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IPE Stair Tread Failure (Interior)

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Forum topic by 007 posted 11-11-2014 04:22 AM 3523 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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007

11 posts in 2910 days


11-11-2014 04:22 AM

I have IPE hardwood floors and was planning on adding IPE stair treads. I had them custom made by a local shop who claimed to know the challenges of working with IPE but the treads I received had all sorts of issues like cupping, glue failures, tear out, etc . I’m back to drawing board now and need to start over :(

Option 1:
Try again with another company and hope for better luck. (referrals?)(scared!)

Option 2:
What about doing an engineered IPE tread? The treads range in size from 36”-48”. My ideas is:

- Use a one piece 4/4 solid tread which would eliminate the issues of glue failure
- The underside would be plowed out 1/2” with the exception of the bullnose edge
- Kerf cuts to help prevent cupping
- Using West Systems 2 part epoxy, add 1/2” Baltic Birch plywood
- For added safety, add screws to the plywood
- I made a rendering in Google SketchUp to show exactly what I mean

To me it seems Option 2 has many benefits like dimensional stability and no chance of glue failure. Installation may be easier as well as I could glue the Baltic Birch direct to the stair tread which is a standard 2×10.

Thoughts/Suggestions?


20 replies so far

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JAAune

1635 posts in 1777 days


#1 posted 11-11-2014 05:18 AM

Looks like a disaster waiting to happen. You can’t just glue solid wood to a piece of plywood and expect that it will stay put. Most likely, the glue will fail as the ipe expands and contracts with humidity changes then it’ll split apart where the screws are located. To prevent that problem, the Ipe layer would have to be thin. An 1/8” might work but that’s pushing it (and screws aren’t an option there). 1/16” would be better in terms of stability.

The problem with that is the fact that veneers aren’t a great choice for something that’s meant to be walked upon.

If you’re going to back the Ipe with an alternate material, use solid wood and not plywood. That way the expansion and contraction of the upper and lower pieces will be similar.

-- See my work at http://remmertstudios.com and http://altaredesign.com

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Tony_S

605 posts in 2544 days


#2 posted 11-11-2014 11:26 AM

I had them custom made by a local shop who claimed to know the challenges of working with IPE

If they truly knew the challenges if manufacturing stair treads out of Ipe, they would have turned you away.

I’ve had 4?....’episodes’ lets call them, involving Ipe and glue. Failure on all counts.

Various PVA adhesives. Fail
Solvent based adhesives. Fail
Urea based adhesives. Fail
Epoxy (west systems). Fail
Roughing faces. Fail
Cleaning with solvent seconds before glue up. Fail
Tongue and groove glue up(involving all combinations above). Fail.
Even tried different suppliers, hoping that different mills/regions might make a difference. Fail.

I’m sure you’ll hear stories….this one time in band camp…I glued up a lil’ box and had no issues…or I built a (you name it) and had no issues.
Very much possible….but if I was to speculate, the material they were using wasn’t true Ipe(but something very similar looking and sold as Ipe) Or at the very least, an Ipe subspecies with a much lower oil content. Also, minimal stresses on the jionts as compared to a stair tread.
I would suspect that’s how the engineered flooring manufactures of ‘Ipe’ flooring have any success.

The simplest solution In my professional opinion, is to use the same, or similar flooring you have on the floor to clad the stair treads. Done.

-- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

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bondogaposis

4024 posts in 1812 days


#3 posted 11-11-2014 01:24 PM

It won’t work. You are trying to bond solid wood to a stable material, plywood. When the wood moves it will cup and bow because the plywood can’t.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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220SF

7 posts in 758 days


#4 posted 11-11-2014 02:43 PM

When IPE came on the scene here in Northern Ohio I saw a front porch done on a new home and it shrunk almost two inches in forty feet. If I’am thinking right IPE is quite dense full of natural oil tannins (like teak).
For what its worth have you thought of using a look a like wood that is easy to finish. Flat cut cherry if you are looking at the grain or flat cut mahogany would give the pore structure.
Then….a good finisher to pre-finish the treads for you using dye rather than stain that enhances the wood giving depth and matching the color of the floor.
Please remember to balance the finish on both sides of the treads to equalize moisture migration especially on stairs. We use one seal coat and one finish on all surfaces sanding between coats and one top coat on the face using a high quality conversion varnish.
Hope that helps

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007

11 posts in 2910 days


#5 posted 11-11-2014 02:54 PM

I think it’s fair to say Option 2 has been kicked to the curb.

