There are so many factors in favor of tropical hardwood decking. While Ipe is definitely the top-of-the-line when it comes to density, hardness, weather resistance, and overall longevity, it’s also the most brutal on tools and difficult to work with. For those inexperienced in working with such hard, dense lumber species, the prospect can be daunting — or, worse, damaging. If you’re aware of the potential pitfalls of working with tropical hardwoods like Ipe, you can make proactive choices and avoid the most significant problems. The result will be a gorgeous deck that outlasts those made from pressure-treated material or composite decking products by far.
Understanding Tropical Hardwood Decking Movement
Are most tropical hardwood decking species incredibly stable? Yes, they are. But does that mean they cannot warp? Absolutely not. (In fact, the potential for warping is one reason some prefer hidden fastening systems.) Like any decking product, Ipe and other tropical hardwood decking lumber species will have higher moisture levels than lumber dried with interior applications in view.
Tropical decking boards are simply air dried to a moisture content ranging from 14 to 18%. And trust us: that’s what you want. If you started with kiln-dried lumber intended for interior use and used that for exterior decking, that thirsty wood would soak up plenty of moisture, leading to extreme movement. The higher moisture content levels of lumber intended for exterior use will help it to be able to withstand the shifts in moisture levels to which it will be subjected. But it’s still not a fool-proof scenario.
Avoiding Unnecessary Movement
When your decking lumber arrives on your job site, it’s imperative to allow for an acclimatization period of approximately 2 to 3 weeks. During that time period, the lumber will have time to come to an equilibrium with the moisture levels of its new environment; depending on the difference between the lumber yard and your job site, acclimatization may mean up to a ¼-inch shift in board width. Some key factors to keep in mind, when it comes to an acclimatization period, include storing the lumber in a stickered fashion, promoting proper air flow, and storing it out of direct sunlight.
Avoiding Unnecessary Movement After Installation
As much as you may reduce movement by providing a proper acclimatization period, you’ll never be able to eliminate its occurrence after installation; it’s simply a fact of life when it comes to using real wood. However, by planning your deck with proper ground-side ventilation and applying a wax-based end sealant such as AnchorSeal to any cut ends, you’ll be able to at least slow movement. Both moisture loss and absorption will be slower, even as your decking lumber responds to the moisture levels in the air surrounding it.
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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.