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Ipe vs Cumaru: Which Wood is Best for Your Deck?

One of the most enjoyable parts of a home is having a spacious deck whose craftsmanship and beauty invite you, your family, and your friends to spend as much time on it as possible. It’s no secret that the most important part of a deck is, by far, its surface. It must look and feel great and be something that will stay strong and true for as long as possible. That’s why choosing the right decking material can make the difference between a deck you sometimes use and a deck you can’t wait to return to.

When you’re looking for the very best decking material, two South American hardwood choices rise to the top of the list. These are Ipe wood, pronounced “ee-pay,” and sometimes referred to as Brazilian walnut, and Cumaru wood, pronounced “koo-mah-roo,” and sometimes referred to as Brazilian teak.

The properties of Ipe and Cumaru are so similar that for many years they were sold as the same thing, but subtle differences became apparent in the marketplace. For example, in general, even air-dried Ipe is not prone to significant shrinking and splitting problems, but Cumaru usually needs to be kiln-dried for the best results in its lumber quality and consistency. The same factors responsible for this difference also affect how long each wood resists decay.

Both these remarkable South American hardwoods will make beautiful, long-lasting deck surfaces that will wear wonderfully and be noticed by everyone. But a closer look is needed to determine which of these two amazing kinds of wood is the right material for your Southern California dream deck.

The Beauty of Ipe Decking

Ipe trees grow in Central and South America, and the wood is one of the hardest there is. A Janka test is typically used to evaluate wood hardness, measuring the force required to drive a small steel ball halfway into a wood surface. While North American hardwoods like oak measure at about 1,360, and hickory at about 1,820, Ipe measures at approximately 3,680. This extreme hardness has made Ipe the ideal choice for high-traffic boardwalks in places as famous as New York City’s Coney Island.

The Benefits of Ipe Decking

Your deck won’t need to match the wear and tear of a public boardwalk. Therefore, since the strength of Ipe is recognized as the best choice for that, it will certainly be strong enough for your deck. Ipe’s unusual density makes it extra resistant to insects, decay, and even fire since it has the same fire classification as concrete. It’s so strong that, with proper care, it can outlast any other wooden decking by about 30%, with a total lifetime of up to 70 years or even longer. Additionally, its rich red hue is simply stunning.

The Challenges of Ipe Decking

It’s no coincidence that a decking material that lasts about 30% longer than other woods costs about 30% more. Besides its relative longevity, other factors can bump that difference up even higher in the future, including an increasing demand for a limited supply that is very difficult to harvest to begin with. Also, such a hard wood necessitates exceptional blades and bits during construction and requires extra pre-drilling time. You’ll be paying heavily upfront for the beauty and benefit of an Ipe deck, and not every budget can handle that.

The Beauty of Cumaru Decking

Like Ipe, Cumaru is a South American wood and is exported mostly from Venezuela, Brazil, and Columbia. Also, like Ipe, Cumaru is an extremely dense wood. It’s so dense, in fact, that, like Ipe, it won’t float in water. This density makes it an elite hardwood, measuring in at about 3,330 on the Janka hardness scale, a close second to Ipe while remaining well ahead of the hardness of the next closest common decking or flooring woods. Cumaru also scores ever-so-slightly below Ipe in weight, elasticity, and strength measurements.

The Benefits of Cumaru Decking

Cumaru decking provides nearly the same strength as Ipe decking. Overall, they both have almost the same resistance to insect attack and the elements, which far surpasses any North American hardwoods. Additionally, for very nearly the same performance as Ipe, Cumaru is a much more affordable South American hardwood, on average about 30% less than Ipe. It also provides nearly the same look as Ipe decking and may even be considered more desirable by those attracted to its slightly lighter and browner shades of red when oiled.

The Challenges of Cumaru Decking

Although extreme environmental conditions and maintenance are huge variables that create wide ranges of durability in any kind of decking material, in the most general sense, Cumaru’s expected 40- to 50-year lifespan is much better than cedar’s expected 25- to 30-year lifespan but doesn’t match Ipe’s natural resistance to decay or its expected 70- to 75-year lifespan. Because Cumaru is barely less dense than Ipe, its construction will also require extra pre-drilling time and high-quality blades and bits.

The Deciding Factors Between Ipe and Cumaru

Because both the natural properties and longevity values of Ipe and Cumaru are nearly identical, your choice between the two really boils down to appearance and budget. If your highest priority is aesthetic, Ipe gives you a naturally rich red hue, while Cumaru gives you a hue that’s a slightly lighter and browner red, touched with amber. If your budget is a big concern, Cumaru will cost you about 30% less than Ipe upfront but will need to be replaced about 30% sooner.

The good news is you won’t be disappointed when you choose to use either Ipe or Cumaru for an unbelievably attractive and long-lasting deck. With just the right accents of design, railings, and lighting, both Ipe and Cumaru will make a deck you’ll be proud of and everyone will admire, if not envy. Teak Masters is standing by, ready to help you with every phase of the ultimate deck for the home you love, so contact us right away if you want to get your hardwood dream deck started today.

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