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Ipe

Durable South American hardwood rated by the US Forest Products Lab for a 25 year life. Resistant to fire, having a NFPA Class A rating and a UBC Class 1 rating. Naturally resists insects, rot and mildew, and can be used in ground contact without preservatives or additional treatments.

Thicknesses

Subject to availability

4/4
5/4
6/4
7/4
8/4
9/4
10/4
12/4
16/4
20/4
1/2"
3/4"
1"

Distribution

Tropical Americas (Central and South America); also farmed commercially

Scientific Name

Handroanthus spp. (formerly placed in the Tabebuia genus)

Specific Gravity: Basic

0.91

Specific Gravity: 12% MC

1.1

Janka Hardness

3510

Colour/Appearance

Heartwood can vary in colour from reddish brown, to a more yellowish olive brown or darker blackish brown; sometimes with contrasting darker brown/black stripes. In certain species, there are powdery yellow deposits within the wood. Ipe can be difficult to distinguish visually from Cumaru, another dense South American timber, though Ipe tends to be darker, and lacks the subtle yet characteristic vanilla/cinnamon scent while being worked.

Grain/Texture

Has a fine to medium texture, with the grain varying from straight to irregular or interlocked. Moderate natural luster.

Endgrain

Diffuse-porous; solitary and radial multiples; medium to large pores in no specific arrangement, moderately numerous to numerous; tyloses and mineral/gum deposits occasionally present; parenchyma unilateral, winged, and marginal; narrow rays, spacing normal; ripple marks present.

Rot Resistance

Rated as very durable; excellent insect resistance, though some species are susceptible to marine borers. Superb weathering characteristics. (Ipe was used for the boardwalk along the beach of New York City's Coney Island, and was said to have lasted 25 years before it needed to be replaced: an amazing lifespan given the amount of traffic and environmental stresses put upon the wood.)

Workability

Overall, Ipe is a difficult wood to work, being extremely hard and dense, with high cutting resistance during sawing. Ipe also has a pronounced blunting effect on cutting edges. The wood generally planes smoothly, but the grain can tearout on interlocked areas. Also, Ipe can be difficult to glue properly, and surface preparation prior to gluing is recommended. Straight-grained wood turns well, though the natural powdery yellow deposits can sometimes interfere with polishing or finishing the wood.

Odor

Ipe has a mild scent while being worked.

Allergies/Toxicity

Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Ipe has been reported to cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, as well as other effects such as headaches, asthma-like symptoms, and/or disturbance of vision.

Pricing/Availability

Primarily sold as decking or flooring, boards for furniture or general use are sometimes availabe as well. Prices are moderate for an imported tropical species.

Sustainability

This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, Ipe species grow in very low densities, with mature trees only occurring once per 300,000 to 1,000,000 square feet (3 to 10 hectares) of forest area. This necessitates the clearing of large sections of rainforest trees (most of which are of little commercial value). Though uncommon, certified sources of Ipe are available.
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