Deck the Walls
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.”
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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