Milling Ipe with a Router

Ipe wood is hard, stubborn and toxic. Wear a respirator and use carbide tooling. June 23, 2006

I am going to bid on an ipe rail system for a 600 foot beach boardwalk. The rail's top is rounded. I have not used ipe, only hearing of its hard-to-work quality. What kind of tooling would I need and are there challenges to be aware of when milling this wood?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor J:
Use sharp tools and wear a respirator!

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
The density of the wood can vary quite a bit from site to site and can be 50% heavier than oak at times. It also has crossgrain. Both the weight and the grain mean very difficult machining. Probably you will have to use carbide to prevent constant sharpening. Horsepower requirements will be higher than normal.

From contributor M:
Ditto to what contributor J said, especially about the respitator. A dust/particle mask will not be the same at all. I machined some ipe, a fairly small amount, but the dust seemed to be almost toxic. I had a severe burning sensation in my mouth, nose, and throat. I would probably wear some sort of glove if possible, and some long sleeves.

From contributor A:
We've milled quite a bit of ipe in the shop, from handrails to freehanded arches for pergolas. We had to route large mortise and tenons as well. It has a false reputation of being difficult to mill. We found it cut very nicely on the shaper with HHS. It is so hard and the grain so tight, it actually mills more like a hard plastic.

The dust is noxious and toxic. It will give you a nasty respiratory infection if you don't wear adequate protection. It dyed my old boss' white Santa Clause beard green for a week.

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Comment from contributor N:
I work with ipe often as a substitute for teak on boats. It is heavy but the tight grain and oily wood does not make it difficult to cut or machine. Feed speeds are slower but it does not burn on the tool like other woods such as maple. Chip-outs are minimal. I hear that silica in the wood dulls tools but I am not sure if I have specifically noticed this as I work with many woods. I wear a respirator and goggles. The dust irritates my eyelids, cheeks, and other tender skin and breathing the dust when I started working with it made me sick (sinus pain and headaches).