As Colorado’s custom outdoor carpentry installers, we know that there are so many types of lumber on the market to consider for your outdoor patio, deck, or gazebo space. Among these, exotic wood species are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s not hard to see why. In addition to requiring less maintenance:
- Exotic hardwoods are unique and add visual interest to any outside area.
- “Hard” woods are stronger and more durable than softer woods, meaning fewer dents and dings as you live, work, and play.
- These stronger woods are more resistant to bugs, weathering, and fading than softer wood species.
As beautiful and sturdy as exotic hardwoods can be, all are subject to fading over time and require oiling to postpone the inevitable. As with pine lumber, faded exotic wood requires power washing, stripping, and resealing. Also, because these woods come from other countries, the cost to get these products to America increases the price you will pay for them. Depending on the wood you choose, there could be special tool and labor costs involved or special certifications required that will increase their expense, so it’s important you know all the pros and cons before you settle on an exotic wood. Let’s look at some of the most popular exotic wood species.
Ipe (pronounced ee-PAY)
Nicknamed “Brazilian Walnut,” the beautiful olive, yellow, red, brown, and gray hues of Ipe coupled with its durability and resilience make it the most popular exotic wood requested worldwide. Its thick cell structure resists bug infestation, mold, and rot, and it can withstand fire so well that it is in the same fire-resistant classification as steel. Unlike most other exotic woods, Ipe does not need a special drying process, shortening the time from harvest to installation.
Ipe is so tough that special tools are necessary in order to work with it. Ipe is often harvested illegally, so the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) now approves all sustainably grown, legally harvested Ipe. At five to seven times the cost of pine, this exotic wood species is the most expensive.
Looking much like teakwood, Cumaru has earned the nickname “Brazilian Teak.” This South American species has two varying hues—mahogany red or yellow—and is one of the most durable decking materials available. It’s only a tad softer than Ipe but just as resistant to rot, mold, and wood-boring bugs and has the same Class A fire-resistant rating. At about two-thirds the price of Ipe, it’s an excellent, exotic alternative. Environmentally speaking, it’s also considered an earth-friendly, “green” material because of its renewability and sustainability.
Cumaru is prone to shrinking and must be carefully kiln dried and pre-shrunk to increase its stability. Even then, dry climates like Colorado put this wood at risk for further shrinkage after installation.
While this wood species is about 40% softer than Ipe, it is 25% stronger than Red Oak. This golden-toned, medium-lustered South American hardwood makes for a striking appearance and can be dyed to resemble Ipe if yellow isn’t your color. Like most of its exotic hardwood counterparts, it too is durable, carries a Class A fire rating, and is resistant to mold, fungi, and pests. Another great advantage of this type of wood is that it is cheaper to buy and install than Ipe or composite wood.
However, Garapa is another exotic hardwood that must be kiln dried before use, and even then, a dry climate like that of the Rockies can factor into whether the product will warp or cup over time.
Also known as “Brazilian Koa” or “Goncalo Alves,” this wood has striking black stripes on an orange-brown background that tends to darken to a reddish color over time. Its strength and durability make it resistant to warping, splintering, scratching, weathering, and insects. Tigerwood tends to have a great market value, and from an environmental standpoint, is a highly renewable, responsibly harvested resource.
Unfortunately, this material requires drying time, which means an extended waiting period between harvest and installation. Its striped coloring can make it difficult to achieve a cohesive appearance, and its smooth surface can be slippery.
This wood’s smooth, beautiful, deep color has made it the most popular among Colorado homeowners. Its color becomes a deeper red over time. American or Fijian Mahogany may be softer than many other exotic hardwoods but still outperforms native softwoods like cedar and redwood when it comes to durability. Environmentally speaking, Mahogany is considered a “green” product sustainably harvested in Fiji.
This wood requires a bit more upkeep than most other exotic hardwoods because it is a bit softer. Wood will need to be regularly checked for warping and cracking. Yearly re-staining is recommended to keep its color longer.
(Bonus: Cambara Mahogany comes from South America and is similar in most aspects to American or Fijian Mahogany except in color. Cambara Mahogany has yellow-brown tones and is a great alternative.)
This is the first hardwood on our list that doesn’t come from South America. Teak is grown in the south of Asia and has become one of the most popular hardwoods in recent years due to its strength, tight grain, oil content, and moisture and pest resistance. Special teak oil can be regularly applied to this wood to prevent graying, but even weathered gray teak is still attractive. Teak’s natural non-slip surface is a bonus, too.
Unfortunately, teak’s popularity has led to its massive deforestation, making it harder to come by and more expensive—quite possibly the most expensive exotic hardwood. Any teak purchased must be certified by the FSC as sustainably grown and harvested. Manufacturers are finding replacements for teak such as synthetic teak or other exotic species like Red Balau, purpleheart, or African Teak.
We could go on and on about the many different exotic hardwoods available and their many pros and cons, but we’ll keep our list short and simple for now. Just know that there’s a type out there that will fit your style, budget, and function, and as Colorado’s custom outdoor carpentry company, we’re committed to helping you explore what’s right for you.