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exterior stair treads5/7
I am in the process of building cabinets for a new house, my experience lies primarily w/ interior woodwork, but the customer has asked me for some help w/ deciding what would be the best approach for the exterior stair treads. This house is on the beach, and exposed to all the weather that entails. The customer wants wood that can have a natural looking finish, doesn't like the silver color that wood turns when sun baked, he wants treads about 2" thick, they will be attached to a metal frame and I've told him to plan on renewing the finish at least annually. Does anyone have a suggestion as to the best wood species to use . I am assuming the treads would have to be glued up to get the needed width (12" + -) which leads to the question how a glue up w/ an oily tropical specie would hold up being exposed to the elements, is adhesive failure to be expected?
Exposed to the weather, I have strong doubts about the stability/checking that may happen with Ipe and Cumaru at these thicknesses... not familiar with working with teak. Not sure what thicknesses you can get Ipe in? Metal may stain these woods on exterior contact applications (can you use stainless?). I lean toward more "deck like" designs on exterior stairs with ipe, such as treads made of maybe 3-5 strips of 5/4 with spaces between...stability and checking reduced as well as puddling and slippery when wet surfaces reduced....some pleasing patterns can be achieved, although the metal stringers may pose a problem there for fastening a pattern. We use stainless steel screws (face or hidden), not nails with these woods. West System Epoxy, possibly G/flex Epoxy (I have not used the G/flex personally) may be the solution for gluing if you still want to go heavy.
If you insist on such heavy treads but can be flexible with the species, my suggestion would be mahogany (maybe Sapele) because of its availability in such dimensions and you may get lucky and find enough stock to pick out only the quartersawn to get close to the look you want. More reasons are its a proven exterior wood and there are proven exterior finishes available for it; workability, (cumaru and ipe are very difficult woods to work and very hard on tools...though a simple design (open riser) probably wouldn't be too bad); It's stable; very glueable (west system 105) and repairable.
Is it a salt water beach? No idea where you live. Stair treads on a beach property are going to really take a beating. From the weather and from the sand on feet and sandals that come tromping in. If there are any kids in the equation, take that wear times ten! No place for nicely finished wood as far as I am concerned, especially if he doesn't want it to weather grey. I would not give a recommendation if I were you, he's going to call in a year and ask why the heck you recommended that species since it looks horrible. Send him to the lumber yard, let them take the fall. Must be big people to request 2" thick!
Thank you all for your input.
Ipe is the popular choice for real HARDwood exterior decking from the Atlantic City boardwalk to Las Vegas Strip. Unfinished it will go grey and that's just a fact. You can use 8/4 but I wouldn't trust any glued joints of any kind. If you do glue up solid treads, be sure to install them with 1% slope (1/8 inch per foot) for drainage.
I prefer silicone-bronze fasteners over stainless. Bronze lasts forever while stainless will eventually rust, especially when concealed.
Almost all other materials, including teak, are just way to soft for beach-front stair treads. That goes for PVC composite decking as well. Mahogany is unsuitable for any uncovered steps either inside or out. The beach sand under your feet is sandpaper with every step.
Another idea might include pre-cast or stamped concrete which looks like wood. It can be dyed and shaded and is a pretty impressive substitute. It requires zero upkeep maintenance.
If you must use natural wood, then ipe is the only good choice. Holes need to be predrilled as the wood is hard as a rock(almost). Saws will dull quickly. A waterproof coating is a good idea initially, followed by a second coat within a year. Then another coat In two years.
A better choice might be to use a wood composite. Some of them mildew quickly, but are easy to clean.
Some folks use syp treated 2x6s, but they will warp, splinter, and look bad quickly. A better choice is treated syp 5/4 radius edged decking, which is both an appearance and structural product and will perform better and look better with less warp than 2x6s. It is much less expensive than ipe
I agree with Jim. Pre-cast or stamped concrete also looks like wood. It can be dyed and shaded and is a pretty impressive substitute. It requires zero upkeep maintenance. Very economical indeed!