Some Benches and Landmarks Stand the Test of Time, Thanks to these Hardwoods
Photo credit: SITU Fabrication
How many people have New York’s Central Park 9,400 benches served for many decades? That’s a question that would be impossible to count but what matters most is how they have provided respite for those who need a breather from their busy lives in the city. These benches have endured the harshest weather conditions, including extreme humidity, and some of them are made of Ipe.
Where else is Ipe used? New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island have Ipe boardwalks which proves how they stand the test of time. What is Ipe (pronounced ee-pe)? It is one type of hardwood that can also fend off harsh environmental threats due to its provenance from the tropics. It’s also fire-resistant, with high concentrations of tannic acid, which makes it resistant to rot, insects and fungi.
This most dense of hardwoods can also resist surface scratches and even heat which means you can even walk barefoot on them. And there’s a reason they’re also good to sit on. Being heat-resistant, your behind will take to it kindly, too.
If anyone recalls, Forrest Gump the character in the movie sat on a bench for nearly the entire 2-hour movie until his bus arrived. If it were made of Ipe (it turned out to be just a movie prop), he could sit there for the next 75 years and the bench would still be propping him up. It’s that durable.
Other than Ipe, the Brooklyn Bridge is also made of limestone, granite and steel. The granite and steel parts are where more than 100,000 cars, 4,000 cyclists, and 10,000 pedestrians cross the 6,000-feet bridge, according to the Department of Transportation. Not to be outdone, Washington Square Park has 400 benches made of Ipe.
More recently, some parts of the elevated walkway in New York’s High Line have Ipe. Stretching 1.45 miles from the Meatpacking District to Chelsea along the west side of Manhattan, the High Line is one of New York’s latest green spaces. The park is built along a now-defunct elevated railway.
The photo here showcases Ipe wood in 75-linear feet of wooden benches located at the end of the High Line extension between The Shed and 10 Hudson Yard.
The bench was first created by SITU Fabrication using a parametric 3D model to determine seat thickness, spacing and the overall form of the benches. The digital model was translated directly into a full-scale mockup to test drainage, maintenance, material strength and finish. SITU Fabrication specializes in the engineering and construction of experimental and technically demanding projects.
It leveraged its 5-axis CNC router to fabricate the 1 1/2 inch-thick Ipe slats and then finished them with a high-grade natural oil seal, which protects the slats from drastic changes in moisture and allows the natural beauty of the wood to come through.
So if you want your deck to last forever, building a bench or as big a project as a bridge, Brazilian Lumber is the only company in the United States that offers ipe wood in more sizes comparable to the scale of your goals. It also offers many other types of hardwood if you’re looking to use a different type of hardwood that are just as strong and durable.
Here are some of the woods that one might as well call superwoods, the superheroes of hardwoods:
Ipe Wood: Fire-, Scratch- and Decay-Resistant
It’s one of the densest hardwoods available for outdoor construction. It is very dense (in fact, it sinks in water). It has the same fire testing as concrete and steel, and it is mildew and decay-resistant. Its denseness and natural oils make it virtually impenetrable to insects (so insect deterioration is not an issue). Ipe does not scratch or splinter easily, it does not become hot in the sun, and has a high friction coefficient, making it perfect for outdoor and seaside construction.
Cumaru Wood: Just as Durable, Like Ipe’s Sidekick
Similar to Ipe, Cumaru (pronounced koo-mah-roo) is used interchangeably with Ipe because of their similar characteristics.
Cumaru is a type of tropical hardwood which is ideal for outdoor construction and is known for its beautiful honey brown color. It is perfect for constructing decks, siding and cladding due to its hardness. It can also withstand harsh weather, is fungi- and rot-resistant, is not penetrated by termites, is not easily scratched and does not overheat in the sun.
Garapa Wood: Good Lower Cost Option
Garapa is a high density, durable hardwood species with beautiful golden tones that will enhance your project with a warm natural look. How does it compare with Ipe? Ipe has higher density but Garapa wins for lower initial cost. If building a lower traffic bench or deck, then it’s a good option.
There are many types of hardwood you can consider such as Acacia, Black Lotus, Cedar, Mahogany, Redwood, Teak and White oOak, among others.
Going back to the benches of New York and its influence in the movies, Hollywood goddess Marilyn Monroe has a photo of her reading a newspaper in one of those famous green benches in Central Park. It’s one out of those benches that the city has had for decades, each one with stories to tell.
After all, they’re great photogenic outdoor props, cinematic to say the least. They’re used by movie spies exchanging secrets and movie couples to while away the time (Manhattan for the oldies or Five Hundred Days of Summer to millennials, anyone?).
They may even become staples for social distancing everyone else, except the person you’re seating with on the bench, of course.
These benches have many stories to tell indeed. But what does not get written about is what they’re made of, or what you like them to be made of. Now you know.