Family: Handroanthus genus of flowering plants in the family of Bignoniaceae.
Origin: Central and South America. Ipe comes from the Tabebuia Tree, which is native to the American tropics and subtropics from Mexico and the Caribbean to Argentina.
Common Names: Brazilian Walnut, Amapa, Cortez, Guayacan Polvillo, Lapacho, Trumpet Trees.
The Tree: Ipe refers to not one, but seven different tree species within the Genus Tabebuia, all of which are native to Central and South America. Also known as trumpet trees, Ipes can reach more than 100 feet high and up to 50 feet wide (at the top, with branches and leaves), and are supported by narrow trunks that are 2 to 4 feet in diameter. Tabebuias can be deciduous. Evergreen or semi-evergreen. Some of these trees drop their leaves before producing spectacular clusters of flowers in colors that include white, golden yellow, lavender, bright pink, and red.
Appearance of Wood: Ipe can vary in color between yellow, darker, blackish, and reddish-brown hues, and in some cases, it can even showcase contrasting darker brown/ black stripes or powdery yellow deposits within the wood structure. Visually, it can be very similar to the South American timber called Cumaru. The color of Ipe heartwood is a rich brown with red and amber hues and varies considerably from board to board.
Density: Average reported specific gravity ranges from .91 to 1.10 with an average dry weight of 69 pounds per cubic foot. Janka hardness is 3,510 pounds of force. Ipe is almost twice as dense as most woods and up to five times harder. Ipe wood is very dense and hard with strong cutting resistance.
Drying and Shrinkage: Ipe dries extremely well with little checking, twisting, or bowing. Average reported shrinkage values are: 5.9% radial, 7.2% tangential, 12.4% volumetric.
Working Properties: Ipe has a very difficult workability rating. Proper tooling should be used to prevent a blunting effect on tools. Pre-drilling for screws is recommended and a nail gun should be used with caution due to the extreme density of the wood. Ipe sands very smoothly with little or no splintering and glues well. Straight-grained wood turns well, though the natural powdery yellow deposits can sometimes interfere with polishing or finishing of the wood. Ipe allows minimal penetration of stains.
Durability: Ipe is known for its ability to last many decades even in extreme weather conditions. Density and hardness play a large role in the longevity of Ipe. Ipe is naturally resistant to water penetration, mold, rot, and decay. This wood is also known as a wood of extremes: extremely dense and durable.
Uses: Ipe is used for decking and other outdoor applications like furniture, siding, and fencing. Ipe can also be used for tool handles and other turned objects.
Availability: Ipe wood is quite rare and only grows in low densities. FSC certified Ipe is available but not common. Ipe is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.