At $2.50 per linear foot for ipe, the last thing I want to do is riddle a deck with screw holes,” exclaims Colorado deck builder, Dennis McCurdy. “There's no quicker way to destroy wood in this climate.” McCurdy, who specializes in one-of-a-kind custom decks, has found a niche in the replacement market tearing off pressure-treated decking and replacing it with premium woods. Ipe — a Brazilian mahogany — is one of his most popular replacements. “It's a luxuriant material that withstands season after season of snow,” explains McCurdy. “But once the face is punctured, water gets in, freezes, and will split the wood apart.”
With composites it's a different story. “We don't get many requests for hidden fasteners,” says Jim Craig, whose Manassas, Va., company averages over $4 million per year in decks and porches alone. “We use a lot of Trex. Water penetration is not the issue, so the only reason to go with a hidden fastener is aesthetics.” For Craig, this becomes an issue only when using ipe, tigerwood, jatoba, or other exotic hardwoods. “They're a real upgrade. Really [they're] a pain to install, so I upgrade my profit margin, adding $4 to $5 per square foot on top of hard costs. I need to. The expectation is very high, and we have to be meticulous.”
Craig has tried a number of hidden deck fasteners and has strong reservations about most of them. Those that are screwed into the decking from underneath make it difficult to pull a board down to the joist. Those with prongs are difficult to drive into the edge of hardwood. The more aggressive the prong, the more likely it is to split the wood.
When called for, Craig and McCurdy rely on Eb-Ty fasteners — polypropylene inserts designed to fit into the slot cut by a biscuit joiner. This allows the material to expand and contract while maintaining a positive connection. Both contractors forego the biscuit joiner, however, and buy decking with a groove milled along each edge. “Even with pre-grooved material, these aren't the easiest fasteners to install,” Craig reports. “But there's not a lot of error, either. We have very few field problems.”