Better Than New with Ipe Deck Oil

Written by on November 4, 2011 in Decks and Porches, Wood Snobbery with 43 Comments

freshly oiledFor a few years now, we have been sharing our tips on ipe deck oil finishing. Rule number 4 discusses the importance of maintaining the ipe deck annually.

This picture show’s one of our annual ipe deck oil finish masterpieces, which Todd insists on personally servicing. This one gets inspected and worked as needed in the spring and in the fall. If you maintain an ipe deck twice annually, it starts to become more like a fine wine, getting better with age. This deck is absolutely stunning. Twice annually may seem like high maintenance, but it is actually easier to do it twice than to wait and do it once, or wait longer and do the “do over”. The prep is very minimal in the bi-annual approach, and the results are astonishing. Having worked with this deck for 4 years now, Todd has declared it one of the pieces in his Topcoat portfolio that he is most proud of.

Would anyone NOT like to have their main entry deck looking like this at all times?

A properly maintained ipe deck is like a fine wine, it just gets better with age.

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

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About the Author

About the Author: 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! Scott's Google Profile .

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  1. Oil finishes on Ipe | Topcoat Review | August 10, 2012
  1. I will like to congratulate you for the information you put out there for us the people that has or are planning to get ipe decks. You need all the info you can get before you get in an ipe deck.

    Our epi deck has about seven years. It has been a learning experience of what not to do with it and at this point we have decided to let it go grey. It is approximately 550 sq. ft. installed in a diagonal pattern, in two levels; it receives sun till 2:30 every day, it is exposed to all sorts of weather and we are surrounded by woods. We live in the state of Maryland and the weather is kind of good referring to snow but this past winter was really bad and the amount of rain we have received this year has not been good for our deck.

    After it rained for 3 days, while the deck was still wet; we decided to use Cabot wood brightener and pressure washer it because it was starting to show some green mold growing on top and sides of the boards. These spots were difficult to remove. It took me about 10 hours to power wash it. It turns out that when it dried I walked on it bare footed and was able to see the strokes of the power washing and notice that I have very small splinters on my feet and hands.

    I have the feeling that I will have to sand it again. You recommend to someone to use 80 grids for sanding paper. Will that 80 grid be good enough for the weather conditions in the state that we live in? I just want to go light on the sanding without leaving the stokes and be able to oil it with absorption.
    Which sander you will recommend: the square sander or the drum sander? I really don’t like the way the finishing sander leaves the edges near the siding they look scratched; any suggestions???

    What oil will you recommend for the ipe board? I will appreciate all good information you can pass on.
    Thank you for your time, good knowledge and your prompt response.

  2. Bill Dougherty says:

    ipe oil sucks.

  3. Bill Dougherty says:

    based on 2 yrs of terrible experience w/it, i have only one thing to pass on:

    IPE OIL SUCKS!!!!

    I will be trying out Scott’s recommended Penofin material, and hoping for the best…

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Bill, I got your message. Will be in touch soon. Thanks.

      • Jim Shultz says:

        Scott…..I have a deck made with Cumaru and live in Minnesota. Last year I treated it with iPE Oil and after reading some of the recent comments, I’m wondering if it’s the best thing to use or if you have suggestions on another product that I should use this year.
        Thank you, Jim

        • Scott Burt says:

          Jim, yes we have been hearing some ipe oil issues. Try Penofin Marine grade or Armstrong Clark. Stay with penetrating oils, it is just a matter of finding the one that works for you.

          • Jim Shultz says:

            Scott, Thanks for your recent comment. I’ve looked at the websites and can’t decide what product to try. So now I’m going to put you on the spot.
            If it were your deck, which product would you choose? Penofin Hardwood Natural finish or Armstrong Clark Transparent? I want the Cumaru deck to keep it’s natural color and don’t want to use any type of stain. So, which product would you choose? You are the expert ;>)
            Thanks, Jim

        • Scott Burt says:

          Penofin Marine Grade or Armstrong Clark cedar tone.

