Tropical hardwood decking definitely offers a unique set of benefits and challenges, compared to other types of decking lumber. At the same time, though, premium species such as Cumaru or Ipe are essentially installed the same way as pressure-treated Pine or other decking materials. You have two basic installation methods from which to choose: face screwing or using hidden fasteners. While face screwing offers the benefit of being quick as well as offering security, hidden fasteners allow the decking planks to retain an unblemished face while still allowing for movement. Let’s take a more detailed look at both basic options.
Why Choose Hidden Fastening Systems?
As we’ve already mentioned, a major factor that promotes the use of hidden fastening systems is aesthetics. And that makes sense: After all, that’s a main reason that many customers choose tropical hardwood decking to begin with. Due to the great density and hardness of tropical hardwood species such as Ipe, it seems to make good practical sense to drill into the softer decking substructure to attach a clip than to drill through much denser decking boards, risking breaking drill bits or even burning out your drill motor!
For those building a deck exclusively using tropical hardwoods, this reasoning falls apart. Even if you’re using another species for the decking substructure, though, you’ll end up drilling into the harder lumber too, since most clip manufacturers recommend drilling through the bottom half of the decking board to affix the clip to the joist beneath it on one side.
An added benefit of hidden fastener systems is that one edge of the board will remain free to expand and contract as temperature and moisture levels shift. While this scenario may lead to somewhat uneven gaps at times, it will also allow boards to resist warping. One leading hidden fastener system is the Ipe Clip®, whose manufacturer provides a number of helpful installation videos.
Why Choose Face Screws?
Ironically, the very same seasonal movement issues cited above offer the greatest argument used by proponents of face screwing. Freedom to move, they allege, also means freedom to twist and warp. However, face screwing improperly can essentially restrict the board to the point that structural damage down the road (and costly repairs) are virtually inevitable. Critics of hidden fasteners are correct in that the natural flexibility of a board will be helpful in allowing it to be secured to a joist; if only one screw is used along the width of each board, it will retain the freedom necessary to allow it to expand and contract with moisture shifts.
At the end of the day, the majority of our customers prefer hidden fasteners for their tropical hardwood decking projects. But as long as you’re careful about the size gap between decking boards, either method can be used to install a stable and long-lasting tropical hardwood deck.
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J. Gibson McIlvain Company
With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods. As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House and Capitol building. Contact a sales representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling toll free (800) 638-9100.