A Guide to the Best Decking Board Materials

Blue watering can on wood timber decking

David Burton / Getty Images

Wood is often the most cost-effective and efficient material for creating deck flooring. Wood looks great, weathers well, spans wide joist distances, and is easily available. By contrast, wood’s closest contenders, composite wood and PVC, are expensive and have short joist spans. All of this means that wood still holds a strong position as the decking floorboard of choice. But from familiar favourites like pressure treated wood to exotics like ipe and including a few rarities like pallet wood, which wood is the best to use for your deck flooring?

Wood TypeProsCons
Pressure treated woodCheap, availableAverage appearance, splinters easily
IpeDistinctive, hardHighest cost option, difficult to screw into
RedwoodMaintains colour naturallyLow availability
Red cedarCan be left untreatedQuickly weathers to silver-gray
Hem-firCheapest optionRequires preservatives
Pallet woodFreeUnsuitable for walking on with bare feet

Pressure Treated Wood Deck Boards

Pressure treated wood is the classic low-cost deck board. Pressure treated wood in longer lengths (10 feet or greater) and wider widths (6 inches or greater) can work as an effective deck board, but with a few limitations. Softwoods like Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Southern Yellow Pine, and Ponderosa Pine easily decay and provide an attractive food source to termites and carpenter ants. Forcing the preservative copper azole, type C (CA-C) into the wood transforms it into a useless food source for bugs and wards off fungi.

Pressure treated wood boards are easy to obtain at your local home centre or timber yard. Because you can pick it up yourself, no shipping costs are involved. Since these are soft woods, pressure treated deck boards will eventually splinter and crack if not regularly maintained. Precautions should be taken when cutting pressure treated board due to the preservative content. Cut ends of pressure treated wood need to be individually daubed with preservative.


    • Soft enough to drill and cut
    • Easily available
    • Many dimensions can be found


    • Cut ends must be treated
    • Appearance-grade pressure treated wood usually costs extra

Ipe Wood Deck Boards

Ipe is a hard exotic premium deck board that goes under names such as Brazilian Walnut, Tabebuia Serratifolia, Pau D’Arco, Ipe Tabaco, or Bethabara. Ipe is a gorgeous dark-brown wood that maintains its appearance with only minimal maintenance. Once installed, ipe has few disadvantages as a decking material. However, due to its sheer hardness, ipe can be difficult to work with and it can blunt tools. Clips are necessary to fasten the boards to the joists, which drives up the cost. Also, unless you are lucky enough to live close to an ipe supplier, high shipping prices will add to the overall product cost.


    • Good resale value
    • Maintains its looks naturally
    • Extremely strong


    • Very expensive
    • So hard that it is difficult to cut and drill
    • Local stores may not carry it

Redwood Deck Boards

Once commonly used for fences, play structures, and decks, redwood is becoming harder to find. When available, redwood is still an excellent choice for deck floorboards. Heartwood costs about 25-percent more than the less desirable sapwood. No preservatives are required to maintain redwood. Redwood weathers to an attractive deep red color. Since redwood is difficult to find on the open market, this makes it a less desirable choice for decks. Redwood will begin to get splintery over time, making it unsuitable for walking on with bare feet.


    • Natural preservatives in the wood
    • Gorgeous color either when sealed or left as-is
    • Good span strength


    • Difficult to obtain
    • Expensive
    • Splintery

Red Cedar Wood Deck Boards

Red cedar is most often used for fence boards. Because red cedar is an oily wood, it falls in the class of other woods, such as redwood, that can be left untreated if so desired. Red cedar can be painted, too, if desired. Even untreated, red cedar will maintain its structural integrity for many years.

Red cedar maintains its look at the onset, but as quickly as two weeks later it will begin to turn its distinctive silvery-gray color. So, red cedar must be treated with a preservative if you do not want gray. Most of the kiln-dried cedar is only available in 1-inch thicknesses. Two-inch thickness kiln-dried cedar wood can be hard to find.


    • Low to moderately expensive
    • Attractive red appearance as long as it is kept sealed


    • Splintery
    • Weathers to a color that some homeowners may find unattractive
    • Difficult to find the correct dimensions for flooring

Hem-Fir Wood Deck Boards

Due to the ready availability of inexpensive pressure treated wood and other materials that hold up well against decay, untreated dimensional lumber such as hem-fir is not often used as decking boards, but with its low prices, hem-fir certainly can be used as long as precautions are taken against insects and deterioration.

Hem-fir is not a species cross-breed. Western hemlock and Amabilis fir grow in the same forests and look nearly identical, so lumber mills process them together and treat them as interchangeable. When you see a stack of Hem-fir at your local home center, some boards may be hemlock and others fir.

Except for pallet wood, untreated hem-fir is the lowest cost wood decking board. Because it is strong, it has a great joist distance span. If a painted solid color is what you want in a deck, you can choose a wood like hem-fir. Preservation of hem-fir is difficult. Initially, the wood must be quickly treated with a preservative. Alternatively, the wood may be primed and painted. Site-treated wood, as opposed to wood that is pressured treated in a factory, needs constant maintenance.


    • Easy to obtain
    • Inexpensive
    • Excellent joist spans


    • Preserves poorly
    • Splintery
    • Must be painted
    • Dimensions not appropriate for flooring needs

Pallet Wood Deck Boards

No longer confined to shipping bays, trendy pallet wood can be found everywhere now, from restaurants to residences. Wood pallets are constructed of softwoods and are usually considered expendable by their recipients. Because pallets are often left outside after use, they achieve an interesting silvery-gray weathered patina with rusty nail marks and other signs of distress.

Pallet wood is best confined to walls, as the inevitable splinters, holes, and protrusions make it an uncomfortable, unsafe walking surface. Also, breaking up pallets in order to loosen the intended deck boards is difficult to do without cracking the wood. Finally, short board lengths (40 inches) mean multiple boards are needed to complete one row.


    • Free
    • Easy to find
    • Pre-distressed


    • Splintery
    • Often too distressed to use
    • May be embedded with grease or hazardous substances
    • Thin
    • Too short for most deck joist spans

By Lee Wallender