December 3, 2021

Carving Purple Heart Wood | Quick Overview Guide

What is purple heart wood

Purpleheart Heartwood is a deep purple-violet when freshly cut, maturing to a dark brown. The original color comes back when re-cut, and the grain is straight, but sometimes irregular, wavy, and interlocked. The texture is moderate to fine. It is a bit more affordable since it starts from 13 per board foot. The weight varies from about 50 lbs to 63 lbs per cu. Ft.

The qualities of this lumber have caused increased levels of lumber exploitation. That is why several countries have imposed strong laws for cutting and processing purple heart wood. Its sturdiness makes it ideal for industrial construction work. Projects such as scaffolding, paneling, and flooring in areas with more traffic are some.

Purpleheart wood is a grayish-purple hardwood that changes its color over time to violet purple and finally deep purple. The change is connected with the presence of ultraviolet rays which change the top layer of the wood.

Coating Purpleheart wood with an anti-UV coating or sanding reduces color change. During plane cutting, the wood has a high chance of exhibiting a tear-out effect that ruins the cut. Purpleheart is very strong and dense, causing the heating of the cutting tools.
The melting of the internal resin contaminates tools and causes clogging. Regular cleaning of tools is for prolonged cutting of purple hearts. The lumber is prized for its visual appeal, strength, and durability. These qualities make it ideal for paneling, flooring, and durable furniture.


It has high strength in bending, stiffness, and crushing. It comes with minimal resistance to shock loads and moderate steam bending characteristics.

It is difficult to work, and there is a moderate to severe blunting effect on cutters. It produces resin when heated by dull cutters. Run the material through machines equipped with HSS knives. Pre-drilling is for nailing. It takes glue well, stains, and wax polishes.
Purple Heartwood is very durable. What makes it stay longer is that the sapwood is susceptible to attack by powder post beetles. Heartwood has high resistance to preservative treatment. Sapwood is permeable.

Purple heart wood dries quickly with little degradation. Avoid air drying since it is slow with some end and surface checking or case hardening. It comes to small movements. Spirit-based finishes, remove the purple color, whereas lacquer-based finishes preserve the color.

According to the Janka Hardness, it rates 1860 out of 4000. The Purple Heartwood species falls within the upper-medium range of hardwood flooring options.

Purpleheart is a hard and heavy wood. Janka’s hardness is 2710 pounds of force.

Purpleheart wood is denoted by its strength, density, and durability. It is one of the strongest and densest trees available on the market.
They take a toll on processing equipment, dulling the saw edges and clogging up cutting and drilling tools with their resin. It comes with a visual appeal that makes beautiful pieces.


  • Heavy outdoor constructional work
  • Bridge-building
  • Freshwater piling
  • Dock work
  • Flooring
  • Turning furniture
  • Decorative veneers
  • Inlay and marquetry.

Types of purple heart wood

The most popular type of Peltogyne genus is Peltogyne purpurea. It is known as Purpleheart or Nazareno. It has gained popularity due to its bright purple heartwood with dark stripes. Purple Heart trees are not cultivated for commercial purposes. Their harvest is regulated by law in Panama and Costa Rica to prevent overexploitation.

Can you carve purple heart wood?

Purpleheart wood comes with a hard-to-detect interlocking grain, hand-planing, chiseling, and working lumber. That is why it takes carving tools to prove quality. Make sure your tools are sharp enough to cut through the lumber and sand it well as you rough it.
Work through a progression of grits to produce smooth results. The grain on the purple heart is long and very stiff. The stiffness causes the grain to break off in long, skinny pieces when carving.

Best finishes

To finish Purple Heart, use film-building finishes, and apply several coats to reduce oxidation. Although the film-building finishes slowly, it does not halt the oxidation process. Apply waterborne finishes to darken the wood less than oil-based finishes. If you prefer oil-based, consider one with a UV inhibitor.

Use a clear shellac sanding sealer as a base coat. And then apply a clear lacquer finish over it. Both shellac and clear lacquer do not yellow with age. These keep the lumber in its original color and state.

You can also use an aerosol can of lacquer such as Deft or other brands without a spray booth.

Selecting the right wood

Bear in mind that you encounter color variations, ranging from wine-red to eggplant to true violet. If your project requires several boards, try to choose them in person. If not possible, get all from one dealer, requesting consistency of color throughout the order.

Since the color of the purple heart changes over time, visualize the wood in its deep brown stage, not its purple stage. A laminating Purpleheart next to a brown-toned wood to maintain contrast.

How to carve purple heart wood

  1. Gather your material and tools.
  2. Put on protective wear, including a dust mask.
  3. Mix distilled water and alcohol with a 40/60 proportion in a bottle
  4. Spray the wood in the solution
  5. Allow the wood to absorb the water to avoid splintering and much easier to carve. The wood contains alcohol that helps the wood to stay moist for longer and makes the carving knife cuts through the dry wood better.

Is Purple Heart hard to cut?

Yes, a purple heart is difficult to cut due to its interlocking grain. Using sharp tools makes the process easy and quick. Since the Purpleheart Heartwood is dense and strong, it can dull cutting edges.

Nailing requires pre-drilling. It glues well, and polishing is also easy. Try using Dremel works, but for light passes. A heavy cut tends to burn the wood. This applies to sanding as well. Run the sander at a slower speed, pressing a rotating drum against it to burn it. That is due to the resins in the wood.

Is Purple Heartwood toxic?

No, purple heartwood is not inherently toxic. It might cause some reactions in specific people and animals. It is not poisonous. Although, there are no such reports on whether the Purple Heart plant is poisonous or not. When the juices are squeezed out of its stem, it can be dangerous for the skin as they may cause some irritation. The irritation could lead to redness on the skin in some people.

David D. Hughes
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