Tis the Season for Ipe Finishing

**Update: For ipe deck info, visit our new site, ipehelp.com**

It comes every year…

oiledExterior wood finishing season sure brings the bittersweet reward of intense immediate gratification after intensive prep in varying conditions. This is an example of a properly maintained ipe deck.

Typically, we will apply oil to 6 courses of the deck at a time, which puts us in about a 15 minute material sit time cycle before going back to wipe excess oil out to a hand rubbed finish on the ipe. 6 courses tends to be about the comfort zone for reach and lends itself well to the timing of the wipe. After you do a few cycles of courses, you get pretty good at it. Ipe is one of the most misunderstood but remarkable species of wood. To be that durable and resilient, and beautiful at the same time is truly a feat of nature.

Its great for wood snobs like us who understand and enjoy the art of ipe finishing.

[Related: What NOT to do when finishing ipe.]

If you are a Vermont homeowner in need of a deck consultation, Contact Us Here!

Scott Burt

Scott Burt is a contractor and freelance writer whose column "From the Field" has appeared in American Painting Contractor magazine (www.paintmag.com) since 2008. His writing and projects also appear in other print and digital venues. This site is an extension of Scott's publication work, and he encourages readers to leave comments and questions about articles published here. Hope to hear from you!

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  1. Joe says:

    Hi there, I used ipe oil to finish our deck. We did not wipe off enough oil from the wood. It now looks shinny and still tacky after three days.
    Do you think it will harden up? Is there some type of chemical to wipe over and reduce amount of oil built up?
    Your comments would be appreciated.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Joe, there is a product called TSP. Details on the procedure are here: http://ipehelp.com/reader-question-3-days-with-tacky-oil/

      • Rathi Almaula says:

        Used penofin on my IPE deck a couple of years back and paid for the mistake! Cleaning it was a nightmare. have switched to Defy extreme stain for hardwoods and am happy. you have to just wash and restain the parts that fade ( or the whole deck) and it is much easier. No extra wiping. Just two coats

        • Scott Burt says:

          Hi Rathi, thanks for checking in and providing some feedback on Penofin. We also have shifted away from it as a product on ipe decks. Too many different types of exposures where it just couldn’t hold up. Not sure if they changed the formulation or what. And you are right, there are better products that require no wiping. We are delving into all of that at our new ipe site: http://ipehelp.com/ Please join us there. Cheers!

  2. David says:

    Scott: I found your site after purchasing my ipe and related supplies. I intend to finish all 4 sides before installation. I already purchased Ipe Oil.

    Can I use the Ipe Oil and follow up with Penofin in subsequent applications or should I start with Penofin? I already purchased the Ipe Oil so it would be wasted, but I am looking at the long run and intend to maintain my deck in the manner you have previous described.

  3. Greg says:

    I am installing a new IPE deck in the next couple of weeks. I live in central VA and the deck will get full sun exposure 75% of the day (SSW facing).
    Two questions:
    1) should I wait until the deck “weathers” for 6-12 months before sealing it?
    2) Is it necessary to sand with 80-grit paper before applying the sealer for the first time?

  4. Peter Houk says:

    Scott,
    These are amazing forums you have created here! Thanks for the time you have taken to share the knowledge. I do feel somewhat as though I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole with all this information, and have just one basic question: it seems that the approach to exterior Ipe is somewhat binary: either sand, finish, and maintain the wood, or just slam it down and let it weather. I’m about to install an Ipe deck in the Boston area, but I know I won’t power wash and oil this thing every year. My question: is it worth sanding and oiling all sides of the new boards if I am going to then pretty much leave it alone after that? My sense is that the wood WILL remain more stable if I do sand and oil it, but wanted to make sure this seemed true to you. Thanks!!

  5. Robert says:

    Hi Scott, Great website, thanks!
    I’m installing 2’x2′ IPE deck tiles on raised pedestals (only 5/8″ high, for water drainage) on my 2nd fl roof deck in Brooklyn. I have two questions. 1) Do you recommend cleaning or prepping the new deck tiles prior to staining with Penofin, and if so, how? 2) Is it advisable to apply Penofin to the bottoms of the deck tiles prior to installing, for this type of deck?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Robert, yes, it is a good idea to do an 80 grit sand to clean the boards up prior to finishing. And yes, it is a good idea to seal all sides of the boards to reduce the risk of cupping in the future.

