With the shortages of Ipe in recent years (along with the limited buying season, which leads to market concerns and major pricing fluctuations), decking buyers are scouting for workable alternatives. Among the many Ipe alternatives, including Tigerwood and Teak, Jatoba decking is coming up more and more as an excellent option. We frequently sell Jatoba decking in a wide variety of lengths in the 5/4×6 size. We’ll compare Jatoba to Ipe and take a look at how it measures up. Or doesn’t. You be the judge.
We’ll look at two of the four most-significant aspects of any lumber species: hardness, stiffness, weight, and stability.
It’s probably pretty obvious, but there are two major reasons that hardness is a significant characteristic of any decking species. First, decks have to hold up to plenty of foot traffic, often from humans as well as pets. Depending on where you live, your deck may also have to put up with scraping from a steel-tipped snow shovel during the winter months. It needs to be able to withstand that kind of punishment.
Hardness is measured by the Janka hardness test, which measures how much force is required to push a ½-inch diameter steel ball 1/2 inch into the face grain of a board.
The Janka rating for Ipe is 3684, whereas that of Jatoba is 2690. If you do some quick math, you’ll realize that Jatoba is about 25% softer than Ipe. Before you determine that those numbers indicate that Ipe is better suited than Jatoba to decking, consider this: Ipe is definitely one of the hardest species of wood out there, but that doesn’t mean other species have inferior hardness. If you compare Jatoba to Western Red Cedar (Janka 330) or Pressure-Treated Pine (690), both species commonly used for decking, Jatoba comes out far ahead — far, as in 4 to 8 times as hard! Really, Jatoba is harder than you’d ever need your decking wood to be.
The technical term for stiffness is “Modus of Elasticity,” or MOE, and it’s measured in pounds per square inch. What’s measured is the amount that the boards flex under foot between joints. As you can imagine, MOE is strongly considered when it comes to determining the optimal spacing for the structure under a deck or board walk. No one wants to feel bounce when they walk across a deck, so stiff boards are required. Ipe has an MOE rating of 3129, making it stiffer than Jatoba, which comes out at 2745. Like the hardness issue, though, it really doesn’t make much of a difference, except to mean that while you can install Ipe on 24” centers in order to eliminate bounce, you’ll need to install Jatoba on 16” centers.
Typically, Ipe boardwalks are overbuilt anyway, using the 16-inch standard spacing. Some are even going to a 12-inch spacing in order to ensure that there’s no bounce. While softwood decks can develop bounce over time, especially with tighter joint spacing, you won’t notice any bounce with either Ipe or Jatoba.
An excellent Jatoba vs Ipe comparison can be found here.