Ipe – Total Wood Species Guide

PROS: Ipe is one of the strongest and densest woods available for flooring applications. It is a great floor for heavy foot traffic. Ipe will hardly develop wear marks. If you have large dogs or children, ipe is a good wood floor choice. Even with a light finish, most spills will not penetrate the wood and will just sit on the surface. Ipe has a fairly straight grain. Sometimes this wood can also look very similar to teak. It resists decay and termite attack. It is a very fire resistant wood. The wood varies from a light golden brown with olive green accents to reddish brown to darker brown streaks.

CONS: You will not achieve color uniformity with this wood. I personally think it looks great but some people prefer a consistent-looking floor. Because it is such a dense wood, you will need to use carbide tools to machine ipe successfully. You will probably want to have an extra blade for your miter saw. Ipe will dull your tools. You will have to predrill all of your holes first. Your holes should be drilled pretty close to the size of the finishing nails. Otherwise your wood will split. You should experiment with ipe first to be on the safe side. You may want to get a few extra ipe boards. The sawdust from ipe can cause respiratory and dermatitis reactions. If you decide to go with the unfinished flooring (which I do not recommend), you should be wearing a very good respiratory mask.

Ipe is not a good choice for dry climates. It has a tendency to split and crack easily in low humidity conditions (under 35% relative humidity). It is very difficult for manufacturers to take ipe, a wood that grows in a rainforest where tropical rainfall is high, and effectively kiln dry it for conditions like northern Ontario where it is extremely dry in the winter. It is next to impossible to acclimate ipe to match the conditions of a home that has humidity swings. If you live in an area that has cold and dry winters, you don’t want to get ipe flooring.

It has some finishing issues. Ipe has a unique chemical makeup that interferes a lot with the drying, adhesion and absorption of wood stains and topcoats. Because of its denseness, most stains usually do not penetrate below the surface of ipe. To be successful at finishing ipe, you need to be an experienced finisher. It is best to buy this wood as prefinished flooring for this reason.

TREE FACTS: Ipe refers to a cluster of trees from the Bignoniaceae family. These trees have similar physical properties. Ipe grows from Brazil to continental tropical America as well as some areas in Lesser Antilles. A lot of people are not familiar with ipe. Some North American manufacturers will refer to ipe as Brazilian walnut because it has similar properties even though it is different. Because it is such a dense wood, it has been used for industrial applications like railway ties and heavy truck bedding.