What About Deck Stain Product?

Written by on August 24, 2015 in Member Questions with 25 Comments

This is a question that is often addressed too late in the planning/execution of an ipe project. In a new ipe deck build, choosing a deck stain product seems to be a lower order priority in the grand scheme of building. And on a “re-do”, it is often one of the last decisions made in the hustle and bustle of getting the deck sanded or washed and ready for oil.

deck stains

Sampling stains in advance of your project is time well spent.

In the end, the product is immensely important to the “look” your deck will take on when the project is done. Product is also one of the most misunderstood aspects of an ipe project.

In 2015, we initiated a product transition. We started phasing Penofin out from being our primary ipe deck oil. We did this for numerous reasons, but mostly to see if we could put a product or two in the field that would outperform Penofin. Of course, this decision comes after careful testing and analysis.

[Note: if you are a member who uses Penofin, there is no cause for alarm. It may work fine in your situation. If it doesn’t, you can switch during a maintenance cycle, as we have.]

Reducing our usage of Penofin is a huge shift because our legendary Rules for Ipe were built around the use of the Penofin Marine Grade product. Rules for application should be product driven. But product formulations and options change. Ipe doesn’t really change. So, we have to change. And when you finish wood for a living, changing product is not easy.

Change the product, and most everything about the process will change too. Here is a look back and a look ahead at the world of ipe deck oils, from our angle as specialists in the field. With some particularly good news near the end.

It Still Has to be OIL

At least for now. Until some savvy manufacturer develops a non oil deck stain product that can satisfy ipe, oil it shall be. Within that parameter, it really can’t be an oil that forms a film on top of the deck surface. So, lets rule out Sikkens. And Arborcoat, which fails on two fronts (waterborne and filmy).

black deck

Finding an oil that doesn’t turn black in tough exposures was our goal.

Product selection remains in the oil based penetrating stain realm, and there are many options in that class.

One of our primary pursuits at Topcoat Finishes is annual maintenance of ipe decks. We do maintenance on dozens of decks per year in our area (Vermont). The decks we service are located in either lakeside, mountain or pastorial settings with harsh seasonal exposures. All of our decks are serviced annually, and depending upon exposure, we do some twice per year (spring and fall).

We began noticing a few years ago that Penofin oil just couldn’t hold up to northern exposures, particularly around the lake. The combination of constant shade and moisture, often times with a quick burst of hot morning sun, was more than the Penofin could handle. We were using the Marine Grade, which should have been formulated to endure all of that.

But it didn’t. Too often it turned dark gray within six months. At that point, an ipe deck is a magnet for grime, which leads to a muddy black appearance. Once the ugly starts, it is a fast and slippery slope. So, we gradually started weaning our client decks off from Penofin, and transitioning them into other compatible penetrating oils. We are nearly complete in that transition.

Here’s a look at the top two products we have been replacing Penofin with.  

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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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  1. Cvassalo says:

    Hi Scott, do you recommend the superdeck oil-based transparent over the exotic hardwood formula for IPE?

  2. Chris Vassalotti says:

    this is the 3rd year. The deck previously had penofin on it, but it has been stripped, cleaned and brightened. Pressure washed, but not sanded. I’d like to use the sherwin williams product but just questioned if the normal oil-based transparent was appropriate compared to the exotic hardwood blend.

  3. Christine Scott says:

    My painting contractor applied Benjamin Moore ARBORCOAT Semi Transparent Classic Oil Finish to my small ipe deck. Is this an appropriate product? I thought not based on what I have read here, but the contractor disagrees. He also says that it is the same as Australian Timber Oil…is that true?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Arbor Coat wouldn’t be among our top choices. We haven’t used it in a few years, and I believe Benjamin Moore has changed the formulation a few times. I don’t think it is the same as Cabot Australian Timber Oil (which is also not a top choice).

  4. bjmount@gmail.com says:

    Hi Scott. Now that some time has passed, which stain held up better? Which of the two do you like best?