    • Peggy says:

      I’m also installing a wood deck using 2’x2′ ipe tiles on pedestals. Just wonder what you ended up doing for sealing your new deck and if you are happy with the results so far. Thanks!

  6. Thomas says:

    Hi Scott – Thanks for your advice on the other “5 Things” thread. I appreciate.

    So I bought my Ipe today, 1″x4″. It’s air dried, not kiln, in their outdoor, covered yard. Some of the boards have a lot of water stains.

    The store sells the Festol dust-free system. But, I’m a home owner and won’t use the system. So the rep told me it’s fine to use a floor sander with 80 grit. Then shop-vac the dust. And then use a deck cleaner. Wait a few hours… and lay on the Penofin.

    Do you agree with this?

    If no, what do I do about the water stains and other blemishes? Thanks a lot in advance. I appreciate your help. Thomas, Seattle.

  7. Jess says:

    Hi Scott,
    Our IPE deck was installed 11 years ago and (hopefully) treated properly at the time of installation. When the deck was about 4 years old, my husband tried treating it with an oil based product (maybe Cabot?) but having never done such work before, the resulting application was too heavy and was tacky. We left it that way and it eventually went away. We have power washed the deck only 2-3 times since that protective coat was applied. Good maintenance has not been our middle name. However, it’s held up well and we have just had it professionally power washed and would like our painter to put a protective coat on it but he is unsure what to use, so I am hoping you can provide some guidance. We don’t care to make the wood look new, just protect it for the long haul. Simple is best here for us. We live in the the northern California and the deck gets morning sun but afternoon shade.
    Thank you,
    Jess

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Jess, if you can get Penofin, that is a good choice, and just follow the tips discussed in this thread. There is no “long haul” solution, at least visually. If you want it to look good, it has to be done annually. If you are not concerned about looks, ipe will likely never rot or deteriorate in our lifetime. Annual treatment does keep it more aesthetically pleasing, keeps water beading up on it, and helps prevent drying out and splitting. I wish I was in your area so I could come and do it!

  8. Mark says:

    Hi Scott, another forum directed me here. You mention Penofin Marine Grade. I’ve used Penofin for Hardwoods, for many years. I’m not familiar with the product you recommend. Penofin for Hardwoods looks great, but I don’t think that it lasts even 6 mos. in full exposure.

    • Hugh says:

      The marine grade has been a quality product and easy to apply. On our 9 month old ipe deck we are preparing for the third application to maintain the new look. Hopefully after 3-4 applications it will last at least 1 season.

      • Scott Burt says:

        Good to hear, Hugh. The ipe does get nice and happy over time if you continue with the maintenance, and it does reach a point where it doesn’t require as much attention.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Mark, I agree. That is why we switched to the Marine grade. It is a bit more durable, but still high maintenance.

  9. Natalie says:

    Hi Scott ~

    Our Ipe deck was installed 2 summers ago when it was sanded twice and left unsealed to “breathe” and allow the “pores to open up”. It’s silvered now (except in a few spots where the original color has escaped the effects of the sun ;)) and we want to bring it all back to its original beauty.

    We plan to power wash it (read somewhere that sanding it again would close the pores and make it harder for oil to soak in – Is this your opinion too?????) with just plain water (or, should we use somekind of added soap/brightener??) and then apply “Ipe Oil: Hardwood Deck Finish” made by “Ipe Clip” (www.IpeClip.com), using the 6-course brush on and wipe off method you suggest.

    Our small deck has an open A-frame roof but still gets most of the South Eastern Pennsylvania weather (maybe a little less rain and snow than it would if it had no roof).

    Do you agree with this method or would you modify it in any way?? Any tips on how we should or should NOT power wash (I.e., recommended pressure; best type of weather conditions to do it?; additives to plain water?; etc)???

