You will quickly recognize Purpleheart wood as soon as you see it. It has a bold and vivid natural purple color that is obvious throughout the board and entirely natural. Besides, it is complex, heavy wood that is big and consistent from end to end. Woodworkers love this wood because it brings excellent yield. Thus, you will find Purplewood in almost all kinds of woodworking projects, especially decorative ones.
Purplewood gets also referred to as Violet wood, Amaranth, Amendoim, and Peltogyne. It is native to South and Central America and is primarily found in the basins of the Amazon River. It gets valued for its unusual natural hue, which ranges from intense eggplant purple to medium brown color with pale purple accents. As a woodworker, you would indeed love to work with this wood.
Characteristics and Properties of Purpleheart Wood
Purpleheart trees belong to the genus Peltogyne, which has around twenty-three species. These various species range in height from medium to very tall trees. Purpleheart also belongs to the Fabaceae family. This tropical rainforest tree originates in South and Central America and is mostly found in Brazil, Guyana, Costa Rica, Suriname, Guererro, Mexico, and Trinidad.
This tree can grow up to 50 meters or 170 feet high with a maximum trunk diameter of 1.5 meters or 5 feet. It has small flowers consisting of five petals and fruits characterized by its pod-like shapes. This fruit has a single seed.
The use of Purpleheart wood in the United States is discouraged because it is considered an exotic and endangered species. If you intend to use Purpleheart wood, however, it will be best to familiarize yourself with this wood. It will also help if you are cognizant of the following properties and characteristics of this wood:
Color and Appearance
The color of the Purpleheart wood appears to be a bit dull and purplish brown after cutting. However, it assumes an eggplant purple hue once exposed to the elements after a few days. It then turns into dark brown once exposed to UV light over time. You can use a UV light inhibiting finish on it to arrest this shifting of color.
Strength and Density
One defining characteristic of Purpleheart wood is its remarkable strength. Purpleheart has a Janka Hardness rating of 2,520 lbf. It is harder than Red Oak by 124%. Moreover, it is perfect for flooring, and Purpleheart floors resist denting and scratches. Its average dried weight is 56.4 lbs/ft³, and its specific gravity is 0.76, 0.9. Its Elastic Modulus is 2,937,000lbf/in², while its crushing strength is 12,140 lbf/in². Thus, this wood gets tagged as one of the strongest hardwoods available today.
Grain and Texture
A cursory look at its grain would reveal straight grains that can sometimes be irregular or wavy. Its texture is medium, and it has a natural luster.
Another sterling characteristic of this wood is its being durable and decay-resistant. It is not susceptible to insect attacks. However, it is not impervious to attacks from marine borers. Of course, its durability is commendable.
How to Work with Purpleheart Wood Properly?
If you want to use Purpleheart wood, it will help to know how you can best work with it. Below are some ideas on cutting, drying, drilling, machining, gluing, and finishing this wood:
Cutting and Planing
Since the Purpleheart wood is solid and dense, working with it can become a bit challenging. If you work with it using dull tools, it may heat up and produce a gummy resin that can complicate your work by clogging your devices. Depending on its grain orientation, you may find it hard to plane this wood without experiencing a tear-out. It can also dull your cutters.
Purpleheart wood is a bit challenging to dry in the kiln or the open air. Besides, it slowly dries with moderate to light degradation, with slight casehardening and checking of its surface. However, it quickly kiln-dries, though you need to take extra care when drying thick pieces to ensure you remove moisture from the wood’s center.
Since Purpleheart wood is dense, it can quickly dull your cutting tools. Besides, when nailing or screwing it, you need to pre-drill it. Thus, you can avoid cracking the wood while you nail or screw it.
As mentioned above, when machining purpleheart wood, it will discharge a gummy resin that could cling to the teeth of your cutter and tool parts. This sticky resin will further complicate your machining of this wood. Thus, you need to run your machine slowly when dealing with this wood and equip it with very sharp high-speed steel knives. Using a 15-degree cutting angle to deal with interlocked grain will be best.
Gluing and Finishing
Purpleheart wood glues well, and it receives wax polish and stains nicely. Nevertheless, if you use spirit polishes, you might dissipate its purple color, though a lacquer finish can hold its natural color further.
You should pre-drill the board when nailing this wood to avoid cracking or splitting it. It is also not recommended to subject this wood to preparatory steaming because it has a substance called Phonicoin, which is a bit soluble when subjected to prolonged steaming.