  4. David Gerhart says:

    Scott,

    Awesome blog – couple of questions. I have read that water-based sealers are recommended on Exotic hardwood. The lumbar yard where I sourced my Ipe decking from recommended Flood CWF Hardwoods. It apparently lasts longer than Oil based sealers? I also do not want any color in the sealer (no stain) so I guess that prevents me from using the majority of oil based products (Messmer’s, Armstrong Clark, Ipe Oil)? I want the natural color look similar to poly on indoor applications like my Oak floors.

    • Scott Burt says:

      David, some of the better quality oils (including Armstrong Clark) use extremely high quality pigments that translate in wood more as tones than colors, and penetrate evenly instead of sitting on top. I would stay with good oil.

  5. Randy says:

    Hi Scott,

    I have learned more from your blog in a few minutes than I have have searching the web for over a week. A contractor recommended and applied Sherwin Williams semi-transparent stain on my 650 SF IPE deck a couple of years ago. (I wish I had read your blog before the contractor stained my deck!) About 3/4 of my deck is under roof. The railing is cedar. I live in the mountains of NC.

    I want to remove this stain and apply an oil. I have already tried using a Jomax stripper and my pressure washer to remove the stain. It took me about 4 hours to remove about 70 SF of stain and I did not like the resuts. Based on what I have read in your blog, I believe you would suggest first removing the stain and recoating with Penofin oil. My questions are:

    1. What grit should I use to remove the stain?
    2. How do I remove the stain on the edge of the 4″ boards?
    3. Will I need to use a brightener before applying the oil? If so, what product do you recommend?
    4. Which oil do you recommend?

    Thanks in advance for your help.
    Randy

    • Scott Burt says:

      Thanks so much for the feedback.

      1. 60 to remove and 80 to “clean up”. Dust free sanding is best.
      2. Sand them. I don’t know the exact details, but sand if possible.
      3. No, no brightener if you sand first.
      4. Penofin Marine and Armstrong Clark at this point.

      Please keep us posted on your results.

  6. Michael Check says:

    Hi Scott, thanks for all your great knowledge and willingness to share. You’re right, this site is becoming the goto spot for ipe finishing.

    We have just installed a 600 sq ft ipe deck tile system in Chicago that gets 100% sun. We intend to finish with IPE OIL hardwood finish before the Fall. I wonder if you would speak to your experience with this product.

    I have also seen some good reviews of non-oil products like Flood CWF for Hardwoods, and wonder if you have any experience using them in the real world.

    Finally, I have used the Penofin product for hardwoods on our front porch and wonder if you would speak to the cleanup process. I assume Ipe Oil will be similar. We have used your suggested method of brush and wipe excess after 15-20 min and find that we end up with a lot of oily cotton rags – and I imagine a lot after our new 600 sq ft deck. I wonder if you you could speak to how do you manage all the waste? And dispose of it in an environmentally sound and people-safe manner?

    Thanks again for your time and willingness to share.

    Mike

    • Scott Burt says:

      Thanks Mike, I appreciate the feedback. I have not used the “Ipe Oil”, our experience is much more with the different flavors of Penofin oils. To your questions, that is part of the catch 22 in dealing with ipe. It is so dense that it will only accept so much oil, but you have to saturate it and let the wood decide how thirsty it is. If you don’t remove excess, the joke is entirely on you. And its not a fun deal. So, you do generate a pile of oily rags. The first thing that everyone needs to know about these rags is that they are flammable…capable of spontaneous combustion if not properly handled. This is the immediate concern, so how we deal with that is to keep a bucket of water in the area, and as soon as a rag is saturated, drop it in the bucket of water and grab a new rag. By the end of the project, the bucket will be full. Let the rags soak for a couple of days. Then, let them dry and dispose of them. The soaking process neutralizes the combustible quality of the oily rags. So, the best way to make it as efficient as possible is to reduce the amount of oily rags produced in the process, by letting the wood absorb as much as possible for as long as practical, and using each rag until absolute saturation before submerging it in water. Thank you for raising this very important safety matter.