    Feeling excited with the idea of bringing the full beauty of the Ipe back but nervous about possibility of screwing it up so each and every tip you might be willing to share would be sooooo welcomed!! ;).
    Thank you! ~Natalie

    • Scott Burt says:

      Great questions, Natalie. I answered in the other discussion you posted in, but will share the same Q&A here for all of our readers to enjoy. Your deck is totally cleanable. If you have access to a pressure washer, get yourself some Cabot wood brightener and mix it up per the instructions. Apply it with a garden style pump sprayer and rinse with the pressure washer (green tip on the wand). The color should come right back. When it is dry, you will have to make the call as to whether it needs to be sanded or not. The washing may “raise the grain” and make the wood feel a little too rough for bare foot walking. If so, sand at 80 grit lightly. If not, apply oil as above. Let us know how it goes! This is becoming the internet’s most popular ipe discussion!

  10. James Williams says:

    Scott,

    Planning on putting in a 18′ X 19′ foot deck on the back of my home. It is in San Antonio, TX and will have western and southern exposure. It will receive shade in early to mid morning and late in the afternoon. Due to the costs I may be doing this in two phases, the main base deck first followed by a cover 1 to 2 years later.

    I Was looking at composites (i.e. Evergrain and Trek) but found through many reviews, they are not as maintenance free as they may state and once the fading has begun or there is scuffing/scratches later, it’s permanent without replacing it. I am now looking at Ipe.

    I see from your postings, which by the way are the most informative on this wood, it is also not as maintenance free as other sites have suggested. However, being wood,is more forgiving for correction on the spot or some time later. I am the homeowner, and not even sure I qualify as a novice when it comes to wood so I will be using a contractor to install. I am becoming more willing to perform the annual maintenance if I believe I can do it without screwing it up to preserve the beauty of the Ipe and increase it’s longevity.

    The deck will be near ground level so getting at the underside later will require lifting boards which I don’t really want to do. This part of Texas get’s a lot of sun and usually 60+ days a year over a 100 degrees. When it does rain (more rare these days), it comes down in buckets then dries out for several weeks.

    Questions I have for you are:
    1. Recommended board width and thickness. (traffic won’t be heavy and it’s for our enjoyment – we don’t entertain much.
    2. Recommended preventative maintenance for the IPE and Frequency
    3. Do we have any video on how to pre-finish before installation and subsequent re-application during PM’s. (I want to make sure I won’t screw it up)

    Would love to chat with you on this subject.

  11. niqui says:

    Hi,

    I read all your posts on the subject and found them very helpful – thank you.
    I had an IPE deck installed 2 years ago at my home in Montreal, Canada and normally hire somebody to stain it, but wanted to do it myself this year if its conceivable – never done this type of work before.

    I live on the water here, but the deck does not come in contact with the water. It is in direct sunlight (Summers unto +35c, and winters down to -35c).

    I was going to use the Messmer’s line (their cleaner, then brightener, then UV block plus stain) – is this fine, I notice you recommend another brand as well, and I am having trouble finding anything suitable in my area or even at online Canadian retailers – do you know any?

    Would you be able to walk me through the process from start to finish by chance – I am a newbie:
    1) clean the deck (do I need to powerwash it or sand – I have some dark spots, warping and some staining from the screws, as the builder’s were terrible). Do I just house it down and go over it with a deck brush, and apply the cleaning solution and brightner using a bucket/mop technique?
    2) let it dry
    3) apply the oil with a hand paint brush on my knees (?) six courses at a time, and then go back over them with a rag (?, i read about back brushing?) and remove the excess, and that’s it.

    I also have an IPE floating dock, I assume the same rules would apply….

    thanks in advance, and I apologize for all the questions in advance.

    Nick

    • niqui says:

      I meant to also ask if there are other products/methods that are easier to work with for amateurs – I saw the arborcoat comments, etc.
      Thanks again

    • Scott Burt says:

      Nick, you do need to sand and/or powerwash from what you are describing. Stay with a penetrating oil, such as Messmers, Penofin Marine Grade, or Armstrong Clark (any of these that are not locally available can be ordered online). Brush on, let sit for 15-20 minutes, wipe off excess. Be sure to wipe off excess. Same rules on dock. Key is to maintain (clean and recoat) annually to keep that new look.

      • Mike says:

        Scott, have you heard of a product called OneTime Wood sealant? They claim the product lasts for seven years. The positives are the longevity plus you don’t have to sand to re-apply. I have only used it once, and it is not cheap, however it goes very far and is quite easy to apply. Doesn’t tend to have the goasting effects of drip lines showing through as you coat over them. I found it better than Cetol for sure, but need to inspect a job I did a few years ago on a fence to see how it is holding up. This is a sun-cured product, so it at least needs ambient light in order to harden. Not too sure if this would be a good way to go on Ipe or not, but assume it would be OK (?)

