Ipe has many challenges, starting with significant seasonal shifts in availability and pricing (see Part 1), tied to its natural limitations due to the Brazilian rainy season. Add to that the fact that many of Ipe’s most sought-after characteristics also contribute to some unique difficulties in working with it (see Part 2). In the case of Ipe, the unusual beauty it displays, combined with its extreme longevity, certainly helps outweigh the added considerations you need to take when working with it.
Preparing Ipe Decking Lumber for Installation
Typically used for exterior applications such as decking, Ipe is usually air dried to somewhere between 14 and 18% moisture content, just like other decking lumber species. Unlike kiln-dried boards, which are dried to moisture levels less than 8%, Ipe decking boards need to be air dried to avoid warping. Otherwise, drier boards would soak up added moisture in the air or with the first rain, ruining your brand new, gorgeous deck.
Because climates vary in moisture level, Ipe decking should be stored out of direct sunlight and stacked and stickered for an acclimatization period of at least 2 or 3 weeks, so the boards can come into an equilibrium with the surrounding atmosphere. During that time period, you can expect a 4-inch-wide board to expand or contract up to ⅛ inch or a 6-inch wide board to swell or shrink by up to ¼ inch. And trust us: you want this kind of movement to happen before the boards are screwed to your decking sub-structure.
Planning for Proper Ipe Decking Installation
The same moisture content concerns make a difference when it comes to installing your Ipe deck. Make sure that you design your Ipe deck with proper ventilation in view. Ground side ventilation is extremely important for a ground level deck, since it will help promote even movement throughout the deck board, throughout seasonal shifts in moisture levels. In addition to proper ventilation, using end sealant on cut ends of boards will help slow movement; if you don’t take this important step, checking and splitting can easily result.
Color Matching Ipe Decking Boards
Color matching can be a difficult issue with any lumber species, since wood is a naturally occuring resource, rather than a fabricated material. The fact that there’s a scientific reason for color variation doesn’t seem to help when a deck looks mismatched.
When it comes to variation in color and grain, Ipe displays more than other species. The reason for this is simple: Ipe grows across a wider area than most other lumber species, and each location has its own combination of factors that influences color. Since Ipe is brought from several areas into a single saw mill or distribution center, a wide spectrum of Ipe typically makes it into a single shipment.
Differences in color will mellow over time due to oxidation, allowing boards to blend into closer matches. By applying stain or other finishing products, you can encourage a greater degree of matching right away.