Ipe decking is amazing. So are other species of tropical hardwood decking. But that doesn’t mean they don’t come with a few challenges. Some of those are related to moisture content, as we discussed in a previous post. But that’s not the only area in which they can cause frustration. The good news is that as long as you know about these issues ahead of time and are prepared for them, you can compensate for them and still end up with that gorgeous, tropical hardwood deck you’re dreaming of!
This time, we’ll take a look at some potential problems you can face due to the extreme hardness and density of Ipe and other tropical hardwood decking species.
Ipe decking is typically quartersawn, allowing for optimal stability as well as visual appeal. Whenever you see Ipe boards that showcase the vertical striping, showing the lumber’s consistent grain on its face, you know it’s been quartersawn.
Part of what creates the beautiful variegated effect is the presence of medullary rays. Once channels through which nutrients reached the inner areas of the tree, these structures now create harder, tougher parts of grain. (While the same structures certainly occur in all lumber species, exceptionally hard tropical species such as Ipe make them more pronounced than they are in softwood species.) Appearing as lighter stripes in the grain, these dense areas feel rough to the touch and resist attempts at planing in order to achieve a smooth surface.
As a result, quartersawn Ipe decking boards will require sanding in order to create a finished surface. As long as you realize that you will need to use a sander on the decking boards after installation, you’ll be fine. Just make sure you figure in the added time and overhead expense of doing so.
Tough on Tools
The extreme density and hardness of Ipe and other tropical decking species (think Cumaru, Massaranduba, Tigerwood) can make them pretty tough on tools. As a result, you’ll need to use particularly sharp tools and plan to pre-drill all holes; otherwise, your amazing decking lumber will split — and we know you don’t want that to happen!
Unlike pressure-treated decking lumber, these tropical hardwoods won’t compress around the screws you install, so you’ll need to prepare for driving in screws by drilling larger holes. And in order to drill those holes, don’t plan on your typical cordless drill or driver to be able to handle the job; you’ll need a more robust tool in order to complete the task. And you still might break a drill bit — or 2 or 3. So be sure to have some extras on hand. (Remember, tropical hardwoods may be up to 6 times as hard as pressure-treated Pine. So you’ll need about 6 times as much power to penetrate it!)
As long as you plan for the extra equipment and labor costs, as well as the added time, you’ll stand to succeed at your first Ipe decking installation. But if you don’t, well, don’t say we didn’t warn ya!
Continue reading with Part 3.