Ipe vs. Ironwood: Which One to Use?

Ipe vs. Ironwood: Which One to Use?

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Are you about to start a new woodworking project and need to find the perfect wood to use? Every project has different requirements, some need really strong wood, others moisture resistance, or simply for the wood to look fantastic.

In this article, we’ll talk all about ipe and ironwood. So, keep reading to find out if ironwood or ipe is the perfect match for your next build.

What Is Ironwood?

You might be surprised to find out that ironwood is a number of different species of tree. The name is actually a nickname. For example, in Texas, the honey mesquite tree is known as ironwood. But for the majority of Europe, Canada, and the northern U.S., ironwood is hophornbeam – which is what we’ll be referring to when we mention this wood in the remainder of this article.

In fact, you’ll find trees called ironwood all over the world, including Australia, Ceylon, England, India, and Brazil – amongst many others.

To talk more directly about North American Ironwood, hophornbeam is a part of the Betulaceae group of trees. The tree shows some relation to both birch and hornbeam. Interestingly, a lot of variations of this wood don’t float in water, however, hophornbeam is one of the few hardwoods with the nickname that floats in water.

What Is Ipe?

Ipe has multiple names, depending on where it’s grown. For example, people also refer to ipe as Brazilian walnut and lapacho. The scientific name for ipe is handroanthus spp.

Originally, this tree was native to Central and South America, but now it can be found all over the world due to commercial farming. In terms of size, a mature tree will grow up to 130,’ with the trunk diameter growing to 4’ on average.

Ipe has won a lot of respect from people who work with it, as it offers a lot to a project, but the woodworker must put in a lot of effort to use it. For example, the qualities that make it useful, such as strength and longevity, also make it difficult to cut and shape. People often use ipe for flooring and decking, because of how hard it is.

Ipe vs. Ironwood: What Are the Differences?

Despite ipe and ironwood being well known for their strength and hardiness, they are two very different materials. In this section, we’ll compare both types of wood across different categories, including strength, appearance and color, grain and texture, workability, and sustainability.


Both ipe and ironwood are strong species of wood. Interestingly, ipe scores significantly better on the Janka hardness test compared to hophornbeam. Ipe scores 3,510 lbf and hophornbeam scores 1,860 lbf. However, black ironwood has a score of 3,660 lbf, while desert ironwood has a score of 3,260.

Appearance and Color

North American ironwood (hophornbeam) has different colorings between the heart and sapwood. The sapwood is light yellow or white. The heartwood, on the other hand, is browner and occasionally has red tones within it.

Ipe also has brown in its colorings, alongside a lot of other colors. Red, black, yellow, and olive tones are not uncommon in ipe. Some types of this tree also have areas of yellow powder within the grain.

Grain and Texture

Ironwood grain is commonly straight, and the texture is ordered with a medium thickness. The grain of ipe can change quite a lot, sometimes it is straight, and other times it’s interlocked. The texture of this material is between fine and medium.


Ipe is not the easiest timber to work on a project with. Despite this, if you can overcome the difficulties that ipe has, it will provide strength and longevity that not many other types of wood can match – apart from some species of ironwood.

Because both timbers are dense and strong, cutting them is difficult, and blades will blunt quickly. Planing ipe can be difficult. When ipe grain runs true, planing will create a nice clean face, but when the grain is interlocked, it can cause tear-out. Similarly, straight-grained ipe and ironwood will turn cleanly and take a finish well.


Neither tree is on the threatened species list or any databases. However, ipe is not found in large amounts outside of commercial farming. To find a single ipe tree, on average, a person must search 3 to 10 hectares of forest. In these situations, large amounts of forest are cleared to harvest trees.

North American Ironwood isn’t grown or harvested commercially, which means that there isn’t a huge amount of stock. The timber that you do find has been felled within a natural forest.

When to Use Ironwood?

Ironwood is an extremely useful timber. Alongside the uses listed in this section, it’s prized as firewood because of how well it burns, leaving minimal ash.

Despite all the different types of this wood, they are all often used for tool handles, posts, levers, furniture, canes, and turned objects. Alongside these, the hophornbeam is known to create excellent longbows.

When to Use Ipe Wood?

Ipe is exceptionally well suited for outdoor applications. Because of its natural strength and oil content, this wood can last significantly more than 50 years outside, if properly maintained. Projects that people use ipe for include furniture, decking, pergolas, siding, trellises, gazebos, and fences.

Alternatives to Ipe and Ironwood

Ipe and ironwood are very hard, strong, and durable timbers. However, they are not always easily accessible or cost-effective. Sometimes more accessible or cheaper wood is needed, in these situations, consider the alternatives we’ve written below.

You might also want to read our separate article on ipe alternatives.


Birch is on this list because it can sometimes look quite similar to North American ironwood. Birch is very light and has a fine grain. It’s used quite a lot to make cabinets and is considerably cheaper and more readily available than ironwood.

Blue Beech / American Hornbeam

This tree also has the name musclewood. It’s a dense, strong wood that is used to make bowls and plates.


Jatoba wood is strong, stiff, and durable. It can also be called Brazilian cherry when looking in lumber yards.

California Redwood

Another name for the California redwood is sequoia. The tree is very popular and used in a range of different projects because of its deep tones and colorings.


Ipe and ironwood are very interesting types of wood. If you can source enough of each of them, then they will provide a fantastic base for many projects. Ipe is particularly good for exterior projects, while ironwood can look beautiful when turned. To decide what is best for you, consider the work you want to complete and then go to the local timber yard and evaluate the quality of the wood in stock.