Exotic Import: Tropical Hardwoods
Massaranduba, cumaru, red tauari, tigerwood, ipe, and Philippine mahogany are just some of the tropical hardwoods available for decking. These exotic, rich-grained woods are extremely hard, very durable and naturally resistant to rot and insects.
However, because these woods are so dense, they’re heavy and difficult to cut and drill. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to drive a nail or screw without first boring a pilot hole, which is why tropical decking is typically installed with some sort of hidden fastener that clips or screws into the edge of the boards.
Tropical hardwoods are relatively expensive, especially when compared with PT lumber, but in most parts of the country they’re comparable in cost to redwood and cedar. The most common of all tropicals is ipe (EE-pay), which is also known as Ironwood or Pau Lope. It’s a beautiful hardwood that’s similar in appearance to mahogany, but a darker, richer crimson.
Most tropical hardwoods are so dense they don’t accept stains very well. But if you’re determined to apply a stain, be sure it’s an oil-based penetrating stain specifically formulated for hardwood decking, such as Messmer’s UV Plus Finish. If you choose not to stain the deck, you should at least apply a UV-blocking clear wood preservative every three to four years.
Bob Kiefer, owner of New Jersey-based Decks by Kiefer, is a high-end custom deck builder who installs nothing but ipe decking. He suggests allowing the wood to weather one to three months before finishing, so that excess oils can leach out and the decking can then better accept the finish. Kiefer also recommends applying finish to both ends of every board as extra protection against checking.
And like cedar and redwood, most tropical hardwoods weather to a soft silvery color if they’re not stained. The amount and speed of any fading depends greatly upon the deck’s exposure to sun, rain and snow.
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