  5. Sparkyman says:

    What finish did you use on the Ipe deck on the cover of your Ipe Manual?

    • Scott Burt says:

      I believe that is an older picture from the Penofin Marine years.

      • Sparkyman says:

        Maybe it’s just the lighting, but it looks very light colored. I would love to get that light of a tone, but everything seems to have a brown tone to it.

        • Scott Burt says:

          It might be the lighting on that one. However, when you wash or sand ipe down to bare wood, it is possible with the penetrating transparent oil stains to introduce a tone that draws out more of the red from the ipe. To some extent, we are all at the mercy of the natural tones that are in the wood grain, but it is possible to manipulate it. The natural cedar tone that we use from Ready Seal would be a good example of a product that can assist that way.

  6. Jeff says:

    Hi, I’m new to the IPE world. Our front steps & porch were redone this week with Ipe. Our contractor used the SW Super Deck waterborne clear sealer. Is this going to give us problems? Like not drying properly or forming a film etc?
    I understand many people seem to say using water based vs oil based is just a matter or preference on Ipe. After reading your blog it seems like oil is the only way. So would you suggest we have the water based sealer stripped and redone with oil now? Or will it be ok for 6-12 months until we’re ready to reseal it and use oil at that time? Thank you

  7. I agree with Scott, Water borne coatings will not work well on IPE. The product that has worked best for us is Messmers hard wood oil.

  8. sbathiche says:

    Hello. Have you tried Seafin Ship n Shore on IPE? Any thoughts on how it would compare to Super deck or Ready Seal? ship n shore is currently what I use on my IPE deck. It goes on light. Strengthens. And also conditions.

  9. sbathiche says:

    Have you tried Armstrong and Clark Hardwood Stain? How would it compare to Superdeck and ready seal?

  10. Rafe says:

    Hi Scott: Any experience with using Golden Care Teak Protector? It says that it is good for hardwoods, including Ipe but leaves a brownish color due to pigments. What would be an appropriate method for removing it? Am planning to use SW SuperDeck transparent in a 1:1 mix of heart redwood and canyon Brown. Thank you for your advice.

  11. samgarthherrington@gmail.com says:

    Hi Scott. Thanks for the information. Really a life saver for me. I applied ready- seal to a 850sf Ipe deck today. Last guys put Zar Ultra (not for decks). I sanded with 80 grit using a square buff, palm sand touch up, BenMoore brightener neutralizer scrub in, pwash rinse. I applied a very thick lather of Ready Seal and it looks awesome !! A few areas are not taking the stain so I should’ve stripped the old Zar which was only 3 mos. in. Ready Seal is so easy to put on. Due to my poor prep I had to wipe the deck a lot. Also the homeowner wants to swim ASAP of course so I’m going to accelerate dry time by wiping entire deck with mineral spirits.
    Did you know that Ready Seal says that a varnish can be applied over it for interior floors? I wonder if I can put an acryllic clear over the deck or a marine spar to give it some extra sheen and add 6mos. or so to the lifespan of the coating?
    Thanks Scott !!

  12. fdeshler says:

    Hi Scott, I am new to the IPE world, am in the process of redoing our doing our deck and am installing IPE. Do you have any experience with the Deck Wise IPE oil product?

    Thanks for the help!

  13. mickd6 says:

    Scott- I am building a new house right on the Charleston, SC harbor with two elevated decks of ipe. The lower deck will have an elevated saltwater pool, with the ipe coming up to the edge of the pool. Obviously, we do not have the harsh winters of the Northeast, but we have very hot, humid summers. The ipe was just laid and we’re preparing to apply stain. I read your article about Ready Seal and SW Super Deck. With my particular conditions, is there a particular recommendation you have? I LOVE the brown-red color of ipe and intend on always maintaining that rich color going forward. Suggestion? Thanks…

  14. albanylandlord says:

    Hi Scott, Can we have an update on the performance of your two favorites listed above?

    Thanks so much for this information, it is the only thing I could find on the web that was apparently unbiased.