Ipe, for all its excellent durability and beauty, presents some unusual dilemmas when it comes to installation. For those who don’t realize the potential problems that can come up when working with this extremely hard and dense species, we’d like to help you avoid some not-so-pleasant surprises as you install a new Ipe deck. Our hope is that you can avoid common pitfalls and expertly install your Ipe deck with care and precision, allowing your customer to enjoy their new Ipe deck for decades to come.
Ipe Decking Is Rough
Often, decking lumber is quartersawn in order to maximize the lumber’s stability as well as to showcase vertical face grain. A side-effect of this practice is that medullary rays, internal structures used to carry nutrients throughout the tree, end up becoming exposed. These dense structures rebel against planning, creating a need for added sanding. While these raised areas are not actually defects, they can make the texture of an Ipe deck seem rough. It’s important to note that these structures are present in softer woods, but the extreme hardness of Ipe makes them more noticeable.
Ipe Decking Can Warp
Now, don’t get worried — just because it can warp doesn’t mean it will! But all species of decking have higher moisture levels than kiln-dried lumber intended for interior applications. Decking lumber, instead of being kiln dried, is typically air dried to between 14 and 18% moisture content, levels necessary in order for an exterior product to remain stable. Boards that are kiln dried below an 8% moisture level are left thirsty for moisture and would soak up plenty in a humid climate or at the first sign of rain. By keeping the moisture level at higher levels, large swings in moisture content are prevented, along with quick expansion.
Ipe Decking Can Become Stable
Along with purchasing Ipe decking that’s dried to outdoor levels, including an acclimatization period in your timetable is essential for avoiding warping. During that period, you’ll want to avoid direct sunlight and encourage proper air flow for at least 2 or 3 weeks. As the wood comes into equilibrium with the local climate, your Ipe decking may expand or contract as much as 1/8” on a 4” wide board or ¼” on a 6″ board, which is obviously best completed before being attached to a rigid substructure.
During installation, you’ll want to take steps to ensure stability. First, you need to incorporate proper ground and side ventilation in order to encourage even air flow and movement throughout seasonal fluctuations. Once boards are cut to length, an end sealant needs to be used in order to reduce swelling of the exposed ends. Anchorseal is one product we recommend for this purpose.
For more tips on installing Ipe decking, check out Part 2.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
For more information on J. Gibson McIlvain’s lumber products and services, call Monday-Friday toll free (800) 638-9100 to speak with one of their representatives.