Ipe (pronounced Eepay) is a tropical hardwood from the forests of South America. Other common names include Amapa, Cortex, Guayacan, Flor Amarillo, Madera Negra and LaPache Negra. Some of the large commercial importers have even tagged their own brand names to Ipe such as: Ironwood™, Pau Lope™ and Brazilian Walnut.
Ipe has a Class A fire rating, is extremely dense and offers outstanding performance in deck and dock applications. Plentiful throughout South-Central America Ipe will grow in marshes or on ridge tops. It is one of the tallest trees in the Amazon with heights exceeding 120 feet and trunk diameters to 6 feet.
Like you, J&W Lumber is committed to our environment and all Ipe imported from South America is harvested from professionally managed sustainable forests.
Unlike softwoods such as Redwood and Cedar (which are renown for being easy to cut, drill and screw) Ipe is a different animal requiring skill, patience and the proper tools to help the installation go smoothly.
Air seasoned Ipe (dried on stickers*) is typically available in common decking sizes such as 1x6 and 5/4x6. Generally speaking 5/4 decking is more stable than 1x6 (thinner planking is more prone to movement) but we recommend allowing either size of air seasoned product to acclimate for at least one week at the job site to allow boards to stabilize prior to installation. It has been our experience that in hotter climates, such as the arid inland regions of Southern California, customer expectations are better served with the performance of a kiln dried hardwood (ie. Mangaris Diamond) or air dried 5/4 products. Cooler beach or mountain climates are well served with 1x6 Ipe.
Regardless of the geographic area the deck design should provide at least 12” – 16” of ground clearance to assure proper ventilation. Ipe does not perform well installed on low lying “sleepers” or directly onto cement, it needs to breathe. Do not inhibit airflow under the deck by skirting solidly to ground level, use lattice panels to screen understructure if desired.
*Stickers are small lengths of wood that are used to separate the planks during shipping and drying. If your Ipe boards arrive with sticker marks, they will fade away on their own with time. Oxilic acid washing with a stiff brush may help to accelerate fading, follow directions on container. Do not finish deck until sticker marks have faded away.
Safety glasses and a dust mask should be worn when working with all hardwoods. Hardwood dust is very fine and some people may have allergic reactions. Splinters should be removed immediately to help avoid infection.
Cutting, End Sealing, Drilling
Carbide tipped saw blades and quality drill bits and countersinks are needed for working with all hardwoods. Choose a counter sink bit that is designed for use with the fastener you’ll be using. After end cutting Ipe always seal fresh cut ends with a wax, J&W recommends “Anchorseal”. End waxing will help prevent cupping, warping or splitting.
Always consult your local building codes to assure you are complying with your local building codes.
Generally speaking 1x4 and 1x6 can be installed on joists that are 16” on center. 5/4” and thicker boards can be installed on 24” O.C. but many builders prefer 16” O.C.
When installing deck boards on an angle reduce joist spacing to 12”. Consult local building codes for the final say.
There is very little shrinkage lengthwise in Ipe (more so in 1x6 than 5/4x6, even less in 2x6) so ends can be butted together. Ipe will shrink widthwise and needs to be gapped. In hot, dry climates gap deck boards at least 1/16” and gap 1/8” to 3/16” in cooler, wet climates. Wood will expand in cold, wet weather and contract in hot, this gapping is necessary to help avoid buckling. These recommendations are provided as guidelines only, check with a J&W professional for more information specific to your area. In our Southern California climate for instance, 6 months after install it is not uncommon to see gaps approaching 3/8” on air-dried 1x6 product even though original gapping was 1/8”, this product will move so plan ahead for it.
All Ipe decks should be built at least 12”-16” off the ground and should remain well ventilated, do not enclose with perimeter fascia that extends to the ground.
J&W Lumber recommends top screwing Ipe only. Depending on the climate at your site use a #8 stainless steel trimhead or #10 stainless steel bugle head screw that will penetrate the joists at least 1 ½”. Bugle head screws offer more “hold down” than trim head screws and trimhead screws are slightly less visible on the deck. Both style screws are available with Ipe colored heads. ¼” x 3/8” Ipe plugs are available to completely hide the #10 bugle heads if you find the head size bothersome.
Your J&W professional can assist in the final decision on fasteners. Non-stainless steel screws should be avoided as they can cause discoloration near the screw.
Always pre-drill pilot holes when top screwing Ipe. Go in ¾” from board ends and ¾” in from the sides of the boards and counter sink them. Use a quality countersink stop so all screw heads go in consistently just below the deck surface, do not install too deep into the wood. Use two screws at every joist assuring board ends meet over joists, sister an additional joist if needed to assure board ends are solid.
Finishing Air-Seasoned Ipe
If left unfinished (to weather naturally) Ipe will age to a grayish silver patina and remain relatively maintenance free. If sealing or staining use a hardwood sealer/stain that is designed especially for hardwood decking. If it is your desire to keep your hardwood deck looking like a piece of furniture be aware that there can be considerable yearly maintenance involved, including repeated finish applications.
We recommend doing tests on scrap boards prior to finishing your entire deck to assure there is no unwanted color change.
Prior to finishing allow the original “mill glaze” and/or sticker marks to fade away. Before applying stain the deck should be washed with a mild detergent to remove dirt and any remaining marks. Some commercial brands of hardwood deck cleaner are also available.
At J&W we suggest an oil based hardwood stain with UV inhibitors such as SuperDeck or Penofin. Due to the high density of Ipe very little sealer/stain will penetrate the product. Follow manufacturers directions carefully and do not over apply. Generally speaking you will be applying a light coat and wiping off any excess with a clean cloth after 20 minutes.
Sealer brands differ in their recommendations about applying second coats. Follow manufacturers recommendations closely.