Teak and Ipe are two of the most versatile and durable woods you can get for woodworking. Although most people know about teak, little is known about Ipe, which serves as a viable alternative to teak.
Teak and Ipe are among the top two types of wood you might consider when planning a woodworking project. Both are reasonably durable woods, but Ipe rules over teak in terms of affordability and availability. While harvesting and trading in teak are banned in many countries, Ipe continues to be a viable substitute for teak wood.
Teak vs Ipe
Teak is a hardwood that most people know well. It lasts well outdoors, being devoid of the difficulties that we see in softwoods. It serves equally well for making indoor furniture or for outdoor applications like outdoor furniture and boat building.
The demand for teak became so much that it led to overharvesting to the extent of endangering the species. It became a scarce commodity and today it is illegal to harvest in many countries.
In recent years, some governments of countries like Indonesia have stepped in to control the harvesting and sale of this precious wood, and you can find legally-sourced teak grown in plantations.
Ipe, on the other hand, is much more easily available and never faced the threat of extinction like teak. However, like teak, we use Ipe for both interior and exterior woodworking projects.
Both Ipe and teak are long-lasting and make durable outdoor furniture. But Ipe has many advantages over teak. It has almost four times the hardness of teak. If you put it in water, it will sink due to its high density.
It has a class-I fire rating, a category allotted to concrete and steel. Ipe is decay and insect resistant. It is affordable and easily available with pleasant coloring and wood grain. Due to these reasons, we often use Ipe in place of teak.
Teak is a heavy type of wood but much softer than Ipe with a Janka hardness rating of 1,070 lbf. You will find teak growing in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The botanical name for teak (Burma teak) is Tectona grandis.
Teak has a silky and smooth texture with a smooth grain pattern. The wood has a yellowish to golden brown coloration but will develop a silver-grey patina if left outdoors for a while.
You can distinguish teak by its leathery aroma which is prominent when being worked on or stored in a closed space. Teak produces natural oil which makes it resistant to rot and insect attack. However, it is not a waterproof type of wood.
As a result of the overharvesting of teak wood, it became a scarce commodity. It is illegal to harvest or sell varieties like Burma teak in most countries. However, with the initiative of governments, you can procure plantation teak legally today.
Teak makes some of the best furniture, hardwood flooring, and cabinets. We also use it as building material and for making boats and in the shipbuilding industry.
Ipe also goes by the names Brazilian walnut and ironwood, and we pronounce it as “ee pay.” This fine, exotic wood comes from South America and is extremely hard, strong, and durable. It resists insects, weather, abrasion, and rot quite well.
Ipe is medium to dark brown, looks a bit like mahogany, but is far more durable. It tends to develop a grey patina over time. However, you can easily restore it to its original color with a bit of wood cleaner and brightener. We consider Ipe as a viable and cost-effective alternative to teak.
Teak vs Ipe: Appearance
Teak has a characteristic golden color but comes in brown as well. Like many other hardwoods, it darkens with age. The grain is straight with occasional waviness or interlocking. It has a coarse, uneven texture but with a natural luster. The surface of raw, unfinished teak is oily due to the natural oils it secretes.
The heartwood of Ipe varies from reddish-brown to yellowish, olive-brown but it sometimes comes in a darker shade of brown. It has contrasting dark stripes. Sometimes you may see powdery, yellow deposits inside the wood which can interfere with applying a finish or polish to the surface of the Ipe wood.
Ipe exhibits a fine, medium texture with a straight to irregular grain with occasional interlocking. It has a moderate, natural luster.
Teak vs Ipe: Durability
Teak is one of the most decay-resistant woods that you can find, so we consider its heartwood very durable. It has excellent resistance to termites but may succumb to insects like powder post beetles and marine borers.
Ipe is also wood with similar durability properties to teak. It fares well in all types of weather. For example, the boardwalk on Coney Island, New York City was made of Ipe wood and existed for 25 years. Considering the amount of traffic, and the marine atmosphere, it bodes well for the durability of this particular wood.
Teak vs Ipe: Maintenance
Teak only needs to be cleaned every three months to once a year, depending on the grade of teak. The maintenance is not too much of a challenge. You clean it by washing it in soapy water and later applying oil after the wood dries.
Ipe is a wood that is easy to preserve. You don’t have to clean it every day. It has a natural resistance to rot, mold, and mildew. It is also resistant to all types of extreme weather conditions in rain, sun, or snow.
Teak vs Ipe: Workability and Uses
Teak is easy to work with. However, one point to be noted is the high silica content that makes cutting blades blunt. Although teak contains natural oils, the wood takes glues and finishes well. You sometimes need to wipe the surface with a solvent before applying glue or a finish due to the natural oil on the surface.
But teak is good for outdoor use. It makes good indoor and outdoor furniture, flooring, and cabinets. We also use it for various outdoor structures like decks and railings. Further, because teak is so durable outdoors, it plays a prominent role in building boats and shipbuilding.
You will find Ipe difficult to work with due to its extreme hardness and high density. It offers high cutting resistance while cutting and has a blunting effect on cutting blades.
The wood planes easily but you may see some tearout in the areas where the grain interlocks. You may also find it difficult to glue sections of Ipe together without surface preparation. Straight-grained sections work well but whenever you work with Ipe, look out for the powdery yellow deposits.
We use Ipe to make decking and other outdoor woodwork like furniture, fencing, and siding. It lasts long – up to 75 years, which is four to seven times more than that of most pressure-treated woods.
Teak vs Ipe: Price
Teak continues to be an expensive variety of wood because of its high durability, good looks, and low availability. It is probably the most expensive large-sized lumber on the market.
The highlight of Ipe wood is its reasonable price. It is also a wood that is readily available and serves as a fair competitor to teak in terms of good looks. You cannot expect Ipe to be downright cheap, as it’s imported, but the price isn’t prohibitive like teak.
Teak vs Ipe: Sustainability
Due to the over-exploitation of teak and excessive logging without replacing the harvested trees, teak ceased to be sustainable long ago.
Surprisingly, teak doesn’t feature in the CITES Appendices, and cannot be found on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is probably because of the efforts to cultivate this wood species in plantations, which are finally making some impact.
Ipe is also not featured on the lists of endangered wood species. However, the trees grow widely spaced. It creates the need to clear large sections of other trees to accommodate Ipe tree cultivation. It makes harvestable trees a bit scarce.
Teak vs Ipe: Comparison Table
|Golden to medium brown
|Reddish to olive-brown
|Hardness (Janka Scale)
|Easy to maintain
|Easy to maintain
|Suitability for outdoors
|Suitability for wood carving
|Easy to work with
|Difficult to work with
|Mild scent while working
|Special features if any
|No special features
|No special features
Teak and Ipe are both widely popular for use in a variety of woodworking projects. Due to the many factors like scarcity, high price, and sustainability, many are turning to Ipe as a viable substitute.
If you can procure teak for your woodworking projects, it is the best option in wood that you could have. But in case you cannot obtain teak, Ipe is a good option. So, save your time and energy looking for teak and try Ipe instead. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results!