Ipe, pronounced “ee-pay,” is a hardwood from the Brazilian rainforests that also grows in other portions of Central and South America. Frequently marketed as ironwood, Brazilian walnut, or madera negra, ipe is harder than nails and so dense that pieces of it may need to be predrilled before they are connected. Its strength has been compared to that of steel.
Decks and outdoor furniture made of ipe can last more than 25 years. The wood resists mold, scratching, fire, weather, and pests extremely well. Ipe is often less expensive than teak despite being at least as durable. A significant portion of the Atlantic City Boardwalk has been replaced with ipe, which boasts dark, consistent coloring and a tight grain.
Based on the Janka hardness test, ipe is twice as hard as hickory, two to three times harder than white oak, more than three times harder than teak, and more than 10 times harder than cedar. At 69 to 80 pounds per cubic foot, it is the densest wood available for commercial use. (By way of comparison, red oak’s standard density is 43 pounds per cubic foot.) Although the trees from which ipe derives are not endangered species, ipe wood for sale in the U.S. may come with a Forest Stewardship Council certification, which indicates that it was processed in an ecologically sustainable way.
Ipe’s coloring ranges from olive green to chocolate brown. It is 70 percent stiffer than hard maple, sinks in water like cast iron, and can be polished like brass. Due to its unusual hardness, ipe can be difficult to convert into a finished product. Because it is hard enough to damage carbon steel, carbide blades and bits must be used with it. The wood’s edges may be smoothed with a file, as one would do with brass. A drum sander is the best surfacing tool to use with ipe.
Ipe boards are available in standard dimensions, such as 1×6 and 2×4. Deck chairs made of ipe will not blow away in high winds, due to the wood’s density, and ipe workbenches are uncommonly sturdy and durable. Ipe furniture can be slenderer than cedar, redwood, or pine furniture due to the wood’s inherent strength. Its density approaches that of “ultradense exotics” like ebony, and the darkest ipe is generally the densest.