      • Bill Dougherty says:

        Never, NEVER, EVER use Ipe Oil – – its performance is pathetic, and the directions are mis-directed, and the results and claims are massively mis-represented – Ipe oil SIUCKS!!! I ought to know, i’ve used it for 2 yrs of agony, extra sanding, etc etc…will be using Penofin this year, in response to Scott’s directive, and am hoping for the best…

  7. FRANCES GELMAN says:

    My builder used Behr transparent stain after he installed my Ipe decks (which were fastened below)
    Now, a year later, they look awful.
    A painter told me I need to chemically strip the decks and use Sikkens transparent stain.
    Do you agree??

    • Scott Burt says:

      Frances

      A couple of things here…Behr was a mistake. It probably does need to be stripped, but it is a difficult chemical strip (I have done it many times). I would mechanically strip with sanders and dust control, ideally Festool.

  8. Jim Shultz says:

    I live in Minnesota and just finished sealing my deck with ipe oil. I’ve noticed that there are several boards that are still “tacky” after several days.
    Is there anything I can do to correct this?
    What do I need to do to prevent this from happening again?
    How often should I be sealing the deck?
    Thank you, Jim

    • Scott Burt says:

      Jim, get a product called TSP and wipe down with it. This will remove tackiness. To prevent from happening, apply less liberally and wipe more thoroughly. Annually is good.

  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. 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. Justin says:

    Hi Scott. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

    We bought a house with an Ipe deck a year ago. We were told by both the original owner and the inspector that it does not require maintenance, other than cleaning it with a deck brightener. After reading several blogs, including yours, I am doubting this is true.

    The bottom line for me is this. We are very busy right now (just had a baby and have a 3 yr old) and don’t have a lot of time to invest in the deck. I am okay with it being grey, with the hope of perhaps restoring its color at some future point. In the meantime, I however don’t want my deck to become permanently damaged by the elements. Will it become damaged if I don’t do anything more than wash it?

    We live in Wisconsin. The deck gets southern exposure and quite a bit of sun. I don’t believe it was pre-finished.

    Thanks for your advice,
    Justin

    • Scott Burt says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Justin, and I am glad that you enjoy our blog and find it helpful. To your question, yes, washing the deck (especially with a wood brightener) is a sufficient minimalist approach to keeping the deck maintained until you have time to really restore it. With ipe, there is little danger of permanent damage or rot. It will simply turn gray and show its weathering patterns, but can certainly be restored to “as new” condition in the future when time permits.

  11. Eric says:

    Scott –
    Thanks for the informative articles. I have a 7 year-old small Ipe deck in a sunny but not otherwise harsh mid-Atlantic climate. It goes gray quickly enough that we have to refinish twice a year to come close to maintaining that “new Ipe look”. We’ve been using Messmer’s cleaning solution and oil and the result looks great but just doesn’t last (which I know is to be expected – at least to some degree).

    I have a contractor suggesting that we use Armstrong Clark. A few questions:
    1. If we go with the Armstrong Clark – Will the tinting on that be so strong that it will look substantially different than what we’re used to? I’m worried about the deck looking “painted”.
    2. Will it likely last any better than the Messmer’s?
    3. You recommend Penofin widely. Would the it likely stand up to the sun better than these other products?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Eric, thanks for your kind words. I have not used Messmer’s at all, so I can’t offer feedback on it specifically, or in comparison to other products. I have heard good things about it, though. I have used Armstrong Clark. It is a very good product. You would not have to worry about it appearing to be “painted”. They use transoxide pigments, which are very high quality, and also durable. A very nice look indeed. I would not hesitate to recommend it. I do not think Penofin would hold up substantially better than this group of products on ipe, given the nature (density) of ipe. Also, twice a year maintenance on a small deck is much better than letting it go to the elements. Hope this helps. Let us know which way you go and how it works.