Is there another species of wood that would have a similar appearance to IPE that may be more friendly to work with?

I see a number of places online that sell IPE stair treads. I would assume most of these places are buying them from the same supplier who makes them in large quantities. Might be a good route to go in hopes that a large scale operation might have better equipment/knowledge/quality control. Anyone have an experience with this route?

Here is a link to the flooring if it helps:
http://www.novausawood.com/ProductID1592

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007

11 posts in 2910 days


#6 posted 11-11-2014 03:02 PM


Flat cut cherry if you are looking at the grain or flat cut mahogany would give the pore structure.

You wouldn’t happen to have any pictures of this finished up like IPE would you?

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josephf

125 posts in 1557 days


#7 posted 11-11-2014 03:21 PM

Have had all the above problems yet keep hearing from individuals who claim that it is such a great product .Really skeptical about those stories .
got a question for OP . what is under the house -is there lots of moisture .how stable is miosture in your house? flooring always needs to be stablized to a house though wondering if your situation is a bit more complex . also how dry was the board you installed . Was it checked with moisture meter .
that is some nasty wood ,ever get a splinter from it ? barbed edges -generally know it when it goes in ,good news usually infected before the day is out and that will help in removing the tenacious hunk.
good luck

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dbray45

3178 posts in 2237 days


#8 posted 11-11-2014 03:38 PM

What I would do?

Option 2 with the following changes:
1/2” IPE over 3/4” QS white oak with 30 lbs felt between them
Secure with one screw in the middle toward the back and 4 slotted screws on the ends like a bread board. The slots on the ends go with the expansion – front the back.

Here is what happens – the QS white oak expands up and down, ipe does what it does. The felt between the two act as lubricant and sound eliminator.

The other option, use solid ipe boards and pick your boards carefully for each tread.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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007

11 posts in 2910 days


#9 posted 11-11-2014 04:10 PM



question for OP . what is under the house -is there lots of moisture .how stable is miosture in your house? flooring always needs to be stablized to a house though wondering if your situation is a bit more complex . also how dry was the board you installed . Was it checked with moisture meter

The house has a finished basement and we try and maintain humidity through the seasons the best we can. The funny thing is the treads had all the mentioned issued after they were made and before they were supposed to be installed. They never made it to the install because of that.

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Hammerthumb

2532 posts in 1436 days


#10 posted 11-11-2014 04:15 PM

Having done many staircases in Ipe at a major hotel/casino here in Las Vegas, Maybe I can offer some suggestions:

1. Make sure that the material is kiln dried and does not come from a decking supplier where the moisture content will be higher.
2. Ipe is very dense and requires much more acclimation time than most other species. Maybe even months of acclimation before the wood stabilizes. I recommend stickering and banding during this process.
3. Using a moisture meter on Ipe will prove fruitless. You will need to measure moisture content by weight, using a small piece, a scale, and an oven.
4. Although most people do not like urethane adhesives, I have found that Gorilla glue works the best for edge gluing smaller width pieces into a tread depth length panel.
5. The treads and risers I did were made of 3/4” material with a 1/4” x3/4” strip glued under the front of the board, making the nose 1” thick. This was then rounded over to make the nose.
6. Uses Liquid Nails for installation, with a couple of well placed finish nails at the back side of the tread that will be hidden with the next riser board. Pre-drill the holes for the finish nails as a nail gun will split the wood. Only put fasteners at the back of the tread. Do not put any fasteners towards the front of the tread.
7. Make sure the tread is slightly oversized so you have a 1/4” gap under the tread between the back of the nosing strip and the prior riser. As I said, Ipe does not give up its moisture very quickly and might still have a tendency to shrink slightly after install.

-- Paul, Las Vegas

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007

11 posts in 2910 days


#11 posted 11-11-2014 04:29 PM



The other option, use solid ipe boards and pick your boards carefully for each tread.

I’ve always liked this option because it eliminates the whole glue issues. But what’s more likely to happen, glue failure, or a one piece tread cupping?

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007

11 posts in 2910 days


#12 posted 11-11-2014 04:44 PM

Wow! I imagine a Casino would be very high traffic. How have the treads held up over time? Any pictures of the job you can share?


3. Using a moisture meter on Ipe will prove fruitless. You will need to measure moisture content by weight, using a small piece, a scale, and an oven.

