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There are many excellent tropical decking species that all look and perform differently. Here are the top six tropical decking choices to consider.
Many in the wood products industry agree that Ipe is an unrivaled species for decking applications. However, the price continues to climb every year. It is important to educate yourself and pay very close attention to alternative decking products and discuss additional options that are available in the market.
1. IPE: No matter how you look at it, Ipe is the number one option for decking. It is truly a magic wood that remains stable and strong in every environment. For exterior uses, Ipe does not have to be dried so the turnaround time from forest to job site is greatly reduced. As one of the hardest woods in the world, durability is never in question. Since Ipe is the premium decking wood, it can be found in many applications from boardwalks to private residences. The superior performance and high demand of course result in a higher price point.
2. CUMARU: This species is only slightly softer than Ipe and is often known as Brazilian Teak. There are two variants in circulation: yellow and red Cumaru. The red variant is more often used for decking purposes. Cumaru does have some stability issues and is prone to shrinkage. Careful kiln drying is a must to produce a good decking product. Using Cumaru in a dry climate for decking can be slightly risky because of these shrinkage issues. The red brown color is similar to Ipe, and when combined with its high density and hardness, makes Cumaru a viable alternative to Ipe. It is readily available and about 2/3 the price.
3. TIGERWOOD: Also known as Goncalo Alves, this decking wood is recognized for the brownish orange background and dark stripes that give it a tiger-like appearance. Over time, it will darken to a deeper reddish brown. The wood dries well and is very stable in many climates, but kiln drying is required to achieve this stability.
Tigerwood is used extensively for decking but also for many interior applications. While readily available, the variegated “striping” can make assembling a deck with consistent appearance difﬁcult. Also, its smooth texture, which feels great on bare feet, can be slippery.
4. MASSARANDUBA: Also known as Brazilian Redwood or Bullet Wood, Massaranduba is a very dense hardwood. The tree is quite large and it yields straight and consistent grained boards that are perfect for decking. It is deep red in color and can mellow with more brown upon exposure. Massaranduba is about 20% less hard than Ipe but still very durable. Drying is the weak point of this species. Splits and checks are very common during drying.
Moreover, when used in dry climates like the Rockies and the Southwest, Massaranduba can all but break apart. This species is very popular in Europe due to its wetter climate as it is quite stable under these conditions. Careful climate consideration should be taken when building a deck from Massaranduba. Similar to Cumaru in price and readily available, this species can be a great alternative in certain climates.
5. GARAPA: Also known as Brazilian Oak, Garapa is another dense and hard decking species. It is unique with its lemon yellow color and creates a striking appearance.
While this is a stable and effective decking product, its color is not in high demand. The hardness is about 40% less than Ipe, but still much harder than many domestic species. It is durable and carries the same class A ﬁre ratings of many of the South American decking species. Many overcome the color issue by applying stains and dyes to make Garapa look more like Ipe.
6. CAMBARA: Often sold as a variant of Mahogany, Cambara does have many similar properties such as an open grain and reddish brown coloring.
It is much less dense and hard when compared to the above species, but is often used as a tropical alternative to many of our domestic decking products such as Southern Yellow Pine, Redwood and Red Cedar. Cambara is stable once kiln dried and provides a much cheaper alternative as the pricing is similar to some domestic species.