IPE End Grain: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Written by on July 4, 2015 in Common Issues with 0 Comments

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. In this case, it is definitely worth a few IPE questions. Here’s a short case study that captures some of the most common questions about IPE end grain and joints, and best installation practices for longevity. 

So, let’s take a look at what is wrong with this picture…

Face Fasteners

ipe deck

What’s wrong here?

First, when the decking was installed, it was screwed through the faces of the boards instead of using a blind clip system which would leave no exposed fasteners. Perfectly functional, but as a point of style, not the most desirable method.

Worse, it is obvious that the screws were not counter bored. Counter boring is the use of a special bit that creates a pilot hole for the screw and also a small semi oval pocket for the screw head to settle into, so the head is slightly recessed below the wood surface. Still visible, but a cleaner, more professional way to fasten. And certainly superior from a functional standpoint.

This installation probably used a pilot hole, you pretty much have to because it is nearly impossible to just drive screws through IPE, and you certainly wouldn’t want to do it a few hundred times that way during installation. However, you can see that the fasteners are not perfectly set, which is why a counter bore would have been preferred.

So What?

Well, this is where a few different topics converge: at the butt joints. Butt joints are where two boards come together at their end grains. IPE end grain is just as susceptible to checking as any other wood species. The torque of the screws in a less than ideal pre-drilled hole so close to the end grain begin the splitting and checking process. If you look closely at the end grain, you can see the cracks, which will grow over time.

[Read about IPE Splitting and Checking Concerns]

Along Those Same Lines

IPE

Note the layer of grime that is being removed during the cleaning.

One good way to minimize problems at IPE end grain and butt joints is to be sure to properly seal the cut ends of the boards. As above, this is where splits begin. It is also where water hangs around the longest if they are not properly sealed. The photo to the right shows this same deck during a pressure wash cleaning. Splitting was prevalent at most end grains.

The first photo at the top of this page shows the deck drying out after the wash, and staying wet way longer at the end unsealed end grains. This is happening every time it rains or a heavy dew settles on the deck. When wood stays wet for extended periods, it dries out the grain. The natural oils in the wood gradually wear out, and it becomes more brittle and susceptible to cracking. When checking sets in, the door is open for more moisture to enter the wood, and the cycle of deterioration has begun.

Take Aways:

  • fastening systems are an important installation matter
  • cut end sealing during installation helps prevent splitting and checking
  • maintenance, watching performance over time, is key
  • wood is constantly expanding and contracting as it is exposed to seasonal elements

While IPE is a premier decking material, there are still many things that can go wrong during installation that ultimately cause premature deterioration. Our goal is to eliminate those problems through awareness.

In a deck like the one pictured, it is impossible to go back and redo those errors that were made during installation. Once the deck is fastened, your bed is made. Due diligence and clear communication with well chosen deck builders and installers is highly recommended.

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About the Author

About the Author: Scott Burt is a wood finishing expert. IPE decks are one of the areas of expertise in which he is frequently published in paint and remodeling magazines. He also engages in clinics and speaking appearances on the topic. Ipehelp.com is where IPE owners and installers can engage with Scott. .

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