You’re right, I tried this before. Can’t get the meter in. Do you know what the weight should be for properly dried IPE?


6. Use Liquid Nails for installation, with a couple of well placed finish nails at the back side of the tread that will be hidden with the next riser board. Pre-drill the holes for the finish nails as a nail gun will split the wood. Only put fasteners at the back of the tread. Do not put any fasteners towards the front of the tread.

Which kind of Liquid Nails did you use? Why no fasteners in the front of the tread? I like the idea of not having to fill holes but would think a mechanical fastener would be needed.

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Hammerthumb

2532 posts in 1436 days


#13 posted 11-11-2014 05:11 PM

As I did the project (MGM Penthouse suites) in 2002, it might take a little time to find pictures. Not sure which computer I have them stored on.

The treads & risers have held up well, but these are not in high traffic areas as the 29th & 30th floors are 2 level suites and only see the traffic of the guests. They are not in public space. Regardless, the wood will hold up to any kind of traffic they see. I think they have been refinish a couple of times in the last 12 years due to abuse.

Don’t know what the weight should be for Ipe, but if you take a small piece and weigh it, then put it in the oven at about 200-225 degrees for an hour or so and weigh it again, divide the wet weight by the dried weight and it will give you moisture content percentage. This will have to be done many times over weeks until the percentage stops changing. That is when it reaches equilibrium.

I have done hundreds, maybe thousands of stairs and use this method. The fasteners are only to hold the material so you can walk on them while the adhesive cures. Fasteners in the front of the tread will not allow for any wood movement and can cause separation of the laminated pieces. As I have not done a set of wood stairs in a few years, I am not sure of the type of Liquid Nails is available. What I used to use was the oil based product, but know that they have changed the formulation in the last few years due to EPA standards. Do not use Liquid Nails water based product as it will cause cupping. Another product that could be used is urethane flooring adhesive like Bostik’s BEST or similar. These are harder to use, and are very messy, but the flooring urethanes cure to a rubber like consistency that will allow for wood movement. Most important is to make sure you leave that space between the nosing overhang and the prior riser. If the wood shrinks a little, this gap allows movement without pulling the tread apart.

-- Paul, Las Vegas

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dbray45

3178 posts in 2237 days


#14 posted 11-11-2014 05:21 PM

Make sure that the pieces of wood that you oven test are similar in thickness and grain orientation.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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Jim Baldwin

55 posts in 1819 days


#15 posted 11-12-2014 05:04 AM

No, it’s not the glue’s fault or even the fault of those blow-hard wood workers. Of course the guy in the shop should have made it crystal-clear that ipe is icky and that’s all there is to it. “Mr 007, if you want Ipe then you’re going to get ipe, but you’ll get no guarantees from us.” (This would have been the unvarnished truth.)

The fact that ipe seems to stay-put inside a giant, climate-controlled, Las Vegas casino, is lucky. Otherwise it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll have nothing but bad luck elsewhere. BTW, Las Vegas has to put moisture back into their air conditioning or people, plants and paintings-on-the-wall, would all turn to alien-beef-jerky.

Perhaps the fault is partly yours for imagining that since you have ipe flooring, then now you ought to have ipe stair treads. Next comes ipe handrail, ipe crown mold, ipe kitchen cabinets and you-name-it. As a reminder then to all of us and especially me: Wood is not wallpaper or some other “designer fabric” or accoutrement which must be matched simply for the sake of color-matching. I don’t know about you, but I’m truly exasperated with ignorant architects and bespangled, interior designers who routinely specify this, that and whatever is trendy or “in-vogue”. They do this with never a clue of wood properties or proper usage and application etc. Sure, ipe is fantastically hard and durable but so is concrete. Each has it’s place but as far as architectural woodwork is concerned, ipe is mostly out-of-place most of the time.

As a traditional and professional stair builder then, I can say with confidence, that perhaps the best all-around stair-tread material, has always been quarter-sawn white oak. This is based on real wood properties and proven performance (for at least two hundred years). This is is not based on fashion trends or timber and lumber-yard sales schemes. And no matter what they claim, ipe is not “the new teak” and never will be. You also do not always have to match wood grain or colors. Contrasts can be artistic and interesting as well as a knowledgeable demonstration of varying wood species.

I guess I’m angry because this stuff has cost me time and money too and I ought to have known better. I absolutely detest tearing out and re-doing, good-work-gone-bad.

-- Jim Baldwin/jimhbaldwin@gmail.com

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