  12. Dave says:

    Hi Scott,
    I just had a contractor build an 8′ x 8′ IPE deck for my lanai in the north shore of Kauai (on the coast exposed to the elements- tons of rain, wind, salt water). I don’t think he did any prep work on it as we were thinking of leaving it unstained. We are now considering a sand and coating of WATCO Teak Oil (and follow up annually). The reason / goal, is to sand away much of the marks and scratches + maintain at least some of the new wood richness and color and perhaps minimize mildew that I’ve seen on IPE decks in Kauai.

    Any thoughts on what I should do at this point – for sanding and finishing? How about maintenance? Thanks again…great website you have!

    Dave

    • Scott Burt says:

      Dave, I answered this in the other comment you posted but will add it here as well: On the sanding, I would recommend Festool sanders and extractors, so that you are not exposing yourself (and surroundings) to all the airborne dust. The abrasive grit will depend on how badly weathered the decking is. 80 is a good place to start. For maintenance, once you get it right this time, going forward you should be able to just scuff and recoat. It is worth investing in a good sander and vac set up. Let me know if you need recommendations.

  13. Kris Williams says:

    Hi! I am hoping you can offer advice for us as we re-finish our Ipe deck and end the battle…so far Ipe is winning. We’re beginning to believe ipe was a mistake and have considered pulling it up.

    Deck is…
    200sq ft Ipe Deck (15×12)
    14 feet above ground
    4″ wide, 5/4 boards. We cut varied lengths for the look of an interior hardwood floor.
    Invisi-Fast Hidden Deck Fastener 1/8-Inch…no movement seen so far. (each hole pre-drilled and terribly time consuming but…nothing has moved visibly)
    Installed June 2011
    We used Helmsman spar urethane to finish sides and bottom prior to install.
    We used Cabot Australian Timber oil on end grain cross cuts and top of floor boards.
    Except for a small area, deck gets full exposure. Weather is 3 months of sun with temps between 60-90F, then 9 months where wood pretty much never dries out with temps 30-50F, maybe 7-10 days per year it gets below 30F. Area typically gets less than 18 inches of snow all year and always melts in less than a week.

    In June 2011, we used Cabot Australian Timber Oil, that didn’t even last a month in the sun. However, it did look amazing for a few weeks. It didn’t peal, but just faded and 12 months later we had a fully grey deck that needed to be re-finished

    Summer 2012…we pulled apart and sanded the railings (which also had some Ipe in decorative form) and sanded the floor boards to 80 grit with a floor sander we rented. If anyone needs an easily managed sander it was like a large, square orbit sander, easily handled by a small woman, less than 120lbs. My 180lb husband picked it up put it in the truck on his own. It was $100 including paper. Took about an 90min and it did a nice job taking it down to the original wood, but in some cases we did pull out the belt sander and 40grit to get some grey spots.

    After new wood was exposed we damp mopped and then let sit during the work week where the dew settled each night and then it got to 75-80 during the day. Then we spread Helmsman on the walking surface of the floor boards. It’s been less than 6 months and with winter in full swing we haven’t seen the sun around here in a good month or so and the Ipe is pretty much always wet, so I can’t say for sure what it looks like now, but 2 months after the Helmsman went down it was starting to gray ever so slightly. Not so much that we were embarrassed when we had company in late Oct but enough so that we know we’ll have to redo again this spring/summer.

    To note…We know Helmsman isn’t intended for floor boards but…we were desparate as I called every pro I could think of and no one had any good ideas. We’re only two adults and are only out there in our socks (balcony type deck) in the summer so I wasn’t worried about traffic. When we used the helmsman on the bottom during original install we had an accident and a small bit of Helmsman spilled on the top side. After everything else was grey this spot didn’t look as bad as the rest so we figured we’d give it a try. Another mistake we’re aware of but…around here you’re either in full sun or it’s wet out but…we put down the Helmsman in direct sunlight. Deck was dewy until around 10a then full sun until around 4p with sunset around 7p and damp air by 8p. We spread between 430p-530p…then prayed. It rained the next day.

