maintaining color in purpleheart

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Forum topic by jschmitz1949 posted 01-19-2013 01:46 AM 2387 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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54 posts in 2631 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?

12 replies so far

View Ross's profile


142 posts in 1543 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"

View Jimbo4's profile


1491 posts in 2333 days

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

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

-- BOVILEXIA: The urge to moo at cows from a moving vehicle.

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 2879 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 1525 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.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


2689 posts in 2679 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

View MonteCristo's profile


2098 posts in 1759 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 Rick M's profile

Rick M

8607 posts in 1950 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.


View shampeon's profile


1771 posts in 1754 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


436 posts in 1529 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.

-- Bigfoot tries to take pictures of me

View NiteWalker's profile


2735 posts in 2147 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 2672 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


701 posts in 1523 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.

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