Need Good Advice For Finish Purpleheart

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Blog entry by longgone posted 03-01-2011 10:29 PM 4677 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I need some good advice from fellow Lumberjocks regarding what type of finish to use on purpleheart. I have experimented with different finished and it seems that after a good sanding, purpleheart turns a ugly shade of brown. Not the look I am hoping to get..
I have purpleheart that had been sitting on my woodpile for months and the color turned more of a purple than what i see after sanding.
I snotice many projects with a bright purple finish ans was wondering how those of you with experience getting this finish do to achieve it.

8 comments so far

View tdv's profile


1188 posts in 3125 days

#1 posted 03-01-2011 10:37 PM

Greg It’s matural for Purpleheart to turn brown after sanding or maching but it turns purple again The first time I used it I thought it was a conbut to my surprise it turned back to purple it’s strange & I bet there is someone on Lumberjocks who knows why. By the way the strength of colour varies so pick the piece by the shade you like clear acrylic lacquer lets the tone shine through but do wait for the purple to return before finishing

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2748 days

#2 posted 03-01-2011 10:44 PM

I really like the effect that wetsanded walnut danish oil looks on purpleheart. The hardness of the wood really results in a glass-smooth surface. The humidor in my projects section was finished this way. Despite warinings against it, I topcoated over it with wipe-on poly. It’s still holding strong (and purple) several years later. I tried out about 10 different finishing methods on scrap before I committed.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Kerry Drake's profile

Kerry Drake

167 posts in 3076 days

#3 posted 03-01-2011 11:09 PM

Yes, Trevor has it right. If you leave the purpleheart alone after you sand it, it will turn that nice purple color again in a few days.

-- Kerry Drake, Loudon NH,

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2943 days

#4 posted 03-02-2011 02:43 AM

Putting it out in bright sunlight helps too.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3164 days

#5 posted 03-02-2011 04:16 PM

I could be wrong, but I thought that the UV rays from sunlight is what turns purpleheart brown and that removing it from sunlight eventually brings the color back.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2995 days

#6 posted 03-02-2011 10:50 PM

Putting it in the sun straight after machining will return the Purple color quickly. Extended UV exposure eventually turns it a purplish brown. Once there the color won’t come back except through refinishing. On rush jobs I have lacquer sprayed and oiled freshly machined PH and the purple color still came back!

Avoid extended UV exposure to maintain the color for as long as possible. A waterbased finish will help to maintain color. In the very long run the color will eventually become a more purplish brown :^(

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 2977 days

#7 posted 03-03-2011 02:35 AM

Quite good to say that it is the ultra-violet rays that makes the purpleheart violet… I think it applies to all wood that it changes in colors when it is exposed to UV and we should wait for a time that the real color will be present before we seal it with finishes. When I plane or sand and I like the color, I immediately put a thin coat of sanding sealer (I learned this from Martyn) so I can preserve the tone of the wood and keep it inside the house. On my experience, when I am finishing with endgrain, I normally seal it with sanding sealer sprayed on before other finishes. Oil is absorbed by the endgrain and it will darken the color of the wood… the contrast will be lost. During the glue up, I spread some glue on the surface so it will not be affected by the staining caused by other wood dust… (Narra or Amboyna’s dusts stains other neighboring wood).

I had used a lot of finishes.. Poly, gloss lacquer, spar varnish, plastic varnishes, and even the nail polish (fingernail) .. they all work good on any wood however you have to test the compatability of each to the first coating and how they are apply. Using stain…this makes problem with sanding sealer if you use brush. Stain is melted away by sanding sealer therefore use spray. The sanding sealer is not good when the topcoat is spar varnish

-- Bert

View TravisT55's profile


7 posts in 2699 days

#8 posted 03-03-2011 07:58 AM

I have recently been working on a picture frame made from purple heart and experienced similar problems. After using a round over bit for the corners a white outline appeared where I had machined the wood. I immediately asked my boss (who has 20+ years more experience then me) if it would return to to its original purple and he assured me that it would. Sure enough several days later it blended back to its purple heritage. It was inside so we figured just the exposure to air and some oxidation is all it took. As for a finish I have tested some Olympic Antique Danish oil clear topcoat on scraps and was very pleased with the appearance. It gave the wood the “wet” brighter purple look I wanted. Good luck, I think some patience and time will return the wood to the way you thought that purple heart should look.

—Travis “Wise people learn from their mistakes, very wise people learn from others mistakes”

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