Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I've taken two aspirin every night this week

The Atlantic City Boardwalk is made out of ipe (so is the bike path on the Brooklyn Bridge). It's twenty or thirty years old now - no splinters, no rotting, a nice silver patina. Pretty good advertisement for the durability of ipe. One of the reasons is its density; it just doesn't allow water to penetrate it. And weight, as we all learned in seventh grade, is a function of density. So our 20' boards are HEAVY. Unbelievably so. You should square off the ends of each board (cut the very end off with a chop saw): to make sure you've got a right angle, to get the boards the right length so that the ends rest on joists, and to cut off the wax stains that the boards usually have on the ends. So that means lifting the boards again and turning them around to cut both ends. My back is killing me, is the short story.

We got our second round of ipe from George at EastTeak; the wood came when they said it would, packaged appropriately, looks great. Ipe is usually shipped with a wax seal on the ends of the board to prevent them from drinking up water; the cut ends of wood absorb water something like 200x faster than the surface due to the capillaries in the wood, and the wax cuts off that process. After you make a cut, you need to re-wax the end (AnchorSeal is the most popular wax end-sealer). The wax tends to get absorbed into the wood, and leaves a stain that crawls up the wood:

I was kinda hoping that we could install all the boards on the deck in a weekend. No chance. We're using the TigerClaw TC-G hidden fastener system, which goes into the grooves on the boards and is fastened into the tops of the joists:

This takes just about as much time as face-screwing the boards. (You have to face-screw the first row so that one board is secured to the deck; there are lots of people out there who are opposed to hidden fastener systems because the vast majority of the boards aren't secured directly to the joists, but are "floating" above them, secured only by the clip. GardenWeb's message board is a godsend for info re: decks.)

The hard part is getting the boards straight. Most wood you just fasten one end, use some brute force to bend the board into position, and then fasten it in place. Not ipe. It doesn't move at all. So you need to get the boards onto the clips, which can be a little tricky, and then you need to straighten the board to get the entire length flush with the clips (about 1/8" gap the whole way). They make a special tool called a Bowrench that is pretty good for this (it sits on the joist, and you pull the handle away from the board, putting pressure on the board and holding it in place while you fasten the clips on):

We got all the short boards on the walkway in front of the house (the gap in the middle will be filled with bluestone, which will catch the water from the roof and send it through the black pipe to the other side of the retaining wall; a cedar fascia board will cover the exposed 2x12 pressure treated wood that frames the walkway):

And we finished seven (of what will probably be 24) rows of the deck:

Here's how hard the ipe is. You have to pre-drill any holes that you screw. You have to pre-drill the countersink, too (these are great). We're using the same stainless steel torque screws that we used for the trim around the windows (with the star heads). They are about the best screws you can buy ($50 for a 5lb box!). I broke the first two screws in half because the pilot hole was 1/32 of an inch too small (1/8 instead of 5/32). Then I didn't drill some of the countersinks deep enough; the screw just stopped dead. That is some hard wood.

Only place where I'm second guessing myself right now is on the board length; 20' is a bit unmanageable. It reduces the number of joints, and it looks great, but it's really heavy, and any bowing is magnified by the length. We are currently planning on sealing it after it's all on to maintain the nice deep red color, but we'll see what happens.


Anonymous said...

This post has everything a great blog should have: very educational, very helpful for other DIYers (particularly your discussion of the choices you might make differently), and yet very personal as well.

Bravo and keep up the good work.

Chris said...

Thanks! It's hard to balance those things and not write a 1500 word post, but I'm trying...

Anonymous said...

Ouch..Not green...

Chris said...

Yeah, and Forest Certification seems to be a bit of an exercise in futility, as I understand it. Most of the hardwood wholesalers like EastTeak have pretty detailed descriptions about how they procure their wood (I think the rules for "sustainable harvesting" are supposed to limit the number of trees that can get logged to one an acre, and require some corresponding number of new trees planted).

We weighed our choices, and didn't want to go the composite route. And reclaimed hardwood is ferociously expensive.