Finish for an Ipe Countertop

Ipe is such a troublesome wood to work and finish that these pros suggest using a different wood for an indoor project. August 26, 2006

A designer approached me about an Ipe countertop for a kitchen counter in an area primarily used for serving - no heavy use, little water exposure. She wants it to look like a tabletop. I have zero experience with this wood - I would appreciate tips on finishing this. I know it is oily, and exterior applications often don't finish at all. Any and all advice appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Monteath Lumber in NJ, who is one of the largest suppliers of Ipe in the USA, says to seal all ends with a product called Anchor Seal and seal all other surfaces with Cabots Australian Timber oil. Donít forget to add to your cost extra carbide blades. Ipe is like cutting metal.

From contributor B:
Anchorseal would not be a good idea at all for an interior item. It is basically wax, not a durable film finish whatsoever. It is also a rather permeable film, much more so than a good catalyzed finish like conversion varnish. Anchorseal was originally developed for saw mills to use to partially seal the ends of green logs to avoid checking due to the endgrain checking. It is designed to allow moisture exchange, just at a much lower rate. Most finishes shoot for as close to a total seal as possible.

Your second obstacle will be finding true low moisture content kiln dried Ipe. Every board of Ipe I've ever seen is not kiln dried to the extent most hardwoods are. You will run into more movement and checking with the Ipe you get that's used for decking. I would get a written statement of the moisture content of the wood you are using from the supplier as insurance. For any major warpage or checking, you can try to pass the buck on to them.

Ipe also glues up about as nicely as gluing plexiglass with wood glue. It usually de-bonds in a short time, even with really expensive epoxy. I cannot offer you an answer that I'd personally bank on. I have made some small items (bowls and hardwood pens) out of Ipe cutoffs I've picked up from decking jobs and I have yet to find a finish, including conversion varnish, that will stick to it long term. I use only boiled linseed oil now and it seems to penetrate nicely. I would highly recommend you sweet talk them into using Brazilian Cherry. It has the same grain pattern as Ipe, is nearly as hard, is not oily, and glues up very nicely. It looks much like the redder varieties of Ipe and is usually cheaper too. Finish with conversion varnish or even better would be a post-cat polyurethane, like ML Campbell's EuroBild poly.

Finally, Iroko makes a nice top. It is not nearly as hard as Ipe or Jatoba, but nice nonetheless. Research this thread and the cabinetmaking thread for Ipe. You will find that it is not a favorite at all for glue ups or finishing.

From contributor C:
TWP - total wood protection - works great outdoors and for an interior project you could add the catalyst and buff to the desired sheen if you want. I've seen Ipe decks out here in Southern CA that have had TWP on them for years, with periodical re-applications depending on the sun exposure. For an interior project I'd look at the TWP 100 first as it dries quicker. Two coats and then a final with the catalyst (or not) and I think you'd be golden. But as stated, the finish may be the least of your worries.

From the original questioner:
I think that the responses confirmed my original take on this, which was "really, are you sure"? I like the suggestion of Brazilian cherry/jatoba, and maybe will finish up a piece for the designer so she can see. This is a wood I personally like a lot, and I think she will too.

From contributor B:
We've made several Iroko tops and I've recommended Jatoba to the super on several occasions and it never happens. I think (with a full grain fill) it would make an outstanding countertop. It is very water/rot resistant and very hard, and pretty to boot.