Ipe Deck Finish: 5 things not to do

**2015 Update: This Topic has moved to a New Home**

Ipe Maintenance Tips from the Wood Pros at Topcoat Finishes

6 Course Method

Todd massages out another ipe deck…

1. Do not use film forming coatings. Period.

This rule, in my strong opinion, applies to all decks, including ipe. We have stripped far too many failing film coatings (like the old Sikkens formulations) to think it is any kind of a good idea. Sure, it works on boats, but is way too high maintenance for a home. Owners of boats with exotic woods generally have very good maintenance habits prior to each season, which attributes to the success of films on boats. But a boat is only in the water half the year. And home maintenance hasn’t achieved that level of mainstream fashionable enthusiasm…yet. May your ipe deck finish be the one that shoves the whole neighborhood in the direction of wood snobbery.

Read in more depth about Rule #1 at ipehelp.com.

2. Do not overapply penetrating oils, but do use them, and wipe excess.

I have been told that ipe has the structural density of steel. Throw a piece in some water, and watch it sink. This density makes it a finishing anomoly. When you apply penetrating oil to softer woods, you can lay it on heavily by brush and it will suck in. Ipe will laugh at you as it spits most of the oil back out. The residue that is left will stay tacky for weeks, and then become a choice breeding ground for mildew formation. The art of the ipe deck finish is to apply it with a brush and then wipe off excess, like a hand rubbed finish on a fine piece of furniture.

[Related: More Ipe Finishing Tips]

3. Do not install decking without finish applied on all 4 sides, and sufficient rack time to dry

Do seal (with oil or wax) the cut ends (end grain) on installation. Prefinishing ipe, in our considerable experience in prefinishing ipe, has been the biggest factor (along with MAINTENANCE) in extending the life cycle of the finish applied. The less the wood moves (yes, its ipe, but ALL wood moves, especially in 6″ widths, laying horizontal in deck-like exposures), the happier the finish will be. Also, as decks are often low to the ground, with minimal underside air circulation, it is very cheap insurance to prefinish. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Prefinish. Then maintain.

4. Do not mislead the ipe owner that the deck will stay pretty forever because it is ipe.

Do not even tell them that they can reasonably expect 4-5 years. Ipe owners basically have two choices in how they want to live with their ipe: do no maintenance and let it turn silvery gray like the teak furniture; or accept the reality that if maintained periodically (read: every year or two), it will age with remarkable grace. Maintain the teak furniture too, for a more aesthetically pleasing outdoor living experience.

5. Do not apply finish by sprayer.

Get your kneepads on, do it the old fashioned way and enjoy!

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

Please submit all other questions or feedback on ipe deck finishing at our dedicated IPEHELP site, where we are continuing the most interactive and ongoing ipe finishing discussion on the internet.

Thanks to all who participate!



Prefinishing all sides prior to installation is best practice for dimensional stability.

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  1. Lori Kirk says:

    I saved the left over end pieces from our ipe deck and made steps for our boat. I haven’t installed them yet as I have noticed that the steps are “bleeding” the oil stain on to the white fiberglass when wet. The deck boards were sealed with oil on all four sides, including these left over pieces.

    1) What is the best way to strip that oil stain off to prevent the bleeding?
    2) I would like to have the steps weather naturally. I have read the above comments to understand that the ipe will still need to be treated so that it doesn’t splinter. You have recommended several oils. Which one would be best in this application.

    3) Has anyone else encountered issues using ipe on or next to fiberglass?

    Thank you

  2. Gary says:

    I have a sunroom with Ipe tongue-in-groove flooring. It’s a great rustic look in a totally enclosed heated/AC room, so it is essentially indoor flooring. It’s about eight years old and all I have done is vacuum regularly and mop with Bona products occasionally. The finish has started to fade/dull somewhat and I want to re-coat the floor with Penofin (as was used originally). One area has a rug so it has aged a little differently than the rest, and there are a few minor water spots from where some houseplants leaked a little. Should I sand the entire floor before re-coating it? If so, what grit do you recommend? Any other tips or cautions, other then the typical ones for sealing Ipe? Thanks!

  3. Heather says:

    Scott- we live in Colorado and have extreme conditions. We have an ipe deck that is very large. It seems very dry and the color is grey. How should we go about prepping it (cleaning) and finishing it? I see you recommend certain oils but is there a specific method of cleaning and oil for weather that we have here. Please advise and thank you in advance.

  4. Candice says:

    Hello Scott,
    Got a new Ipe deck last fall. The guys applied Penofin Penetrating Oil to it in the final step. The deck had a warm lovely finish. In the coming months, there was other construction done in the backyard and the deck was very dirty as a result. A couple months ago, in an effort to get it clean, I used a power washer (40 degree nozzle…tolerable to my own feet, not too much pressure) to clean it. Immediately after, it looked much better. But then I noticed it started to look very dull. Did the power washer remove all the oil? What do I do now? Is my deck being damaged in the meantime by the valley’s intense sun all day?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Candice, hard to say without seeing pictures but it sounds like it may be weathering out and due for seasonal maintenance. Visit ipehelp.com if you want to research and explore further.

  5. Josh says:

    My wife and I had an Ipe deck installed about 18 months ago. We were under the impression that the only reason to oil it was to maintain the reddish color. We prefer the faded grey color and so we chose not to oil. Now, we can’t touch the deck without getting a handful of splinters. We clearly made a mistake. Is it too late to oil? If not, should we re-sand the entire deck first? Appreciate any guidance you can give.

