There are so many things to love about tropical hardwood decking! For instance, it’s absolutely stunning! It’s also weather-resistant and extremely hard and dense — all qualities that make it likely to last for decades. However, if you’re accustomed to installing lower-end decks made with softer material, you might be in for some surprises.
For instance, tropical hardwood decking species still require that you plan for and accommodate wood movement. There are also ways in which you need to work with tropical hardwood decking that will save your tools and help you avoid great frustration. As long as you’re aware of them, though, you can be proactive and avoid the worst of the potential problems that can surface.
Dealing with Rough Wood
Because Ipe and other tropical hardwood decking species have such high levels of hardness and density, their boards often include areas with raised grain that’s rough. Part of what leads to this unattractive characteristic is intentional: decking lumber is frequently quartersawn in order to showcase the amazingly consistent grain as well as to maximize the wood’s stability. However, quartersawn lumber also reveals medullary rays. These extremely dense internal structures once carried nutrients throughout the tree. (While this same basic issue also affects softer lumber species, it isn’t as significant.) These rough areas can’t be easily smoothed out or planed, so freshly milled tropical hardwood decking boards will typically require sanding in order to achieve that ideal, smooth surface which we all appreciate on a deck.
Avoiding Tool Trouble
Because of their extreme hardness and density, tropical hardwood decking lumber can cause trauma to your tools. Not only do Ipe, Cumaru, and other such species require remarkably sharp tools, but they can also cause havoc on any tools used to work them. One major aspect of working with any of these species is pre-drilling holes; otherwise, such dense lumber can easily split. You’ll need to use a robust cordless drill to drill larger holes, since the surrounding fibers will resist compression, unlike pressure-treated decking lumber, which is 6 times softer than Ipe. However, even predrilling can result in broken drill bits or even a burnt out drill motor. You’ll definitely want to factor in these possibilities as well as the extra time needed, when you quote prices for tropical decking installation.
On the topic of price, tropical hardwood decking species come with some unique challenges. While lumber pricing in general is far from straightforward, tropical lumber species face particular challenges. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t recommend them. Instead, we highly recommend tropical lumber for decking. In addition to providing an excellent, long-lasting choice for your new deck, purchasing exotic decking offers many benefits for the environment and the future. But between the distance that this lumber comes and the additional regulations and seasonal availability issues that plague many species, it’s especially helpful to plan ahead to purchase as much tropical decking as you’ll need throughout the season, early on and in bulk.
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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.
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