When finishing this wood, it will be best to utilize a film-building finish. You can apply this finish in several coatings to lessen oxidation. This film-building finish might dry slowly but just continue with its use.
Using a water-borne finish instead of oil-based ones will be best because the former will darken Purpleheart wood less. Nevertheless, you can also use oil-grade finished laced with UV inhibitors to prevent the adverse side effects of UV light on the wood.
Purpleheart wood shrinks radially by 3.8% and tangentially by 6.4% when it dries. It has a volumetric shrinkage percentage of 10.6%. Thus, it has remarkable dimensional stability.
Applications and Uses of Purpleheart Wood
Purpleheart wood is an excellent wood characterized by its exquisite properties. It is a highly sought-after wood that you can use for many applications. You can use it for making indoor and outdoor furniture; you can also use it for making cabinets. Besides, it is suitable for woodturning and creating tiny artifacts. Moreover, it got used in the manufacturing of musical instruments. In some instances, it also gets used for flooring.
Purpleheart wood has exceptional strength and durability. Besides, it finishes well, and projects made of this wood are undoubtedly beautiful and elegant. Because of its inherent beauty, it gets often used for tabletops, paneling, flooring, and many other applications. It also finds its way in columns, boats, and other heavy construction projects.
Purpleheart wood gets also used for building bridges, load-bearing columns, dock works, cladding, boatbuilding, vats, stairways, tool handles, inlays, marquetry, luxury coffins, etc. As an expert woodworker, you would indeed love to use this in many of your projects.
Most Asked Questions on Purpleheart Wood in Woodworking Industry
If you’re new to the use of Purpleheart wood, you might have several questions in your mind about this wood for which you want answers. It will be best, therefore, to familiarize yourself with the following FAQs about Purpleheart wood, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:
Is Purpleheart Wood Purple?
There are two main reasons why Purpleheart wood appears to be purple. It has a purple color because of oxidation and exposure to UV light. Purpleheart wood has natural compounds or pigments that, when oxidized or exposed to UV light, occasion the turning of the Purpleheart wood into purple.
Newly cut Purpleheart wood is not purple-colored. However, over time, it transitions into a purple color when it gets oxidized and exposed to UV light. Yet, indoor furniture made of this wood turns dark brown when exposed to UV light over time. However, a piece of outdoor Purpleheart furniture will turn silvery as it ages.
Is the Use of Purpleheart Wood Sustainable?
Purpleheart wood is not yet listed as endangered. Nevertheless, there is an increasing demand for this wood, and its harvest would indeed cause the destruction of old forests and might tip off the ecological balance in those areas inhabited by this tree. Thus, using this wood is not eco-friendly because it contributes to the denudation of the rainforests.
Instead of using this wood, it will be best to look for alternative hardwood available in your place to contribute to the lessening of the demand for this wood.
Some of this wood’s most harvested species are the P. Mexicana, P. Venosa, and P. Paniculata. These species do not belong to the list of endangered species of wood. Nevertheless, two species of this genus are on the endangered lists: the P. gracilipes and P. Chrysopis.
Where Does All the Purpleheart Wood Originate?
Most Purpleheart wood in the market comes from the rainforests of the Amazon River basin and in the abovementioned countries where this tree is native. This tree, of course, is native to South and Central America, in countries like Brazil, Trinidad, and many other Latin American countries. It doesn’t grow in temperate regions.
Is Purpleheart Wood Expensive?
Purpleheart wood is expensive because it is exotic and comes from the rainforests. Since this wood gets harvested from tropical rainforests, its harvest is often illegal or moderated. Besides, this wood has exceptional properties and characteristics that make it more expensive than other hardwoods.
The price range of Purpleheart wood per board foot is from $15 to $24. It is also more expensive than Mahogany but less costly than Teak. Besides, Purpleheart wood is said to be not in wide demand because it is less popular than other hardwoods. Nevertheless, it is available in the US market in the forms of veneer and lumber.
The incredible strength of Purpleheart wood and its exquisite appearance make it a sought-after wood. It is versatile likewise, and its versatility is one of its key selling points. Native Indians believe that Purpleheart wood carries some spiritual properties and that it can enhance your knowledge and creative energy in life.
Besides, the indigenous people believe that this wood has healing power. Thus, you will find many indigenous people wearing this wood in the form of rings and watches. Purpleheart wood is also not toxic, so you need not worry about wearing it as a ring. However, it is a sensitizer that can irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs. So, when working with this exotic wood, you must ensure you are wearing your safety gear, like your dust mask.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.