A Simple Guide to Choosing the Best Wood for Your Deck

By Chad Koehnen, 12/05/19

Best Wood for Outdoor Decks

There is nothing more timeless than a wood deck in your backyard. But, the reality is, there are so many different things to consider: hardwood vs. softwood? What species of wood do you want? To stain or not to stain? All of the possible options can make the decision process overwhelming. With a little help, choosing which type of wood decking to go with can be a quicker, stress-free process.

Here is a guide to help you make the right selection of wood for your backyard deck.

The Difference Between Hardwoods and Softwoods

The first step in choosing the best wood for your outdoor deck is to know the differences between hardwood and softwood.

Unlike what you may expect, the classification of hardwood and softwood actually has nothing to do with the actual hardness of the wood (although there is a measure for that called the Janka Hardness Scale). Instead, to determine whether a tree's wood is hardwood or softwood, you have to look at the seeds that it produces and the type of leaf.

For a tree's wood to be classified as a hardwood, the seeds that fall from its branches need to be covered and protected by an outer layer, such as a fruit or shell. It also has leaves that are shed annually. Alternatively, for trees bearing seeds that have no protective shell coverings, the tree is classified as a softwood. Softwood trees also have needles and are generally evergreen.

Beyond having covered seeds, hardwood trees tend to be slower growing, broad-leaved species that come from various regions around the world and include species like Oak, Mahogany, Ipe and Teak, to name just a few. Softwoods, on the other hand, are fast-growing species and include Pine, Fir, Spruce, Redwood and Cedar.

The Scoop on Softwood for Decking

Here's the scoop: softwoods were a pretty decent choice 20+ years ago when it was easy to get clear, all heart (sap-free) Western Red Cedar or California Redwood. Back in the day, the high quality of the available fiber used for decking wood was pretty good and customers could generally expect to get 20-25 years of life out of a softwood deck. That is no longer the case. Today's softwood decking is full of knots, non-durable sapwood, and life expectency has dropped to 10-15 years. We've all seen decks that were once beautiful, now with cracked and broken boards that are extremely dangerous to our friends and family.

Why Choose Hardwood for Your Decking

Some softwoods can be used for decking if they are chemically-treated to help preserve the life of the wood, while other softwoods are more naturally durable. However, when it comes to choosing which wood to use for an outdoor deck, hardwood is the way to go for several reasons.

Hardwoods that are best suited for deck boards have very high durability, weather resistance and longevity. While you may pay more for hardwood decking than softwood decking up front, there is no denying it's money well spent when the right hardwood is chosen.

The biggest benefit to choosing hardwood decking is the strength, hardness, and high durability of most commonly sold types of hardwood decking. While it will have to be cleaned periodically, you will not have to worry about the wood cracking, chipping or breaking and requiring repairs as much as you would with softwood and non-durable hardwoods. At most, the only maintenance most hardwood decks types will need is re-staining or oiling every couple years to help protect their beautiful, natural color from fading. Be sure to use a stain that's loaded with UV blockers and has high quality, trans-oxide pigments - a manufacturer's two guarantee is strongly recommended.

Beyond that, within the category of hardwoods, there are numerous species options, making it possible to find a hardwood that will not only fit your desired style but your environment and budget as well.

The Janka Hardness Rating System

While the classification of hard and softwoods is not based on the actual hardness of the wood in question, different wood species still offer different levels of hardness. In order to classify these woods, the Janka Hardness Scale was developed to measure the relative hardness of various wood species. In this case, the hardness of the wood refers to its resistance to denting and scratching.

The Janka Scale is a great tool to turn to when looking for the best hardwood to use for decking, as it will help determine and compare the resistance to scratching and denting of the different species you are considering. The higher a wood ranks on the Janka Scale, the more scratch and dent-resistant it will be, and therefore, better for decking.

Hardwood Options to Consider

Knowing that hardwood is the best wood for your outdoor deck is one thing, but actually choosing the hardwood you want is another. Here is a quick look at some of the many hardwood options available on the market, from companies like Nova USA Wood Products.

These are all beautiful, durable, high-quality hardwood decking options that have been sustainably sourced so you can rest assured you are getting the best product possible.

Ipe

Ipe Deck

Ipe, also known as Brazilian walnut, is arguably one of the best hardwoods available for outdoor deck boards. This wood is one of the most durable and most naturally resilient woods on the market.

