then cover your joists, posts, and ledgers with a protective, waterproof tape.
Most wood deterioration is caused by exposure to the elements, especially moisture. The areas of your frame that are most susceptible to rot are places where the wood touches up against something else, creating tight spaces that trap water. Common culprits are the bases of posts in contact with the ground and the tops of joists in contact with the decking.
Joist tape creates a protective barrier between the decking and the joists and keeps the wood dry. Ledger tape does the same thing, but it’s wider so it can cover a broader area. Ledger tape is good for protecting ledgers, beams, and posts.
You should apply joist and ledger tape to all your horizontal framing surfaces. The tape should be wide enough to fold over the sides for maximum protection. You may have to cut the tape in order to wrap corners without creating wrinkles, which can allow water to seep in.
Using joist and ledger tape on your deck framing will drastically improve the lifespan of your deck without costing you tons of money or effort.
Ipe is an incredible wood, especially for decking. One of
the benefits we often mention is the low maintenance requirement. Once it’s installed,
you barely have to touch an ipe deck! Virtually the only thing you have to do
is oil it every year or so to preserve that rich brown color.
Of course, people looking for low-maintenance decking often want to know just how little work they can get away with. And who can blame them? Nobody builds a deck because they want to oil it every year! So what exactly will happen to your brand-new ipe deck if you decide to never oil it?
Un-Oiled Ipe Turns Gray
One of the first questions asked is what the decking will look like in a couple of years. It can actually be a little difficult to find pictures of weathered ipe; everyone just wants to show off that freshly oiled color! Well, you can put your curiosity to rest. Click on any of the photos below to see a bigger version:
Is Gray Ipe Weaker?
Another common question is whether the oil increases the ipe’s lifespan. Put another way, does letting ipe turn gray make it weaker?
You can relax. If you skip the maintenance, your ipe deck will still last up to 75 years. Regular oil treatments can increase that lifespan, but most people are pretty satisfied with three quarters of a century.
It’s also true that oiling can help make the wood resist cupping, especially in the case of ground-level decks, but as long as your deck was properly designed and built, this shouldn’t be a problem.
For proof, you need only look at the many large-scale, public projects that have used ipe decking. For instance, the Coney Island boardwalk used ipe for 90 years, and it was never oiled. Even after nearly a century of continual, heavy use, the wood was still strong enough when they replaced it that it was repurposed for use in high-end designer furniture!
If you don’t oil your ipe deck, it will turn gray, but that’s not a bad thing! A weathered ipe deck will still give you decades of low-maintenance backyard fun!
Ground-level decks are a popular option when designing backyard landscapes. But if you don’t take certain precautions, your dream outdoor living space can quickly become a maintenance nightmare. To ensure you get the most out of your ground-level deck, here are several things to keep in mind during the planning stage.
1. Ground-Level Decks Lack Ventilation
The number-one reason ground-level decking projects fail is a lack of ventilation. We always recommend at least 18 inches of ground clearance to allow for good air flow, but ground-level decks, by definition, flout this rule. Therefore, we don’t usually recommend building a deck at ground level.
So what happens? The deck boards cup. Moisture on top of the boards can evaporate thanks to its exposure to open air, but moisture under the boards is trapped. Since wood shrinks as it dries out, the tops of the boards contract. At the same time, wet wood expands, so the bottoms swell out. These two opposed motions cause the boards to curl upward—better known in the decking world as cupping.
There’s very little you can do to improve air flow in a ground-level deck, but there are some steps you can take to minimize the negative effects of poor ventilation.
2. Use Strong Hardwoods
South American hardwoods, which include species like ipe and cumaru, are some of the strongest decking materials in the world. Their dense grain structures resist cupping better than softer woods like cedar or pine. They also contain natural oils that help them to resist moisture and the problems associated with it.
3. Use Thicker Boards
It’s easy to roll up a single sheet of paper, but try doing it with an entire ream! The thicker your material, the harder it is to bend—or in our case, the less likely it is to cup. So when choosing your decking material, thicker boards are better. 5/4x or even 2x boards may be more expensive, but the hassle they’ll save will be well worth the extra cost.
4. Use Narrower Boards
Similar to the above point, a narrow board is less likely to cup than a wide board. Going back to the paper analogy, it’s generally easier to fold a piece of paper perpendicular to its long axis than its short axis, and the same principle holds with wood. Also, because the board is narrower, any cupping that does occur will be less extreme, simply because there’s less material to expand and contract. So when planning your deck, choose 4-inch boards instead of the typical 6-inch boards.
5. Oil the Boards Before Installing
As stated earlier, all of our hardwood decking species contain natural oils that help them resist moisture-related problems. But you can further protect the wood by coating each board with a special oil-based finish prior to installation. We recommend Ipe Oil, since it was specially formulated to work with Brazilian hardwoods. Be sure to coat all four sides!
