maintaining color in purpleheart

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Forum topic by jschmitz1949 posted 01-19-2013 01:46 AM 5291 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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56 posts in 3262 days

01-19-2013 01:46 AM

I don’t often work with purpleheart, but my sister has asked me to turn a series of bottle openers and pizza cutters out of purpleheart for the people in her wedding party.

In the past I did a few small pieces, and my purpleheart (very) quickly faded to brown. I got a deal on some nice figured purpleheart, and am about ready to begin turning the handles. Before beginning I want to figure out my finish procedure though (and will do a test piece or two). Does anyone have any advice for best practices to maintain the beautiful purple color in purpleheart?

17 replies so far

View Ross's profile


142 posts in 2174 days

#1 posted 01-19-2013 02:13 AM

I have only worked with purple heart once. Hand rubbed the project to try and maintain color. Came out pretty good. Took pics of it but dang if I can find them. It was a dog draft cart that I donated to the Newfoundland Club of America for an auction. Can’t remember who won the auction but it sold for a pile of $. I will keep looking for the pics.
Hopefully someone who has worked with the wood more extensively will chime in.

-- "Man Plans and God Laughs"

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1676 posts in 2964 days

#2 posted 01-19-2013 02:16 AM

I’ve tried everything, including out of the sun – no luck.

-- When I was a kid I wanted to be older . . . . . this CRAP is not what I expected ! RIP 09/08/2018

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3510 days

#3 posted 01-19-2013 02:18 AM

Purpleheart turning dark is like death and taxes…you cannot avoid it…

View RogerInColorado's profile


321 posts in 2156 days

#4 posted 01-19-2013 02:54 AM

I have used purple heart as accent on a picture frame (year ago), on a pull out (about 5 years ago) and for a Fibonacci gauge I made about six months ago. I have also used it on some trivets. The picture frame has been hanging on a wall out of the sun for a little over a year and is still purple, as is the accent on the pull out. The gauge is hanging in my garage / workshop. The trivets were just done for Christmas and are now spread out throughout the west so I won’t be seeing them soon.

My experience is that after machining, the original purple heart color is lost and it is brown. It also burns easy when machining. After you sand out the burn marks, exposing it to the UV of the sun restores it (the UV causes oxidation), but, this is important, the oxidation continues (according to what I have read) and can turn it brown again, so you need to stop the UV exposure when you like the color.

I’ve never turned any so I don’t know if that will cause burning or not. I just wouldn’t get rattled if you turn the purple off and just see brown. Go age it.

My process is this: In all cases, sand to final grit then age it until I like the color. If the product is not going to be constantly in direct sunlight, I just use rattle can lacquer as the finish. If it is going to be in direct sunlight, I put a couple of coats of spar varnish on it because spar varnish is the only thing I know that provides UV protection.

If I’m not in a hurry for the aging, I just hang it up out of the way where it gets a little indirect sunlight and I check on it every couple of weeks for color. When its right, I apply the finish. If I’m in a hurry, I put it out on my deck in the sun in the morning and in the afternoon move it to the front porch and bring it in at night in case it rains. That only takes a week or so.

I have read that purple heart from different forests reacts differently to the sun. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I have no way of knowing.

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3342 posts in 3310 days

#5 posted 01-19-2013 03:03 AM

Dye it. That’s cheating, true, but how many non-wood-workers will ever know? Props to self for double-hyphenated word string.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

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2099 posts in 2390 days

#6 posted 01-19-2013 03:44 AM

It’s exposure to UV radiation that’s turning it brown. Using a finish with a UV blocker will slow the process, as will keeping the pieces out of the sun. Since the pieces you have in mine are small and can be stored, if you keep them out of the light (in a box or something) they should stay purple for a long time.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View Woodknack's profile


12431 posts in 2581 days

#7 posted 01-19-2013 05:05 AM

In another thread someone posted that Armorall before finishing will help preserve the color but I haven’t tried it.

