There are hundreds of types of hardwood lumber used for outdoor construction. When you’re building a deck, you’ve got to find a way to narrow down your options to the perfect one.
Long-lasting decks require wood that can withstand foot traffic, exposure to storms, harsh sunlight, and insects. Hardwoods, particularly exotic hardwoods from tropical forests, are naturally resilient against damage from both humans and nature.
In this list, we’ve identified eight of the most popular options best suited for outdoor decks.
Quick Rundown: Measuring Wood Hardness
“Hardwood” refers to timber taken from flowering angiosperm trees—but hardwoods are often literally very hard, too. That means they can take a lot of pressure before they start showing signs of wear and tear. One way to measure the hardness of a wood is through the Janka hardness scale, which tests how many pounds of force (lbf) a piece of timber can take before denting.
For example, ipe hardwood has an average rating of 3,510 lbf, meaning it takes 3,510 pounds of force to make a 1 centimeter dent in an ipe board. This list notes each wood’s average Janka rating, but keep in mind that ratings aren’t absolute. They may vary depending on the exact species of wood, where it’s grown, and what part of the tree wood is sourced from.
Types of Hardwood Lumber for Outdoor Use
Yellow and red balau are prized for their rich, consistent colors and ability to withstand moisture-heavy tropical climates. Balau hardwoods are a relatively affordable option for an outdoor deck—but it may be difficult to find a supplier due to balau’s rarity.
Additionally, as shown by its low Janka hardness rating, balau isn’t as sturdy and durable as more expensive hardwoods. It requires careful maintenance on a regular basis to stay smooth and stain-free.
- Harvested from: Southeast Asia
- Janka hardness rating: 1,600 lbf
- Color: Rich medium-to-dark red or light yellow (depends on variety)
Cumaru is a popular choice for its relative affordability and durability. Cumaru is a middle ground between pricier, stronger hardwoods and cheaper, less durable timbers. Its rich brown hue resembles ipe, although cumaru doesn’t have as long a lifespan as ipe.
- Harvested from: South America
- Janka hardness rating: 3,330 lbf
- Color: Medium brown; maybe be warm-toned or slightly cool-toned
Garapa is an affordable choice for many homeowners who want quality but don’t have the budget for woods like cumaru and ipe. Garapa is also easier to work with than “harder” hardwoods, making it popular with DIYers. It’s also notable for being one of the lightest colored hardwoods available.
- Harvested from: South America
- Janka hardness rating: 1,650 lbf
- Color: Light-to-medium honey brown
Ipe is typically considered the gold standard of hardwood lumber for decks. It’s one of the strongest lumbers out there—and is incredibly resistant to moisture and rot, making it a popular choice for marine construction.
Ipe is on the pricier end of hardwoods, but its durability means ipe decks require less maintenance and its longevity means it can last anywhere between 25 and 75 years. Most famously, New York’s Coney Island boardwalk was made with ipe and stood up to 25 years of high traffic, saltwater, and ocean storms before requiring replacement.
- Harvested from: Central and South America
- Janka hardness rating: 3,510 lbf (strongest on this list)
- Color: Rich red-brown; may have streaks of lighter yellow or dark brown shades
5. Massaranduba (Brazilian Redwood)
Massaranduba is also called bulletwood owing to its strength. It scores very high on the Janka hardness scale—similar to ipe.
However, the more affordable massaranduba isn’t exactly on par with ipe. This hardwood is somewhat more prone to warping and shrinking over time, especially when used in climates that have significant temperature and weather changes throughout the year. Experts usually recommend using massaranduba only in mild climates that don’t receive a lot of seasonal variation in weather.
- Harvested from: South America
- Janka hardness rating: 3,190 lbf
- Color: Medium-to-dark red brown; may have a slightly purplish tone
While its hardness rating is on the lower end of deck lumber, teak is very well-known for how well it stands up to decay, rot, and insect infestations. However, teak decks are extremely expensive and need regular, careful upkeep despite their natural defenses. This wood isn’t recommended for first-time deck owners.
- Harvested from: South Asia, Central America, parts of Africa
- Janka hardness rating: 1,070 lbf
- Color: Medium golden brown
Tigerwood is famous for its distinctive, show-stealing striped appearance. This lumber stands up to harsh weather conditions, though if it’s not resealed with a UV protectant regularly, these vibrant stripes will fade into a silvery patina over time.
- Harvested from: Central America, Brazil
- Janka hardness rating: 2,170 lbf
- Color: Medium-to-dark reddish brown with very dark streaks
8. White Oak
Oak trees are abundant in North America, and the most common type used for decking is white oak. Unfortunately, white oak is a cheap, short-lived hardwood that is prone to pest infestations (such as termites) when used outdoors. While you can purchase oak deck timber, most experts recommend choosing a hardier hardwood that better stands up to pressure, moisture, and insects.
- Harvested from: US and Canada
- Janka hardness rating: 1,220 lbf
- Color: Light-to-medium honey yellow
Need help deciding?
At Harbor Exports, we specialize in getting the marine lumber and other construction materials you need right to your job site. We know selecting the right hardwood lumber type for your next luxury project can be difficult—so our experts are here to help.
To talk to our team, just give us a call at +1 (954) 834-6200 or click here to contact us.
- About the Author
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Brad Enfinger has been in construction for over 20 years and has been involved with every material from concrete slab to laying the roof on houses. Brad’s diverse experience has given him the knowledge needed to assist those with shipping building materials, whether it be a house, pole barn, deck, or a dock. Brad at Harbor Exports has anything for your building material needs and can export material all over the world.