My 1st DIY deck project, so why not start with IPE !

by David
(Fairport, NY)

It has been over 2 years and over 2 tons of lumber and my deck is, well almost done ;-) After a few quotes from reputable contractors, I decided to DIY. Mechanically inclined I decided to learn everything I needed to know about deck building ... selection of materials, framing, loading, design, hardware, etc.

I'm a Mechanical Engineer so I tend to over design to ensure longevity and durability, but I think I got in a little over my head. I've been a garage woodworker for years, but have never worked with IPE. Boy did I have a long road ahead of me.

Initial design layout changed a few times, 3 levels became 2 and step down to the yard turned into step up into the geometric octagon from hell ... Wanted a great view of the outdoor space from the morning room and since the elevation at the base of the house did not drop significantly, I didn't want the framing to be lying on the ground practically.

I basically built 3 separate decks, each standalone with it's own framing design ... I wanted to picture frame the decking and fill at 45 degrees, so framing had to be 12" on center, well according to the town permit, with 1" nominal IPE decking, I could have done fine with 16" on center even with the 45 degrees layout ! But leave it to me to build a deck you could drive a truck on !

I just didn't fancy other decks that would flex when you walked and bounced when you jumped (so my spans are max 5-6 feet on the beams), I wanted a solid platform that still provided a comfortable surface for bare feet and didn't feel like a rock hard patio with pavers. Plus I did not want to see a single piece of hardware. It also had to look great and basically outlive the house itself ;-)

Cross cutting and ripping IPE was quite the bear, and demanded a ton of patience ... had to seal every cross cut immediately, used construction adhesive when laying down each plank, hidden fastener system a must and composite railing.

The extra effort with the LED lighting was well worth it ! I still can't believe I built it myself, I mean with barely a helping hand when installing the posts, I built the entire deck myself !

Extremely satisfying when my IPE supplier dropped off the last load of lumber and asked me if I wanted a job ! He said with the complexity of the design, the octagon and the 45 degree planking with picture frame, I could not have paid him $75K to build that deck !

All hardware used, with exception of hangers for the framing, is stainless steel ! Still have to finish sealing the stairs, designing and installing lattice, and landscaping, but pretty much there. I even made the handrails for the stairways out of scrap pieces of 1" nominal IPE.

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Oct 22, 2010
Response to John ...
by: David

Hi John,

Thanks for the kind comments. I can tell you it was an amazingly complicated design for a DIY project, definitely not for the mechanically challenged. I used Messmers UV protecting finish, it's very thin out of the can with natural chocolate color. I recommend applying by hand with a high quality brush as you can control the amount applied and only do a few planks at a time (using one of those push pads wastes a ton of material and puts on too heavy)... this is important because if you put too much on, you'll be using a hundred rags to wipe off the access ... IPE is not very porous, even with the precleaner and conditioner previously applied. Don't let it settle for more than 10-15 minutes depending on outside temperature and directly sunlight ... it will become tacky and not easily wiped and VERY difficult to reactivate. I'd be happy to share additional tips and lessons learned, send email to njythrde[at] as this forum has a character limit :-)


Oct 22, 2010
by: John

David, What an awesome job! I am in the process of building an IPE deck (contracor. Not myself) and would love to know your thoughts on the best stain to use and type of lighting you recommend. We are thinking of using Messmers for the stain and of course sealing each cut end. As far as the lighting, we can't decide between posts with lighted caps or just making the top rail continuous without posts sticking up, then addind lights on the sides of the posts... Any suggestions? Our deck is approx. 1000sf. Vinyl railings with ipe top rails. John

Aug 16, 2010
by: Editor - Rich Bergman

Must say this is a well done deck. You are a perfectionist I can see. The contrasting directions of the decking, the picture frame boarders, the hidden fasteners - the different levels.

Very nice. If you have other pictures you wish to submit to show different views please send to kaela.roy[at]

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