Purpleheart lumber is an exotic hardwood prized for its brilliant purple color. Its native range is from Mexico to Southern Brazil. It is dense, with a Janka hardness of 2520.
When purpleheart is freshly cut it ranges in color from gray to a brownish purple. As it is exposed to light it turns deep purple. Different pieces of purpleheart will range from an “electric” purple to a deeper more eggplant color. Applying finish often will turn it to the darker purple. Further exposure to light will cause purpleheart to age into a deeper purplish brown. And yes, if you were to cut into the wood again, the cycle would repeat.
Purpleheart trees grow to a height of 100-170 feet tall. Coming from trees of this size, wide boards are not uncommon and we often see them in the loads coming into Goosebay. It is not uncommon for us to see widths approaching 18-20 inches. More commonly boards in our bin tend to average around 8 inches in width.
Occasionally we see figured purpleheart. The figure is a mottled grain that, since it resembles the patterning on a bee’s wing, is referred to as “Beeswing Purpleheart.”
Although the grain tends to be straight, working purpleheart requires sharp tools. Dull cutting edges can heat the wood in which case in can release a gummy resin.
At Goosebay we mostly see our customers using purpleheart for inlay, turned items, and furniture. One customer even did their kitchen cabinets in purpleheart.
Purpleheart is highly durable and rot resistant. Athough Goosebay doesn’t consider purpleheart a “go to” wood for boatbuilding, when the Mystic Seaport Museum built the reproduction ship the “Amistad” the main lumbers used were Iroko (donated by Sierra Leone), White Oak from Northeast Connecticut, and Purpleheart from French Guiana (New Haven Register, 3/27/2000).
The Armistad is at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
Sources: The New Haven Register dated 3/27/2000
The Wood Database, Eric Meier, 2016