All About Hardwood Decking

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If you're familiar with HGTV or Dwell magazine you've probably seen the word "Ipe" or "Brazilian Hardwood" pop up a few times. There's no doubt that tropical hardwoods are becoming more and more popular for decks, decks, sidings, and other modern applications: but how do you make sure you're specifying the right material for your project? We've written this article with all of the information you need to make the right Hardwood choice for your upcoming project. We will discuss our four most popular hardwoods at TimberTown: Ipe, Garapa, Tigerwood, and Cumaru.

Ipe

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Ipe (EE-pay) is an incredibly durable Brazilian Hardwood, and is rated by the US Forest Lab for 25 years plus, which is the highest rating they offer. This hardwood is perfect for exterior commercial and residential applications such as decks, docks, siding, or exterior furniture. From Dinner Key Marina in Miami to the Coney Island Boardwalk in New York City, Ipe has proven durability. It can be sealed to maintain its natural beauty or wether to a beautiful silver gray.

Sealed Ipe
Sealed Ipe
Weathered Ipe after 9 years
Weathered Ipe after 9 years

Ipe resists surface checking and is naturally resistant to molds, which are the two most common destructive forces to decks and other exterior projects. When compared to other decking materials such as Redwood, Cedar, or pressure treated materials, Ipe lasts longer and is naturally more resistant to fire, weather, insects, moisture and movement. If you compare the one time cost of Ipe to the 3-5 times you need to replace other materials over the lifetime of Ipe, the value of this hardwood becomes clear!

Overall, Ipe can be a difficult hardwood to work, being extremely hard and dense, with high cutting resistance during sawing. Ipe also has a pronounced blunting affect on cutting edges. The wood generally planes smoothly, but the grain can tear out on interlocked areas. Also, Ipe can be difficult to glue properly, and surface preparation prior to gluing is recommended. Straight-grained wood turns well, though natural powdery yellow deposits can sometimes interfere with polishing or finishing the wood.

Garapa

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Hailing from South America, Garapa has a light color that's light on the wallet too. It's one of the only light-colored hardwoods with good exterior durability that's commercially available. Garapa may not have the hardness of Ipe or Cumaru, but what it lacks in density this product makes up for in consistency, beauty, and affordability. The most common applications for Garapa are exterior decking and siding.

Garapa has a golden to yellowish brown color, which darkens with age. The wood is fairly chatoyant, and appears to shift from dark to light coloring in different lighting angles. It's grain is usually straight, but can also be interlocked. It has a uniform medium texture with a moderate amount of natural luster.

Garapa's rot resistance is rated as durable, though it can be vulnerable to termites and other wood boring insect attacks. It is fairly easy to work work, despite it's density. It glues well and finishes well, and is about average for dimensional stability.

Tigerwood

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Want a hardwood that lives up to the name exotic? Look no further than the bold and elegant striping of Tigerwood. Like its namesake, Tigerwood combines beauty and strength in one elegant hardwood. Commonly used for decking, this wood has superb stiffness, strength, hardness, and durability. However, density and other mechanical properties can vary widely depending on the growing site and source region. The name "Jobillo" is sometimes used to refer to higher grades of Goncalo Alves among wood turners.

Heartwood is typically a medium reddish brown with irregularly spaced streaks of dark brown to black, giving it the look of tiger stripes. The color darkens with age if not properly sealed. Tigerwood's grain can be straight, but is usually wavy or interlocked. Fine, uniform texture with good natural luster. Tigerwood has excellent weathering properties, and is rated as very durable regarding decay resistance.

Tigerwood (Goncalo Alves) is generally not too difficult to work, despite its high density. Figured pieces with irregular grain can pose a challenge in planing and machining operations. It can also have a moderate blunting effect on cutters. The wood is very resistant to moisture absorbtion, which can make it difficult to glue. Tigerwood turns and finished well.

Cumaru

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Often overlooked by those seeking the more popular hardwoods - like Ipe and Tigerwood - Cumaru is an excellent alternative to pricier hardwood products. Harvested primarily in Brazil, most Cumaru has the reddish brown look of Ipe (the most popular Brazilian hardwood) with a similar density and durability. Cumaru can also come with streaks of yellowish brown, which is sometimes sold under the trade name "Brazilian Teak". However, Cumaru is not related to true Teak (Tectona Grandis).

Cumaru is also called by the name Tonka Bean, and the tree is commonly cultivated for its vanilla-cinammon scented seed- the tonka bean - which contains a chemical compound called coumarin. Coumarin has been used in perfumes since 1820, and gives Cumaru its aroma. Cumaru lumber is extremely stiff, strong, and hard, lending itself well to a variety of applications. The heartwood also fluoresces under a black light, which can help distinguish it from Ipe.

Cumaru's heartwood tends to be a medium to dark brown, sometimes with a reddish or purplish hue; some pieces may have streaks of yellowish or greenish brown. Its grain is interlocked, with a medium texture and a waxy feel. Cumaru has excellent durability and weathering properties. The wood is rated as very durable regarding decay resistance, though it may be susceptible to some insect attacks. Cumaru tends to be difficult to work on account of it's density and interlocked grain. If the grain is not too interlocked, Cumaru can be surface-planed to a smooth finish. However, the wood contains silica and will have a moderate blunting effect on tool cutters. Due to its high oil content and density, Cumaru can present difficulties in gluing, and pre-boring is necessary when screwing or nailing the wood.

Visit our resources page to learn about the products we carry and specialty building products in general. We have featured projects and an interactive photo gallery if you'd like to see more of the hardwoods listed above.