Did you know Ipe comes in different grades?
Ipe is known as the pinnacle of hardwood decking materials, but not all Ipe is created equal. Perhaps you have purchased an Ipe deck and the material that showed up looked very different than what you've seen in photos. Like any hardwood, Ipe is a natural wood product that can vary in consistency in grain pattern, color, and sapwood.
I can't speak for every importer, but here at OHC we hand sort our Ipe surface decking in two distinct grades: Number 1 and Number 2 Grade.
Number 1 Grade, also known as FEQ or First European Quality, is the highest grade of Ipe. In order to be considered a number 1 grade, the Ipe board must be free of sapwood with no defects, splits, holes, or rough faces. The board must also be clear on 4 sides with a straight grain, that means no tiger stripes or reverse grain. Lastly, the ends must be waxed with an end sealant. In other words, Number 1 grade is as perfect as a natural product can be.
Number 2 Grade allows for sapwood and some reverse grain or inconsistent grain patterns. The better face of the board can contain up to 15% minor defects like small tight knots and other imperfections. The reserve face of the board can have small broken knots and small checks. Neither grade can have splits, end checking or other unsound defects that affect the board structurally. Overseas Hardwoods refers to this grade as Rustic because it's pre-sanded to help alleviate the minor imperfections and highlight the grain variations.
Because of the grain variation, Rustic grade Ipe looks amazing as a siding or accent wall. When building a deck, most people want the uniform look that a number 1 grade Ipe provides. So what happens if you think you are getting number 1 Ipe and number 2 shows up at the job site?
Other than hand selecting your boards at a stocking yard like TimberTown, you can ask your seller questions like "what grades of Ipe do you sell? Is this quote for No. 1, No. 2, or a combination of grades? Do you have a detailed description of each grade that I can see?" Sometimes asking those questions are enough for you to realize you don't want to buy from that place.
When choosing surface decking, it's important to know what you are getting. I've seen lots of high-end residential and commercial projects that choose Ipe for price are disappointed to find out they were paying for number 2 grade but expecting number 1 to show up. Be sure to vet online sellers as well, they aren't all bad, but sometimes they don't even know the grade you are getting because the product is being brokered. At TimberTown, we only stock Number 1 grade Ipe from OHC and bring in Number 2 for specific projects.
For a more detailed description of the two grades, follow this link to this article.