-- Rick M,

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1885 posts in 2385 days

#8 posted 01-19-2013 05:10 AM

Doesn’t purpleheart turn purple in UV light? Padauk will turn brown when exposed to UV, so you want to keep it out of sunlight. But purpleheart gets vibrant in sunlight.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View BroncoBrian's profile


847 posts in 2160 days

#9 posted 01-19-2013 05:17 AM

funny contradictions in these posts. My understanding is that you cut is and it is brown. plane or sand it, brown. sun light or oxidation turns it purple. needs some time. well sealed can keep purple for 12-15 years. strange stuff but very cool. building a small shallow bookcase for my daughter with it.

-- A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

View NiteWalker's profile


2738 posts in 2778 days

#10 posted 01-19-2013 09:10 AM

What broncobrian posted has been my experience as well.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3303 days

#11 posted 01-19-2013 10:55 AM

funny contradictions in these posts.
I’m no expert but I have been using Purpleheart a bunch lately. Picture frames, clocks, laminating etc.

BroncoBrian hit it pretty much on the head in my view. Planeing, cutting, turning etc will make it turn brown and really bum you out won’t it?? I have read many ideas around here over the years and one that I was skeptical of was putting Purpleheart under fluorescent shop lights to bring the nice purple back. I have some very bright fluorescent lights over my work bench and to my surprise this does work pretty well. I will put the wood up high under the lights and expose it for at least 24 hours and you can see the purple come back. Leave is longer and you will get more.

Check out this web site. It is from Highland Woodworking. Stay with it to the bottom of the page and you will see some nice projects, turnings etc.

Highland Woodworking has a good source of links to info that I enjoy learning from. The above link was from the “Wood and Tools” section then down to: “Exotic Wood”

-- mike...............

View Kazooman's profile


1237 posts in 2154 days

#12 posted 01-20-2013 08:56 PM

I made a blanket chest following David Mark’s design six years ago. The base and frame of the top are purpleheart. I finished the chest with Sam Maloof wipe-on poly-oil finnish and the purple color has remained as vibrant as ever. It may have gotten a bit darker purple, but it has not turned brown at all. I agree that purpleheart burns very easily when you machine it.

View Rich2871's profile


2 posts in 606 days

#13 posted 04-18-2017 12:16 AM

I just got a sample of this to use as a project and as everyone, it was not purple after cutting and sanding. As an experiment, and just to see, I took a torch to the surface. Much to my surprise, and happy so, after sanding lightly, the wood was a very dark purple. I took some spray lacquer to it and now it has a very interesting shine when looking at different angles. Some areas reflect the purple while others dot until it is at another angle. I really like the effect this gives. Only time will tell if it stays like this.

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2892 posts in 2226 days

#14 posted 04-18-2017 01:34 AM

I ripped a bunch of it for a guy some years ago. The sawdust turned brown almost instantly. This was not in the sunlight. Gave me the impression it might be oxidation that caused it.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View JayCee123's profile


200 posts in 966 days

#15 posted 04-18-2017 01:52 AM

The Purpleheart will turn towards brown if there is some burning during the saw cut or machine sanding. A lot of burning and you end up with black. It will darken with time if not protected with a UV blocker. Do your finished surfacing with a hand plane, scraper, hand rubbed sandpaper. Apply your finish the sooner the better. As far as a finish schedule; the piece below was finished with water white shellac (from flakes) and several coats of Behlen’s clear lacquer. A coat of wax was applied. It has been exposed to an abundance of sun light every day. It was completed over a year ago and still retains its color.

The table top below belongs to a shaker style table I made over 35 years ago. The purple heart was hand planed, finished with a scraper. The first year it sat in a local museum. The remaining time its been a functioning bedside table in my bedroom. It sees normal lighting conditions and gets plenty of wear. The finish was several coats of High Lustre Poly/Tung Oil by Sutherland Welles, rubbed by hand. Maybe a couple of times a year it gets a coat of polish with a UV blocker. Still looks good I think, although I should rub out some of the light scratches. The cherry which was also used for the apron and legs has darken considerably, as can be seen by the cherry plugs in the bread board edge.

You can get a better idea for the darkening process from the picture below which shows the table top edge, cherry apron, PH drawer front, and beech drawer sides. Purpleheart can stay purple.

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