How To Finish A Hardwood Deck

Finishing (applying a protective coating or stain) a hardwood deck is different than a softwood deck, like cedar or treated pine. For instance, hardwoods like Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, and Garapa are much more dense, making it difficult for finishes to penetrate the wood. Even when using the proper UV-inhibiting hardwood oil, the finishing material essentially stays on the surface. Tropical hardwoods age well even without a finish. While the color of the hardwood will change over time the integrity of the hardwood won’t be compromised like softwoods, which can splinter or crack excessively if left unprotected.

Hardwood decking will oxidize when exposed to sunlight, developing a handsome, silver/gray patina. Hardwoods gray from the outside in, so if a project has been unfinished for a longer time, the thicker the gray surface will be. Luckily, if a homeowner tires of the silvery-gray color of aged wood, it is possible to bring back the original color.

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Types of Finishes / Coatings

Since the hardwood is essentially impenetrable by typical coatings, a hardwood penetrating oil is recommended. UV rays from the sun are responsible for oxidation on the hardwood's surface, so a UV-inhibiting hardwood oil is best, such as Ipe Oil or Penofin Hardwood Oil. It’s worth reminding that oxidation and UV rays doesn’t damage hardwoods in the short term, but regularly applying a UV-inhibiting oil can increase the life of your project by years. UV-inhibiting oils will also help to maintain the natural color and minimize the graying from the sun.

Required Prepping

Fortunately, prep work is minimal to finish a hardwood deck. If your deck is less than two years old, or if it’s older but has been properly finished in the last couple of years, a simple power washing could do the trick. If that isn’t enough, apply a hardwood deck cleaner and brightener; you can also try some soap and water. It’s essential to apply the oil to a clean, dry surface. One exception is a brand new hardwood deck, which can sometimes have a mill glaze: a compressing of cell walls caused by process of machining the lumber to size. In some cases, you can sand the boards first to remove the glaze or us a prep to open the cells. Consult the manufacturer of the product you as using for best results.

If the deck has had several years of exposure to the sun and has completely grayed, you’ll may need to sand the boards to remove the oxidized surface, then follow the same instructions for finishing.

Finish Application

To stain a cedar or treated pine deck, one applies the stain with a roller or squeegee, letting the stain soak into the boards, then allows the stain to dry. Hardwood finishes, as you may have guessed, require a different application. Since the hardwoods are so dense, even penetrating oils don’t completely penetrate, resulting in a sticky and unsightly surface.

After a good washing, and making sure your deck is dry, apply the hardwood oil with a brush, wait ten to fifteen minutes, and then rub in as much oil as possible and remove any excess oil from the surface. If you’re finishing a large project, work in sections so you don’t have to walk on the finished surface. Depending on the heat and humidity of your location, the surface should be completely dry in a day or two.

Hardwood Maintenance

Maintenance of your deck depends on your location and your desired appearance for your project. If you live in an extremely hot, sunny climate, your deck might require an annual refinishing to maintain the natural color. However, if you live in a more temperate location or the project is partially shaded then your deck may only need to be refinished once every few years. The beauty of choosing a hardwood deck is that when it doesn’t look as new as you’d like, you can simply refinish!

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A Day In The Life Of A Tropical Hardwood Buyer

Gregory Robinson grew up in Mobile, AL, as a part of a family with a long history in lumber, but he never could have predicted that one day he’d spend his days immersed in Brazilian culture, traveling up and down Amazonian tributaries, and conducting business transactions in Portuguese.

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When he first began his work as a hardwoods buyer back in 2002, Gregory spent 160 days in Brazil learning the culture. He didn’t speak Portuguese, but quickly realized it was critical to learn it as quickly as possible. He attended an intensive language school for two weeks, and has developed his language skills over the years. Now, Gregory only travels to Brazil a few times a year for inspecting and purchasing of product.

