By Jo-Ann Kaiser | Posted: 08/31/2011 12:15PM


Deck the Walls

Family Name: Tabebuia species of the Family Bignoniaceae.

Common Names: Ipe, lapacho, lapacho negro, Brazilian walnut, amapa, cortex, greenheart, madera negra, tahuari, ironwood, ebene vert, amata prieto pau lope, pau d’arco, ipe tabaco, bethabara, cortez, guayacan, guayacan polvillo, flor amarillo, and lapacho negro

Height/Weight: The average height is 100 feet, with diameters of 2 to 3 feet, but the tree can grow to heights of 200 feet. The average weight is 64 pounds per cubic foot, but it can weigh as much as 75 pounds per cubic foot, with a specific gravity of 1.08.

Properties: Ipe Heartwood, is typically reddish brown, sometimes with a greenish tinge, and often with striping.

Its hardness can cause a blunting effect on tool edges. High quality carbide or diamond tipped tools are suggested. Pre-drill when surface fastening.

Machining generates dust that may cause breathing problems and dermatitis.
Hard, heavy, extremely durable and low maintenance are just some of the properties that have helped establish ipe as a great choice for decking, furniture and more.
“People see how it looks and performs for decking and are using it for outdoor furniture, fencing, outdoor kitchens, doors and even siding on home exteriors,” said Dan Ivancic, director of marketing at Advantage Trim and Lumber  in Buffalo, NY. “Ipe is used for interior flooring, too.”  

Marc Montgomery, managing director at New Hemisphere Ipe Furniture, and the website ipefurniture.com, based in Clearwater, FL, added that furniture is a natural progression for ipe. “We think furniture maximizes the properties of the wood and is one of its highest and best uses,” he said. The company sells  wood outdoor furniture, including chairs, benches andtables from South America.

Ipe also is a hit with customers of Helmstown’s outdoor kitchens. “Ipe has been a great alternative to brick, stone and stainless steel,” said John Evans, vice president of the Arab, AL-based cabinetry manufacturer. “Ipe is available in long lengths and is relatively easy to season. It is particularly well suited as a material for grill surrounds because it has a Class A fire rating.”

Helmstown also has a partnership with Sub-Zero and Wolf. “We produce ipe displays for their products,” said Evans.

And the applications continue to grow. Steel-framed garden gates with weather-resistant ipe (or Brazilian walnut, as it is sometimes called) is popular for Texas homes and businesses, said Jim Thomas, owner of Thomas Studio & Foundry in Jonestown, TX.  “Ipe is an interesting wood that is both challenging and rewarding. It is an extremely heavy wood, so heavy it doesn’t float in water. And as to durability, it is said that if an ipe tree falls in the forest, it will take 50 years for it to decompose. Ipe has natural oils that are similar to teak, and it handles bad weather well.”

Ipe is a very durable, yet low maintenance wood. It is ideal for outdoor applications, including decking. Photo: Advantage Trim & Lumber Comparisons to Teak
Ipe is often compared to teak in durability. Another trait they share is the reputation as a tool killer, said Thomas. “Ipe can be tough on tools but we don’t worry about the damage to tools because typically we are using it in a high-end project. If you have a $10,000 project, you aren’t going to worry about burning up $100 worth of blades,” he said.

Thomas said carbide-tipped blades are best for use with ipe. “Despite the hardness of the wood, it machines well. I think it works better than teak. You do need to work outdoors or in a very well-ventilated area because of the fumes. I’ve never had a problem with an allergic reaction to working the wood, but it can be a problem for some.”

Montgomery also noted the difficulty in working with ipe. “You always need pilot holes. Tools heat up when working the wood due to its density. Drill bits need to be cleaned frequently.” To alleviate this, he recommends kiln-dried wood for furniture applications and finishes that include oil plus a UV inhibitor.

Although durability is a factor in ipe’s appeal, it is also a very attractive wood, Thomas said. “Most of the ipe we see is very straight grained but you also find wood with a wild figure or grain pattern that can be as beautiful as figured walnut. I’ve made some wonderful paneling and we are using ipe for furniture, cabinetry, barhops and interior flooring.”

Ipe is found throughout continental tropical America and some of the Lesser Antilles, according to the USDA Forest Service. “The tree grows on a variety of sites, from ridge tops to riverbanks and marsh forests.”

Various species of Tabebuia share the name ipe, including Tabebuia avellandedae, Tabebuia ipe and Tabebuia serratifolia.

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About the Author

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.

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September, 19, 2011 at 10:02 PM

Horrible company. As well as there other company Advantage Trim and lumber

September, 19, 2011 at 10:02 PM

Horrible company. As well as there other company Advantage Trim and lumber

Francois Bruneau    
Ottawa  |  November, 30, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Good Article. We have used Ipe for a few years now and we have found it to be the best outdoor wood available for our high end furniture products. We are so confident on its durability that we offer Life time guaranty on our Ipe products. www.TheBestAdirondackChair.com


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