Deck Construction with Ipe

Woodworkers talk about working and fastening Ipe decking, and discuss its machinability and toxicity. February 6, 2007

I'm about to bid on a large deck job using ipe t&g.
1) Is it even possible to get consistently straight lengths in this species (the wood is so hard I can't imagine having success pulling in a bowed piece)?
2) Is there an air driven fastener that would work to secure the ipe through the tongue?
3) Will the t&g joint be a problem in an exterior application?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
1) In my experience, it's possible to get ipe that is remarkably straight.
2) Also in my (limited) experience, it needs to be drilled for screws. Didn't have success with pneumatic nailers of various types.
3) What kind of problem were you anticipating from the T&G?

I don't know where you're located, but odds are it's halfway around the world from me, so maybe what's available in your area is somewhat different. The ipe we get is so straight and uniform it makes you wonder if it's natural. Stuff is just so damn hard...

From contributor C:
I just went out to look at our stock of ipe. I saw very few boards with crook (sidebend) in them. This is out of hundreds of boards I looked at, so I concur with contributor D about the straightness of ipe. Do not know anyone using pneumatic nailers; always drilled and fastened.

From contributor K:
Don't worry about the straightness. I make my own straightener, which functions similar to the commercially available Tweaker. Mine's nothing more than an eccentric shaped cam cut into the end of a 6' long piece of oak, hard maple, hickory or the like with a couple large dowels driven through to grab onto the joist as you leverage the decking into submission. If that makes no sense, buy The Tweaker from Tool Crib.

For fastening, use Eb-tye biscuits, and buy yourself an extra plate joiner blade or two. Oh, you'll probably also want to have a fresh saw blade on hand (LOL!).

From contributor W:
The one thing that ipe is is straight. As for air driven nails, no way. Plan on using a drill and ss screws.

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
Ipe is over 50% heavier than oak. It also consists of 10 or more different species, so there is some variation in the raw material. When fastening with nails, you must pre-drill the holes; 80% to 90% of the diameter of the fastener will result in no loss of strength. Similarly for screws.

From contributor J:
I'm surprised no one has answered the main question. There's no way I would use t&g of any species on an exterior deck exposed to either water or direct sun, and certainly not if to both.

I would imagine that the overall width of your ipe is probably at least 5 1/4, being t&g, and even pressure treated 5/4 yellow pine cups when installed with space between boards and screwed down securely.

The only ipe I've ever seen that was probably real ipe was imported from Brazil by the Brazilian architect/developer, doing a number of custom homes. That stuff was a greenish brown/tan when freshly cut, and the dust would turn sweat red on your skin and burn your eyelids and tender skin. The entire crew, including a bunch of Brazilians, wore respirators, gloves, long sleeve shirts and head bands when routing it.

So I would use a blade with few teeth and an aggressive hook angle when cutting it to keep the sawdust particles as big as possible - if it's the same ipe. Perhaps Dr. Gene has more info on the toxicity of the stuff. I figure anything that bugs, lichens, molds and other microscopic critters won't eat can't possibly be benign to breathe.

But no way would I use T&G - from a mechanical standpoint.

From contributor S:
As decks get more involved, we see quite a bit of ipe used - including T&G. I know of several installs now that are 4-5 years old and still look great. The T&G was laid with a bit of clearance, and milled with slight eased edges. Of course, the slope of the surface is designed to run water. The better installs never use nails - they would rust to dust long before the material ages. In fact, the through screws (504 stainless and similar) are countered and plugged, or the system of fastening from underneath is used.

Treated #2 YP it ain't.

From contributor C:
Decktop preference might depend on where you live. Here in Michigan, I want a deck that drains and dries fairly quickly, but in an arid climate with little rain, such as Colorado, T&G would work well for a deck. I have sold a T&G ipe deck here, and it has held up well after 4 years.

Ipe sawdust can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals, and respiratory difficulty in others, so it is advisable to take precautions against this.

From contributor M:
Regarding toxicity, is there a carcinogenic quality? Do you need a respirator or just a dust mask? I know people can develop a sensitivity to cedar dust. Is this a similar situation or are further precautions warranted?

From contributor Y:
My very first deck project was working with ipe as the decking. We got the wood from Lumber Liquidators. The boards we used were 3/4X4X20. Most of the boards were very straight. We had no problems bending the ones that were not so straight with clamps. We also used a hid-a-track system that worked very well. And of course we had to pre-drill all the holes for the hid-a-trak. That was a very long and tedious task.