When travelling to Brazil, trips are typically about two weeks. While abroad, Gregory hits the ground running, breakfasting with a business contact at 7am, and ending the day with a 9pm dinner with another supplier. In between he typically visits multiple mills in pursuit of the very best lumber. A trip could consist of four to five cities or towns, and eight to ten mills per town. He’s gone to extreme lengths to reach a town, once hiring a tiny plane to fly him out, or riding on a boat for three to four hours. Gregory has travelled the partially-unpaved Rodovia Transamazônica (Trans-Amazonian Highway), which has no bridges even on the most treacherous sections, once crossed a river in a canoe, and spent the coldest night of his life on a barge with an out-of-control air conditioner.

Besides the sometimes adventurous aspect of his work, Gregory has also built relationships over the years with mill owners and employees, eating meals in their homes. He’s even received help in expanding his Portuguese vocabulary to learn the most effective words for a situation (hint: some of them have four letters).

Gregory has learned that culturally, Brazilians might have the intent to follow through on a business deal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. He estimates that in the first two years on the job, only about 20% of the orders he placed were filled, and came to realize that a transaction isn’t a sure thing until the lumber is on the ship. There have been a few cultural barriers to overcome, but now, he says, these relationships have enabled him to know which mill partners are truthful, legal, and reputable, and which ones need to be avoided.

“It’s critical,” he says, “to build professional and personal relationships and really know our suppliers in order to buy the very best lumber possible. Anyone who doesn’t truly know their suppliers is really rolling the dice.”

While in Brazil, Gregory blends high-tech and low-tech tools. He uses GPS to find remote locations, and WhatsApp (a messaging app) to communicate with suppliers, but he also relies on the common humanity of shared experiences to bridge cultural divides, such as sharing a meal in someone’s home, or showing off family photos. All of these methods and skills ensure that OHC sources the highest quality, most beautiful Brazilian lumber products for their customers.

Posted in Tigerwood, Garapa, Ipe, Cumaru, Outdoor Living | Leave a comment

Tropical Hardwood vs. Composite decking

When planning a deck, one of the first essential decisions is what material to use. There are many choices but this article will focus on comparing composite materials with tropical hardwood decking.

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While both options have  benefits and drawbacks, there are many compelling reasons to choose a tropical hardwood such as Ipe, Cumaru, Garapa, and Tigerwood for your next deck.

Installation Cost

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Wood is generally quicker and less expensive to install than composite, due to framing. Composite decking requires a 16” on center spacing because it is too weak and flexible to withstand a wider span between joists. Hardwoods allow up to 24” on center spacing, depending on the deck pattern, saving time and money on installation.

Strength and Durability

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Tropical hardwoods have a much wider range of both width and thickness than composite boards, giving them an advantage in strength and durability. Composite materials lack strength, bowing under heavy foot traffic, making them an especially poor choice for commercial use. Even in a residential application, sagging between joists is often noticeable.

Longevity

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Some types of tropical hardwood decking, such as Ipe, can be built and then practically forgotten about, weathering to a beautiful, aged patina. If the weathered look isn’t desired, a tropical hardwood deck does need to have UV protectorate applied in order to preserve the original look of the wood. Composite decking has been manufactured for several decades now, and this product hasn’t quite aged as well as marketers promised. Tropical hardwood decks can easily last 30-40 years, depending on the environment. Although composite decking has a limited stain and fade warranty, it won’t outlast hardwood decking.

Look and Feel

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The strongest claim composite manufacturers can make about the beauty of their product is that it looks like real wood. At its very best composite wood is an inferior facsimile of true tropical hardwood. Why buy a substitute? There’s no way to truly emulate the natural grain, shade variation, and genuine appearance of actual wood. There is no comparison when it comes to aesthetics. Composite decking will also never feel like natural wood. Even as technology improves the look of composite decking, it will still feel like plastic. Another consideration is heat retention. This is most applicable to decks installed in very warm areas, such as the southern United States. Composite decking heats up approximately 10 degrees warmer than tropical hardwoods, making bare feet on the deck intolerable. Especially for decks intended for families with young children, this is an important detail.


Taking all factors into consideration, tropical hardwoods have the advantage. It will last for decades, decrease installation costs, feel like natural wood, and most importantly, bring a homeowner the pleasure of its beauty for a very long time, serving as the backdrop for many happy memories.

Posted in Tigerwood, Garapa, Ipe, Cumaru, Outdoor Living, Technical Data | Leave a comment