It is an option that requires no special treatment beyond staining or oiling to preserve the beautiful, rich dark brown color. It is safe to use Ipe in wet conditions as it is naturally resistant to decay as well as termite and insect infestations, making it ideal for a wide range of climates.

Ipe wood has the added benefit of having a Class A Fire Rating, a rating that materials like concrete and steel also receive, showing just how reliable Ipe is as a hardwood product.

Batu

Batu Deck

Batu hardwood is another beautiful option of hardwood decking and resembles mahogany with its rich, red color. Like with all hardwoods, Batu is a strong, naturally durable option that provides long-lasting performance and is versatile enough to work for any project.

Other things to note about Batu decking is that it is a rot-resistant, insect-resistant, non-treated wood that also boasts a Class A Fire Rating. In addition, this Southeastern Asian wood has a hardness of 2,100 lbs, according to the Janka Hardness Scale. When compared to softwoods, it is three times harder than the douglas fir and seven times harder than cedar.

Cumaru

Cumaru Deck

curmaru

Another beautiful hardwood option that is a great choice for outdoor decks is Cumaru wood, also known as Brazilian Teak and Brazilian Chestnut. This beautiful, reddish-brown hardwood is a dense, durable and very versatile option that ranks just below Ipe wood on the Janka Hardness Scale.

Like with most other hardwoods, to preserve the natural reddish-brown color of the Cumaru wood, it is important that a quality oil is applied to protect it from the sun's UV rays every two-to-three years.

Beyond that, Cumaru wood offers Class A fire resistance, is rot-resistant, insect- resistant and water-resistant.

Angelim Pedra

Angelim Pedra Decking

Another of the best woods for deck boards is Angelim Pedra, a beautiful beige-brown wood that has reddish undertones and ranks under Batu on the Janka Scale. This means that Angelim Pedra is highly dense, versatile, very durable and is relatively resistant to parasites such as fungi and wood-boring insects.

Because of the size of the trees, a single tree can yield a greater quantity of lumber, which makes Angelim Pedra a more cost-effective option compared to other hardwoods on the market.

Massaranduba

Massaranduba Deck

Massaranduba decking, or Brazilian Redwood, is an extremely durable hardwood that is on par with Cumaru wood on the Janka Hardness Scale. When wondering what wood to use for your deck, Massaranduba is an excellent option to consider. This wood is 10 times stronger than most composite materials and even offers a Class A Fire Rating.

Like with all woods, Massaranduba offers a beautiful natural appearance with more a reddish hue that, unless treated with UV-protecting oils, will turn a silvery gray over time.

However, Massaranduba also has one of the highest amounts of movement and, therefore, requires really good ventilation underneath the deck. Deck boards must be spaced 1/4" apart or buckling can occur.

This wood is stunningly beautiful, especially when protected with a high quality finish.

Avoid Non-Durable Hardwoods

Many hardwoods used for exterior decking actually not highly durable. It’s important to know which ones to avoid - that is, unless you are ok replacing your deck again after 10-15 years. Be especially cautious of Cambara and Meranti, both of which are popular options in the Northeast U.S. These woods have been known to fail in as few as 8 years when exposed to the tough New England climate. Meranti is actually a mix of many different species of wood within the Shorea genus - if you don’t know what you’re getting, how will you know if it’s durable. A 25 year warranty against rot and decay is generally the standard for durable hardwoods - if you can’t get that from your supplier, then it’s time to choose something else.

Choosing Your Hardwood Decking

Knowing which hardwoods make the list as the best wood for your outdoor deck is extremely helpful. But, when it comes down to it, the choice you make for your decking depends on your needs, desires and budget.

For the absolute best wood for your outdoor deck, consider options like Batu, Cumaru and Ipe, all of which have high Janka Scale Ratings, a Class A fire ratings, and so many other wonderful features, on top of being beautiful products. However, other options, such as Massaranduba, are also attractive, highly durable options that will look beautiful in any backyard, when installed correctly.

Take the time to consider each option, and talk to a hardwood decking expert, like the ones available at Nova USA Wood Products, so you can be sure to choose the best wood possible for your own backyard deck dreams.

By Chad Koehnen, 12/05/19

"Alaska Yellow Cedar (AYC) is one of the few options for naturally durable softwoods available in both tight knot and clear grades. Alaska Yellow Cedar has a beautiful smell and a warm creamy color."

By Steve G on 12/05/19

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