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Ipe - Wood or Metal?
Ipe - Wood or Metal?
by Tom Caspar
Ipe (pronounced E-pay) is a South American wood as exotic as its name. When you hold a piece, you know it’s something special. Ipe sinks in water like cast iron, is hard as nails and polishes like brass. Of course, you don’t really have to weld it, but working with ipe may make you question your sanity. Is it wood or metal?
For an exotic wood, it’s not terribly expensive. A 1-in.-thick board typ-ically costs about $6 per board foot.
You can buy ipe almost anywhere in the United States, but most woodworkers have never heard of it. Ipe is used for decks and outdoor structures because it’s extremely rot-resistant, dries without warping, is free of knots and won’t wear out. It’s available in standard dimensions, such as 1x6 and 2x4. Deck offcuts are a blast to experiment with.
Ipe is marketed under a number of names. Dealers call it Ironwood, Diamond Deck, Pau Lope and Tiger Deck. It’s sold as Brazilian walnut in the interior flooring business. To mail-order ipe, or to find a dealer nearest you, contact Cecco Trading, (414) 445-8989, www.ironwoods.com.
Use It Inside or Out
Ipe can be used for indoor or outdoor furniture. It’s so heavy that this deck chair will never blow over in the wind!
Ipe is useful around the shop, too, because it’s so hard and strong. An ipe carver’s mallet lasts a lifetime. Ipe drawer runners never wear out. Best of all, an ipe workbench is downright awesome. Talk about sturdy!
Wait ’Til It’s Dry
Ipe isn’t dried for interior use. The moisture content (MC) of ipe decking boards is fairly high, about 17 percent. This MC is appropriate for outdoor furniture, but higher than the 12 percent MC of air-dried hardwoods destined for indoor use. It’s easy to air-dry ipe yourself by stacking it indoors. Monitor its MC with a moisture meter. (To get a correct reading, adjust for ipe’s high specific gravity: 0.92.)
Dig for Beautiful Boards
Some ipe boards are absolutely stunning. You’ll find a wide variety of color and figure in a random pile of ipe, so good boards are worth digging for. Ipe’s color ranges from olive green to chocolate brown.
Check out the unusual internal structure called interlocked grain in the board above. Here, the slope of the grain alternates direction every few growing seasons. This is a spectacular example of grain that’s both curly and interlocked. Pencil-stripe interlocked grain is more common in ipe.
This is Strong Wood!
Every which way you look at it, ipe is an extreme wood. It’s about 70 percent stiffer than hard maple. Outdoor furniture made from cedar, redwood and treated pine must have thick parts for strength, but ipe furniture can have the thin lines of metalwork. So be daring! The slender legs on this patio table are only 7/8 in. sq...