Q: I'm planning to build a deck using ipe for the decking. But I've been getting many different opinions about what type of finish I should put on the wood. What would you do?

— Tom, Rockville, MD

A: Tom Silva replies: I wouldn't finish it at all. Ipe is a Brazilian hardwood that's so dense it doesn't absorb finish as well as the softwoods on most decks. In fact, none of the deck finishes I've tried on ipe has lasted to my satisfaction. But that's okay; the wood is so durable it doesn't need a finish to protect it. If you just let it weather to a silvery gray, it's about as close to a zero-maintenance deck surface as you can get and still have real wood.
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