  12. Randi says:

    Our Ipe deck is about 10 years old. We missed a couple of years of maintenance. The deck was power washed and cleaned with deck cleaner and brush. The deck no longer had the gray look but a light version of the original. Then, the contractor put on Benjamin Moore Exterior Deck and Siding Stain- Alkyd Translucent (326 in a mahogany. I discussed with him prior that IPE is a hard wood and he needs to use oil. The job came out terrible. there are streaks and bubbles and I can scratch the stain off with my fingernail in some spots. No 100% sure if he used the wrong product or applied it incorrectly. What do we do now? Does he have to strip it and start over? And then use the Penofin?
    Thanks so much.

    • ken says:

      Ipe decking about 8 years old, hasn’t been finished since new. Client wants it cleaned and finished again but it doesn’t need to look new, the weathered grey is fine. Do you have recommendations for deck cleaners? I’m assuming the Penofin or BM Arborcoat is the recommended topcoat?

      Thanks.

  13. Andy says:

    Scott,
    We are located in the mid-Atlantic region and we have a porch with southern exposure that we originally coated 6 years ago with Australian Timber oil. Last year the client wanted to change to Arborcoat semi transparent stain/sealer. After having the decks professionally sanded, and water popping the surface, we applied the Arborcoat.
    The finish didn’t hold up. Didn’t last 6 months. After reading your posts and satisfaction, we would like to change out to the Marine grade Penofin. We have sampled the Penofin in our shop, and the finish looks great.
    How would you prepare the exisitng surface to get it ready for the Penofin?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Andy, a couple of things. To switch between technologies (oil base to waterborne or vice versa) requires a thorough strip: pressure washing with a caustic stripper and sanding is ideal. If this had been done the first time, the arborcoat would have succeeded. To go back to oil, strip to raw wood. Be aware that penofin does require annual maintenance for best performance.

  14. Hugh says:

    Hello,

    Thanks for all the advice last fall. We have pre-finished all 6 sides as you recommended. We have installed and are ready to re-oil. What mild cleaner do you recommend ? Have you found any other methods beside brush to apply oil that works well and speeds up the process. Plan on sticking with the Marine Oil. Your advice has been valuable.

    thanks hugh

    • Scott Burt says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Hugh, I am glad this site helps you and so many others. To your question about finding a cleaner to use, it depends somewhat on how the deck weathered. Did it fade? Did it develop any dark discoloration? Does it just have some surface grime? If it looks like it just needs to be cleaned, Cabot makes a good wood cleaner that is easy to use and effective. I still recommend brushing and wiping. It is possible to use a garden style pump sprayer, but its messy and makes the wiping difficult.

  15. gena says:

    Hello,

    I have an ipe fence that I applied Timber oil to about 8 months ago, and after some rainy weather over the last month it looks like there are dark streaks running down all the boards…

    1) Wondering if you know what that could be?

    2) I’m wanting to switch to using Penofin oil and wanted to know how I should prep the boards to change product?

    3) In the future, should I use the pro-tech cleaner or brightener on raw ipe boards before applying the oil?

    Any help would be very appreciated!!

    • Scott Burt says:

      This is one of those hard to classify mysteries, Gena. We see that alot on exterior wood, and often is a result of pollen or other airborne matter settling on top of the wood surfaces, then running down over when wet and streaking. Not necessarily a failure in your prep or product, and your may find it to be cleanable.

  16. Paula says:

    I’m late to this conversation, but just in case anyone is paying attention, a question. I would like to use Ipe for an interior bathroom application. Typically you see teak in this sort of application, but from the research I’ve done Ipe is at least as good. I want an Ipe bench or stool and an Ipe shower mat INSIDE the shower. So both will regularly get soaked, but little light exposure.

    I’m assuming I should finish and regularly maintain it as one would with Ipe decking (thanks for all the great information on this), but for an interior application what would be the ideal finish?

    Thanks.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Paula

      We actually did an ipe bench inside a shower a few years ago and finished it with Waterlox tung oil. It has done very well. Might be able to scare up a picture of it if you are curious.

