Installing Ipe decks

This deck beside the Ipswich River was built with pressure treated yellow pine framing and fir decking many ago. The framing is still in excellent condition. The owners wanted to replace the rotting deck with a wood that would survive the dampness of their shady yard along the Ipswich River, and eventually chose ipe, a dense and very durable wood from South America.

We replaced the fir railings with a vinyl composite rail. The builders had simply nailed the header joist to the house, and some of those nails had rusted away. I reattached the deck with 3/8″ lag bolts into the house sill. With the newer copper based preservative in modern pressure treated wood it is absolutely necessary that these bolts be double dip galvanized.

This was the first deck on which I used Tiger Claw Hidden Deck Fasteners TC-4 Exotic Hardwoods. With the supplied application tool, you pound the sharp teeth of the fasteners into the side of the deck board, then screws the fastener into the joist. They make a fastener appropriate to density of the chosen deck material. They’re expensive, but your deck will have no screws showing. Although I installed the decking and fasteners by myself, you may find it easier to do with the help of a second person to help you keep the boards straight. Measure from the end and mark a chalk line every three or four courses.

One of the owners’ major concerns was that they were always scrubbing the algae off their railings and deck. In this environment, you will find the green stuff growing on any exterior surface that does not get prolonged sunlight. Composites, vinyl, and ipe are no exception, but much easier to clean with a power washer without accidentally causing damage to the materials. Ipe is one of the densest (and most expensive) decking materials. Whereas even careful use of power washers can wear through the softer grain on yellow pine, cedar or fir, the surface of ipe decks stays intact. I’ve owned my 3,000 psi Honda Gas-Powered Pressure Washer for over a dozen years, and it makes the annual job of power washing the deck go very quickly. Don’t waste your money or time on a less powerful machine.

All deck surfaces should be treated with an oil or stain such as Cabot Australian Timber Oil Penetrating Finish to prevent extensive damage from solar radiation, which slowly “burns away” at the deck surface. We made sure to buy FSC certified ipe in order to not contribute to Amazon deforestation.


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