    Goal…we accept Ipe requires annual maintenance…Our hope is that each year we can simply wash (pressure or mop) and spread another coat of finish, which means we’ll spend less than 4 hours annually; like on a nice weekend. Sanding is a pain and requires we remove the railing due to design features (turning it in to a 40 hour job) We’re not picky about color, we just want it to last a full 12 months, maybe even 13 months and by that time not be so bad we’re embarrassed of it. If the finish still looked ‘not terrible’ after 12 months, We’d happily adopt a plan to spend a weekend each June to wash on Friday and spread stain/oil/paint/etc on Sat or Sun.

    Any advice for us when we go to refinish again this spring/summer of 2013?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Sounds like quite the adventure, Kris. The first red flag was the initial application. Your prefinishing intent was good, but its important to install the same product on all sides for best dimensional stability, and the ATO on the top side is in my opinion a marginal choice at best. I agree with your decision to sand it out and go to spar. What brand did you use? Spar is not a horrible choice for your situation and in the lack of sun exposure you describe it might do just fine. You may find yourself scuff sanding one more time and moving to a top grade product and process. I have had very good luck doing a 3-4 coat system of spar wherein the first couple of coats are Captains gloss followed by Epifanes matte (which is actually more of a satin). I would consider this a finish that would be suitable for a sailboat in full exposure.

  14. David Corriea says:

    Has anyone tried semco teak products on ipe?

  15. Terry says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for sharing information to everyone!

    I like the lighter/medium brown look (like in the better than new picture above) far more than some of the very dark mahogony colors I have seen some pictures of online. Does the Penofin Marine oil come in various shades, or just one color?

    Other than oiling all four sides, what is the pre-finish you are referring to? (haven’t found on your site yet)

    Also, the size area you mention in each finishing section, how does that translate into square feet?

    Thanks!

    Terry

  16. Mark in CT says:

    Scott, I had the Ipe finished all four sides with Penofin prior to installation as you advised. This spring what should I do to prepare it for another coat?

    • Scott Burt says:

      If the deck is not in a crazy harsh exposure, you should be able to just clean it (wash) and re-oil. If you feel that its in a harsh exposure, and you are observing accelerated weathering (fading, bleached out look, greying, mildew formation) there will a couple of additional steps. In ordinary circumstances, its low pressure wash (let dry) and oil.

      • Kurt says:

        Scott,
        We also do a fair amount of Ipe deck maintenance. We just recently acquired a Festool vaccum and an orbital sander. I too am enjoying the “dust free” results the festool products provide.
        1.Which Festool sander do you prefer/recommend using for Ipe decking?
        2. How would you rate Benjamin Moore’s Alkyd Translucent [326 10]?
        3. Would you include a chart that rates the products the blog mentions? 4. I’m also curious as to the respective products UV ratings.

        • Scott Burt says:

          Hi Kurt,

          1. We have found that the most commonly used Festool sander on decks is the RO125. The RO150 and ETS150/5 also.

          2. No experience with that product.

          3. On ipe, we mostly use Penofin Marine. Armstrong Clark is also very good, in fact, we will probably be using more of it to see if it can outlast Penofin. In the future, we will be putting out more detailed info along these lines, specific to ipe finishing.

          4. UV ratings don’t really do much for me. Penofin, for example, has a 99% UV rating. Doesn’t really matter, we still have to maintain it annually. It is general exposure (wind, rain, sun, shade, traffic) that wears out deck oils. And ipe is so dense, that there is only so much oil that it is willing to accept to begin with.

          In case you (or anyone else) missed it, here is our most definitive ipe resource: http://topcoatreview.com/2011/06/ipe-deck-finish-5-things-not-to-do/

          There are over 300 comments, which include our readers sharing their own experiences as well.

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