Ipe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handroanthus) is one of those natural wonders that few know. It is a tropical hardwood that is unmatched for its durability, weather resistance and insect resistance. I had both the pleasure and displeasure of working with this species of wood on numerous occasions during my experiences on Cape Cod. It’s a wonderful looking wood, warm and dark brown to reddish that ages to a steely gray. I found the sweet odor somewhat pleasant when it was being lightly worked or warmed in the sunshine (though many of my peers would disagree). However, it was ultimately difficult to work with. It is an incredibly hard and dense wood that blunts a tool fast. It is heavy, and so dense it doesn’t float. When it is cut, it produces a finer than normal yellow (or sometimes even greenish) dust that is an irritant and something akin to
insecticide. When covered in the dust and sweating, it burns and can seep into the eyes and cause more discomfort. I know of one person who, after cutting on Ipe all day, woke up in the middle of the night and had to go to the emergency room due to respiratory problems. The wood is oily and it readily smokes when it is being worked hard. Drilling into it was a challenge, because the heat of the drilling would make the oil pop if you removed the bit to fast. I used to hate making bungs (plugs) out of it, because it would smoke the bung cutter, which I had to constantly wax to cool and lubricate it. In my mind I would always feel like I was summoning demons every time I would plunge the cutter into the wood and the hot burbully oil and smoke would steadily billow from the woods surface until the cut was complete. I usually set up the drill press so that the wind was at my back!
On the plus side it will last for decades and is not splintery (though there is the occasional board that is a little bit splintery). It is impervious to water and insects. I helped some of the guy’s handling estate care for CH Newton pull an ipe ladder up out of the Atlantic and onto a customer’s dock, since I was working on a project (an ipe deck, if memory serves me) nearby and the ladder was extremely heavy and cumbersome for two to handle. The ladder was crusted with salt and barnacles and other crusty sea detritus from the water line down. It had been in the water for about 2 years. A couple of weeks later, I was asked if I could help put the ladder back. When I arrived, I saw what seemed to be a brand new ladder- shiny and painted from the water line down. I told them good job on building the new ladder and the reply was that all they did was let it dry out, then pressure wash, scrape, sand and paint. Simply amazing.
Most of the ipe was used for decks or furniture outside. There was one project I worked on where ipe was used for a “floating” deck over a rubber roof, walled-in on four sides with scuppers for drainage (Like a full length parapet wall). The ipe came in pre assembled 2×2
squares with heavy duty plastic pedestals that could be adjusted for height and slope. I believe it was from Bison Innovative Products. http://www.bisonip.com/shop/products/ This was a great system and it was very easy to install, adjust, customize and work with. In the end, it looked great and felt sturdy.