When it comes to wood decking, I love the gorgeous, rich look of ipe. The Brazilian hardwood has a deep reddish brown hue that can transform an outdoor space into an elegant tropical paradise. But besides its beautiful color, it’s also pretty resilient. In fact, the famous Coney Island boardwalk was constructed out of ipe wood that lasted for 25 years before it needed to be replaced. So ipe is both functional and stylish all on its own, but if you’re like most people, your ipe deck is high enough off the ground that you’re going to need a railing to go on it. So what works best?
When it comes to ipe wood, I think you have to find a style that brings together the deep tropical hues of the wood and the building or home architecture. While it might seem hard to match a railing with ipe, it actually works really well with a traditional-looking railing system or a modern style. What’s important is that the railing system works to enhance the look of the decking, giving the beautiful wood center stage. Here are my experiences with various ipe deck railing options, as well as the best way to install a railing system on a tropical hardwood deck.
My Favorite Ipe Deck Railing Options
There are lots of choices when it comes to railing systems, but because of the distinct look of ipe, the style and material should be carefully considered. An all-wood deck and railing has a very distinct look that might not match every building style, while a steel or cable system might be a bit too modern to suit some homes. With these things in mind, here are the best ipe deck railing options I’ve come across.
- Ipe railing system: One obvious choice for an ipe wood deck is an ipe wood railing for a totally matched, monochromatic look. But just like ipe decking, ipe railings can be expensive. They also fade and change color, which can ruin the intended look, particularly if they fade in different places and at a different rate than the deck as a whole. They also require regular maintenance such as periodic cleaning and finishing with sealers or oil. For the above reasons I tend to discourage a matching ipe deck and railing, unless a homeowner is really set on the combo.
- Steel railing system: This is one of my favorite styles to mix with any type of wood, and ipe is no exception. By combining metal and wood, this pairing also hints at the currently popular vintage industrial style. Steel railings from a quality manufacturer also require less maintenance than wood railing systems and tend to be sturdier.
- Steel railing panels with wood top rail or railing posts: Using wood as an accent along the top rail or in the form of posts is a great way to tie a metal railing in with an ipe deck without the cost or maintenance of a completely ipe railing system. Steel panels are long lasting and will stay sturdy without any work on your part. Besides, I think the contrast of the steel with the wood gives the railing character and depth.
- Cable railing system: Cable is another favorite of mine for an ipe wood deck, and it sounds like it wouldn’t work, but trust me, it does. The contrast of the earthy red and brown wood with the stark grays and blacks of taut cables is a really fun and modern way to do deck design, and it works surprisingly well with both traditional and modern styles of homes. Because it uses slim cables instead of regular balusters, it’s also a great railing for a view. Just be sure to go with a stainless steel cable railing system that won’t rust or corrode, and consider marine grade stainless steel like 316 if you want a railing that will stand up to the weather year after year.
Best Installation Methods for an Ipe Deck Railing
Picking out colors and styles is fun when you are designing a deck, but before you stamp and seal anything, consider how your railing system will be installed. The type of installation can make a big difference in the look and also affect the integrity of the entire deck. Ipe is a beautiful and pricey wood, so you don’t want to punch a bunch of holes in it needlessly. That’s why you should consider which of the two common types of railing mounts is best for your design application.
- Fascia/side mounted railing: This type of railing installation is great for raised decks (or for putting a railing on a flat roof) because it won’t put holes in the decking where water can leak through to the space below, and it also saves some space, which is ideal for making the most of a beautiful ipe wood deck. Just keep in mind what type of railing system you are using, because some types of railing materials like aluminum and vinyl are weaker and may not offer this mounting option, or you may not want to choose the option since it puts a lot of stress on your railing posts. Sturdy, high-quality materials such as powder-coated steel are usually best if you’re looking to go the side mounting route.
- Surface mounted railing: Surface mounting your railing to ipe tends to give you a sturdier railing, but keep in mind that ipe wood is very hard and can be difficult to drill through. For some types of railings, though, like wood post railings and cable railings, this is a good look. Just make sure, if you are using this type of mount and there are living or storage spaces beneath your deck, that you aren’t drilling through any moisture barriers.
It’s just my opinion, but I really do think that if wood is your decking material of choice, ipe is the best looking one out there, whether it’s for a home or the boardwalk at a tourist attraction. The warm-hued wood is so versatile, too, that just about any type of railing system looks good with it. Mixed materials such as steel and wood look great, but so do all steel railings or cable railings.
I recently decided that my personal favorite railing for an ipe deck is a cable railing system. I love the contrast between the wood and the industrial-style cabling. Ipe wood decks are always elegant spaces with clean lines, and a cable railing system echoes that without drawing too much attention away from the deck itself. On projects, I tend to use Fortress Railing’s cable railing system because their pre-assembled, vertical stainless steel cable panes are easy to install–for the pro or the DIYer–as well as safer for children (the vertical cables don’t cause a climbing hazard) and very durable. You can even use ipe wood posts with cable panels between them. And if you want to avoid the hassle of constantly oiling and staining an ipe deck, their Fortress Decking has a great composite alternative made to look just like ipe. It lets you achieve the same sleek, luxurious look without ipe’s maintenance or significant color fading.