Ipe vs. Azek Decking: Which One to Use?

Ipe vs. Azek Decking: Which One to Use?

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When building a deck it’s important to use the right material. This is for a number of reasons, firstly to make sure that the deck is strong enough to support people. Secondly, to make it as long-lasting and durable as possible. Thirdly, so the deck looks the best it can.

Ipe and AZEK are often used to construct decks, but which one is best for your project? This article will discuss the characteristics of ipe and AZEK so you know what to build your deck with.

What Is AZEK?

AZEK is a manmade material that has grown in popularity as an alternative option to wooden decks. This material is different from other wooden deck alternatives and is not thought of as a composite material. An AZEK deck is primarily made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, as most people know it.

This material doesn’t need a lot of maintenance, even when used outdoors. Alongside this, its strength and durability mean that it is used for other projects such as moldings, railings, and trim. AZEK isn’t made from wood, so it doesn’t suffer from some of the issues that people often encounter with wood, such as rot. The PVC doesn’t absorb water as wood does. Additionally, mildew and mold are less of an issue and there are no splinters.

What Is Ipe?

Ipe is not the only name that you will hear this type of wood referred to as. Some other names that ipe is called include Brazilian walnut and lapacho. People within the scientific community will also call ipe handroanthus spp.

Once the tree could only be found in Central and South America, where it is a native. But over time, ipe has come to be farmed commercially around the world in a number of countries. A mature ipe tree can grow on average up to 130’ high, and the thickness of its trunk can reach 4’ in diameter.

Woodworkers that are familiar with this material have a large amount of respect for the wood. This is because ipe can provide a lot of benefits to a project, but the maker must work hard to use the material. This is because the timber is strong and durable, making it difficult to work and cut, but also lasts a long time.

Because this material is a hardwood, people often use it for decking and flooring. A lot of flooring and decking contractors will refer to ipe more commonly as Brazilian walnut. However, ipe has no relation to the walnut tree family.

Ipe vs. AZEK: What Are the Differences?

The clear difference between ipe and AZEK is that one is a natural material, and the other is a manmade alternative. In this section, we’ll compare ipe and AZEK across different areas to see the other differences between the two materials.


In terms of strength, ipe and AZEK are very far apart when measured on the Janka Hardness Scale. Ipe scores very highly, at 3,680 lbf. On the other side, AZEK only has a score of 659 lbf.

Appearance and Color

Appearance and coloring are often one of the biggest differences between manmade and natural materials. People who like natural materials will often see a massive difference between natural wood and a manufactured alternative.

Ipe is considered quite an attractive wood, with red and brown being its main colors. However, it’s common for black, olive, and yellow to be found in boards too. Some species of this wood have patches of yellow powder within them as well.

As a manufactured material, there is a lot more control and choice over the appearance and color of AZEK. For example, you can purchase this decking in a range of colors including brown, beige, and gray.

Grain and Texture

AZEK will not have any actual grain. However, you can purchase boards with grain imitation patterns imprinted onto them. These make the boards look more natural and similar to wood. In terms of texture, the material is quite smooth and there are no risks of splinters.

Ipe on the other hand can have some very interesting grain, which is sometimes straight, and sometimes interlocked. The texture of ipe will also vary, but it is between medium and fine.


AZEK doesn’t contain any wood fibers, so you should be cautious about using your finest woodworking tools on it until you are comfortable with the material. The manufacturer highlights that they should be workable like normal wood, due to the technology they use. However, it is best to come to your own conclusions on this before blindly ruining a blade.

As mentioned earlier, ipe requires a lot of input to get good results from it. But with enough work, the wood can create very nice products. Blades can dull and blunt quickly when working ipe due to its density and hardness. Alongside this, interlocked areas of grain can cause tear-out when planing.


When not commercially grown, ipe is not found in large amounts. For example, between 3 to 10 hectares of forest might on average contain only one mature ipe tree. This means that large quantities of forest can get cleared just to find the material. However, ipe is not on any red lists that indicate it is at risk.

The sustainability of AZEK is up for debate. On one hand, the PVC that creates AZEK is completely recyclable. On the other hand, even if plastic is recyclable, the initial creation of the plastic comes from unsustainable sources, uses fossil fuels, and pollutes environment.

When to Use AZEK Decking?

In short, AZEK is a great alternative to wood for many outdoor projects. It’s primarily a decking material, however, sidings, railings, moldings, and trim are also good uses.

When to Use Ipe Wood?

Ipe is also very well suited to outdoor use, although it will need more input and maintenance than AZEK. However, ipe decking can last well over 50 years if properly maintained. People commonly use this material for decking, furniture, trellises, pergolas, gazebos, and fences.

Alternatives to Ipe and AZEK

There are other materials to look into when building a deck. Sometimes they might be easier to source, last longer, look better, or are cheaper.

Composite Decking

Composite decking is a combination of plastic and wood pulp. Manufacturers mix them into boards of different lengths, widths, and thicknesses. They can also be found in a range of colors and patterns.

Metal Grate

Metal grates are a hard-wearing, long-lasting alternative decking material. Metal grates can be bought in a range of different patterns, shapes, and thicknesses.


Ipe and AZEK will both create fantastic decks. For a lot of people, the difference will come down to longevity, appearance, and price. Some people are okay with the idea of a PVC material, whilst others dream of natural woods in their projects. Understanding your requirements is vital to figuring out which material is better for your deck.