      • Paula says:

        Thanks very much for the recommendation. I was told that given the floors won’t be exposed to much if any UV they might not need to be treated, but applying some waterlox shouldn’t be too challenging. I’d love to see if photo if you have one around.

        Thanks again,
        Paula

  17. Scott Burt says:

    Tommy,

    Todd and I were just talking about that the other day. He had just done a couple of interior floors that way and we were discussing how we could do that on decks, especially if they were blind fastened/clip systems etc, so as not to tear up the applicator.

  18. Scott have you guys ever tried a pad for application? Or do you think it would over apply?

  19. Love working with that stuff. What product are you using>

    • Marine Grade Penofin. We have had good luck with it.

      • rita says:

        We have had problems with marine grade penofin… after busting our b…. applying the oil. The oil attracts dust and gets dark with mildew,

        We have busted our b— to clean it with Penofin 2 cleaner and now brightener.

        DO not want to use penofin oil again… looking for an product that we can easily clean and reapply yearly if necessary
        Even Penofin has to be reapplied every year!

        • Scott Burt says:

          Rita

          There are certain exposures where oils just dont do well, where they just become a breeding ground for mildew. If that is the case for you, you might consider sanding it out and switching to Arborcoat transparent stain and clear. Its a waterborne system that is easy to maintain.

          • rita says:

            Thanks for the information Scott… read your articles.
            Can you explain what you mean by “6 courses of a product” Does this mean you brush on 6 coats of oil based stain on Penofin

            Most contractors tell us not to put a waterbased stain on IPE. We were considering Defy….Dont know about Arborcoat

            We are considering TWP 1500 series since the 100 is not allowed in Ca

            We have a south exposure in the Bay area and get sun all day on the deck in summer. WInter very little sun as we are against a hill. Maybe that is the time the mold forms

            Any ideas on TWP or Defy?

            • Scott Burt says:

              Rita

              The “6 courses” concept refers to how many pieces of decking you should be brushing before you go back and wipe them. 6 coats of oil would be a bad idea.

              The only waterborne I would use on ipe is Ben Moore Arborcoat transparent, because it is an oil modified coating. When applying oil to ipe, the ipe is so dense that it doesn’t absorb much oil anyways, and so a quality waterborne (modified) like Arborcoat is actually a good option. Just keep in mind that no matter what coating you use, it will have to be maintained (ideally annually) to keep it looking pretty and new.

              I haven’t used TWP much myself on ipe, but colleagues have told me that it works very well. No news on Defy.

              Please keep us posted.

          • Mike says:

            You would have to experiment with it, by I have used MX-3 Mildewcide in various finishes with great success. I always add it to Varathane or Polyurethane when finishing and have had no problems with drying or hardening. I have yet to try it in a penetrating oil product like Penofin. BTW I had one architect tell me that Penofin was a pretty nasty product for health reasons, but I honestly have not done my homework on it so I cannot confirm or deny anything. I would however, not use anything that has to be applied annually if it were my deck. Ipe is expensive enough to begin with without having to baby it. Besides, isn[t that supposed to be the reason to lay out all the cash – the stuff is practically indestructible, so it seems to void the purpose.

            • Scott Burt says:

              It can go completely unfinished for many years if people like the silvery gray look. Most people seem to not like it. I have found attitudes to be more like “we laid out the money for an ipe deck, and would like to see it looking it’s best every season.” It’s not for everyone.

      • monica says:

        Scott,

        I am looking for a good option varnish for our IPE deck,a dn I love the one you posted here where you used Marine Grade Penofin.
        We have applied several varnishes before but the last times they have not worked. The IPE turned sticky and really dark. I like the reddish look yours show there.
        Do we have to sand the deck before applying the new Penofin? How many coats do you recommend?
        Thanks

        • Scott Burt says:

          Hi Monica, yes, in order to get penetrating oil to work, you would have to sand out (or otherwise strip, then sand) the varnish out because it is a film forming coating and the new oil would need to penetrate the wood grain. It is do-able, but challenging.

  20. Chris Haught says:

    The wood looks beautiful, how does it hold up compared to other types? Does it need more/less maintenance?

    • I consider it a little higher maintenance finish wise because of the density. The wood holds up great but the finish wears because there is only so much the wood can absorb due to the density.

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