Purpleheart is a kind of wood that is named for the very distinctive color of its heartwood. When freshly cut, it has an unappealing mousey brown color, but it quickly and rather remarkably begins to change to a vivid purple on exposure to air and sunlight. As the wood ages, the color matures to a deep crimson that seems quite unnatural for a wood; someone not familiar with purpleheart might assume that the wood has been dyed. Because of its high natural luster, it is easy to mistake for plastic. Its uses include veneer for inlay, turning, decorative contrast accents against light-colored woods, pool cue sticks, furniture and flooring. It is also known as amaranth and violetwood among other names
The Purpleheart Tree?
Purpleheart wood comes from various species of Peltogyne of the family Leguminosae (Caesalpiniaceae), trees which grow in the region from southern Mexico to southern Brazil. Much of the wood imported to the U.S. comes from Brazil. It is moderately expensive as a material, but the supply is plentiful, as the trees grow tall, straight and clear (free of knots) with diameters of up to five feet. In its native countries, it is often used as a flooring material for industrial buildings, and wooden shipbuilding because of its hardness and durability.
Purpleheart is dense and heavy. it weighs 4 to 5 pounds per board foot, compared to about 3.7 lb/pbf for dry, seasoned white oak and 2.5 for pine. It has a hardness of 1860 on the Janka scale, compared to 660 for Douglas-fir and 1360 for white oak. The working characteristics vary some, but its density and hardness make purpleheart very hard on carving, cutting and shaping tools and rather difficult to work with using either hand or power tools. Tool cutting edges must be kept sharp, because heat generated by dull tools will cause the wood to release a gummy resin that makes things even worse. Burns left by dull power tools can be very difficult to remove. Fortunately, the grain is usually straight, which cuts better.
Purpleheart takes all finishes well, but the color may bleed into oil-based finishes. Water-based finishes are also better because they help the wood retain its distinctive purple tone, which tends to fade back to brown over the years.