6. Use Wider Gap Spacing
For ipe decking, we typically recommend 3/32-inch gaps between boards, and a 1/4-inch gap for our other decking species. Slightly increasing this gap can improve the air flow, even if only by a little. It won’t have a huge impact, but every bit counts!
7. Oil Regularly After Installation
South American hardwoods are known for being low-maintenance, but with a ground-level deck, you’re going to have to do some work. Annual oil coatings, using the same stuff you used prior to installation, will maximize the stability of your deck boards.
8. Build a Ground-Level Deck with Deck Tiles
While the above tips will help, traditional ground-level decks never come with a guarantee. At the end of the day, you’re still fighting against wood’s natural tendencies when installing so close to the ground.
But there is one other option. Hardwood deck tiles are made from narrow slats of wood and pre-assembled to resist cupping. They are designed specifically for ground-level use! As a bonus, deck tiles are also a lot easier to install than traditional deck boards.
It should be repeated that we usually try to steer customers away from ground-level deck projects because the risks of moisture-related problems are too great. But if your heart is set on a deck at or near ground level, then these tips will give you the best chances at success.
Can you paint ipe wood? It’s a common question, and the experts will always tell you the same two things:
Why would you want to?
Those can be frustrating answers. Maybe you want to use ipe for its strength, but you aren’t fond of its color. Or maybe you inherited a finished project from a previous homeowner whose tastes didn’t match yours. So what can you do?
Why Ipe Is Not Paintable
First, let’s look at the source of the problem. We paint wood all the time; why is ipe different?
Exotic hardwoods (including ipe and its friends: cumaru, tigerwood, etc.) are not like most woods. Paint won’t stick to them! For one, they’re just too dense. The tight grain squeezes other substances out, and creates a relatively non-porous surface (compared to softer woods) that leaves the paint with nothing to cling to.
Another reason paint won’t stick to ipe and its ilk is that these woods are saturated with natural oils. These oils repel the paint, much like how the oil on a duck’s feathers repels water.
It just so happens that these two characteristics, density and oils, are what make ipe such a good choice for exterior projects in the first place. The dense grain gives it an impervious structure, and the oils fight off mold and decay. It’s too bad that they also have the unfortunate side effect of making the wood difficult to paint.
And it’s not just paint. Most wood stains and film-forming top coats will struggle to maintain any lasting hold on ipe. That’s why companies developed specialized products like Ipe Oil® and Messmers for dealing with exotic hardwoods. These oil-based finishes were specifically formulated to penetrate deeply into ipe’s dense grain structure and enrich the wood’s natural characteristics.
Can Anything Be Done?
Some woodworkers have claimed mild success in painting ipe by taking a few preliminary steps. First, sand the ipe with coarse-grit sandpaper to rough up the surface a bit. This will give the paint something to cling to. Then, apply several layers of oil-based primer. Finally, you can paint the ipe, but use an oil-based paint instead of the usual latex stuff.
Having said that, these steps will not guarantee a perfect, long-lasting finish; and as a rule, AdvantageLumber.com does not recommend painting ipe.
Alternatives to Painting Ipe
Painting ipe may not be a good idea, but you do have some other options.
Use a Different Wood
If you’re starting a brand-new project, this is the best way to go. A wood like cedar may not have the strength and longevity of ipe, but you can paint it to your heart’s content. The paint will also help protect the wood, giving back some of the durability you sacrificed by using a softer wood specie.
Cover the Ipe in a Paintable Material
Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. Either ipe is required for its structural properties, or someone else installed the wood without asking you first!
In cases like this, when you absolutely must use ipe, you should first consider if you really want to cover up that beautiful, natural hardwood. If your answer is still “yes”, then your best option is to clad the ipe in a paintable material. Build a sheath or covering out of another wood, such as cedar or even pressure treated pine, and paint that instead. You’ll get the strong foundation provided by ipe as well as full control over the final appearance.
Summertime is here! While you break out the board shorts, we’ll break out the short boards! We do everything we can to eliminate waste, so we keep cutoffs to sell at bargain prices. Many lumber companies sell shorts at a discounted price, but few will call 7 FEET a short board. We do! Continue reading →
It is that time of year again. Old man winter has finally decided to make his annual retreat leaving us with warm days and warmer thoughts. This month w shake off the sweatshirt and trade it in for a bathing suit. Before you put the hot coffee down and run out for a cold beer there’s a couple things you should double check. The thing that may take the spring out of your step the quickest, is a sprained ankle.
May is NADRA’s (North American Deck and Railing Association) “deck safety month” for good reason. This is the time of year we really start to use our decks often. Based on data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 6,000 people are injured each year in incidents involving the structural failure or collapse of a deck or porch. The worst part of these accidents isn’t that they ruin a spring and summer but more that they are preventable with a little bit of forethought and diligence. You are going to want to make sure that everything is sturdy instead of appearing sturdy. One of the most common failure points is the ledger. Here’s a couple things to look for on a ledger.