  6. Rudy burnham says:

    Have a ipe bridge over water in my back yard,what’s the best way to clean without hurting the fish or puluteing the water,association in the neighborhood is very picky.

  7. Mitch says:

    I am just completing a tigerwood deck. I live in Southern California. I used Ipe oil on all 4 sides prior to installation. I used face screws and wanted to give the boards a quick sand and another coat of oil. Will this be a problem at all?

  8. Cheryl says:

    A contractor built an Ipe outdoor bench for me. He is saying it has to be sealed with a clear coat to prevent cracking and splinters, but the sample he showed me turned the wood a dark, deep red. I would like to Ipe to weather naturally to gray- will that happen if a clear coat is put on? Is a clear coat required for Ipe, and if so, does it need to be reapplied occasionally? Does a clear coat prevent splinters? Thanks!

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Cheryl, good question. Yes, it is important to seal the wood to keep it from drying out and splitting, checking, etc. Since you want the piece to weather and gray naturally, here is a product that is designed to do just that: http://www.sherwin-williams.com/painting-contractors/products/catalog/superdeck-exterior-waterborne-clear-sealer/?referringCategory=

      • Chris Vassalotti says:

        Hi Scott, I had thought only oil based products worked on IPE. Is this suitable for an IPE Deck as well being waterborne? Does this require any special application techniques on IPE or do you just apply and let dry (no wiping)? Being in Chicago, how often would you apply?

        • Scott Burt says:

          Chris, not sure which product we are talking about.

          • Chris Vassalotti says:

            a reader indicated they wanted to protect their ipe, but let it gray.

            Your response was…. Yes, it is important to seal the wood to keep it from drying out and splitting, checking, etc. Since you want the piece to weather and gray naturally, here is a product that is designed to do just that: http://www.sherwin-williams.com/painting-contractors/products/catalog/superdeck-exterior-waterborne-clear-sealer/?referringCategory=


          • Scott Burt says:

            Ahh, ok, now I see. We haven’t time tested this product, and it is the only one we are aware of that is designed to allow weathering to gray. The fact that it is waterbased would make me not apply it to brand new ipe. I would let it weather for a season first. I’d let it go a year and see how much the wood dried out and reapply as needed based on observation. I would imagine would lives a fairly dry life in Chicago…

          • Steven Bryant says:

            Scott, getting ready to refinish an IPE deck that has not been worked on for about 8 years and yes it has greyed and has surface checking. It needs to be sanded and oil sealed. What type of sander do you recommend on a DIY basis and grades of paper
            apps; i.e., 80 and 120? Also, what clear oil based sealer do you recommend for North Carolina?

          • Steven Bryant says:

            Scott, thanks for your response to my inquiry that I’m sure would benefit many discriminating ipe owners. Not sharing your experience in working with ipe and related restoration products unless there’s money on the table does’nt work for me. You are not the only experienced ipe source on the planet. Have a good day!

          • Scott Burt says:

            Hey Steven, not true, we built the site IPE Help to help address these types of questions, as a free guest, anyone can view articles specific to IPE and ask general questions with no charge. The paid portion is where I help owners solve project specific problems that take much more time and communication to resolve, as well as help in planning new decks and setting up maintenance programs for existing decks. Feel free to join the discussion there.

  9. Gabe Ewing says:

    Great write up Scott. The discussion is insightful too.

  10. Garry Boyce says:

    Have you used penofin hardwood for Ipe decks? http://www.penofin.com/wood-stains/hardwood-formula-wood-stain. Is there any reason why you recomend marine grade instead?

    • Garry Boyce says:

      My carpenter is saying that penofin will probably not warrantee the finish if I use Marine on the non-marine deck.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Garry, the hardwood version is also good. In fact, I have been told by a local supplier that it and the marine are the same now. We have phased out Penofin from our ipe program, though.

      • Marc says:

        Say what? You’re not using Penofin Marine Oil anymore??? After extolling its virtues all this time? What have you switched to?

        • Scott Burt says:

          Marc, yes, times change…more suitable (but compatible) products appear. We are still in the penetrating oil realm with 3 products this season on all of the (dozens) of ipe decks we are doing. Stay tuned over at ipehelp.com as we will be sharing this season’s results over there.

  11. Ben says:

    We built a fence and some benches out of Ipe lumber without finishing. Recent rain seems to have brought out the natural oil which is now dripping down onto the adjacent finished surfaces below. I have read a great deal and found lots of talk about checking, warping, fading, silvering etc. but not a single work about natural oils seeping out. Am I missing something?

  12. Ray says:

    I am building a picture/mirror frame out of IPE wood. This will only be used indoors. I’ve cut the corners at 45 degree angles.
    1. Do I need to use an end seal to prevent checking?
    2. Won’t the glue used to keep the end pieces together fail due to the wax/end seal?

    I already put end seal on which I plan on scraping the excess off. But did I need to put any on in the first place?

  13. Jim says:

    I stripped and pressure washed my IPE deck with Behr stripper, Sanded, Brightened with Sherwin Williams Revive It looked beautiful wet. Dried out looking pretty blanched. Applied Cabot Australian Timber Oil in Honey Teak and the deck looks worn and dry with almost a grey or silvery hue on top. What do I do to get back the IPE rich look. Thanks

    • Laurie Knight says:

      My husband told me not to let the painters powerwash the small ipe deck over our small pond at our front entrance. By the time I returned home that day the painters had arrived and already attacked the ipe! It’s streaked from the power wash and looks anemic! How can it be restored? It was 2 years old.