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The best description I've seen of the brown/purple colors in purpleheart. This is from Eric, a moderator on The WoodTalk Forum:
Yeah purpleheart is weird stuff...I've seen it go both ways. We have some incredibly purple - like clownishly purple - boards come into the yard sometimes, and after a couple months some of them will begin to turn brown and others will stay purple. I've sent a totally brown piece through the planer and it's come out purple...and I've sent a very purple piece through and it's come out brown. I can't figure it out.
Like Eric, I can't figure it out either.
my samples: --- color is accurate, with slight discrepancies as noted
a turning showing 2 pics, each with 2 views taken 9 years apart and put here to show the darkening with age. The details of the turning with comments about the colors are at the bottom of this page, along with enlargements of all views.
An exposure series --- both sides are raw, freshly sanded, and half covered and the rest exposed to light. The first pic shows the raw baseline and the 2nd pic shows the exposure after one month. Note that "exposure" for purpleheart very much includes air as well as light, and my cover for the left side is loose so the split between exposed and unexposed is vague. To see the complete series, click here: purpleheart exposure series
one of the most notable characteristics of this wood is the results of a heavy resin that is prevalent in most planks --- what will happen is that if you allow the cutting edge to over-heat the wood, the resin will cause the overheated area to turn a purple so deep it is almost black. Here is an example of a saw-cut that produce some small areas of that discoloration in the side grain. See "cooking for color" below for further discussion of the resin.
COOKING FOR COLOR
Some purpleheart is heavy in resin and if you bake the wood you can get the resin to suffuse more evenly throughout the wood and doing so will make the color both more uniform and more vibrant. I've tried 30 minutes at 400 degrees and an hour at 300 degrees and I find that the hour at 300 degrees works better. WARNING --- this causes a really awful stench and you need to put a cookie sheet under the wood so that the resin doesn't drip onto the burner and REALLY cause a stink. I put the cookie sheet on the lower rack and the wood itself on the upper rack so that the direct radiated heat from the burner does not hit the wood directly.
uncooked and then cooked. The most dramatic color change was on pieces 6 and 7 which were very heavy with resin. On sheet 21 you can see where the resin has seeped out onto the face of the plank. This evens out with sanding. The pieces with the "X" under the number (9, 11, and 15) were NOT cooked so as to maintain a color reference between the two pics.
uncooked and then cooked. Piece number 12 shows a particularly dramatic shift in color and also shows resin seeping out onto the face of the piece. Note that piecs 10 and 12 were a single piece that I cut in two so as to show the difference between cooked and uncooked (I knew this piece would show a striking color change with cooking). The pieces with the "X" under the number (9, 10, 11, and 15) were NOT cooked so as to maintain a color reference between the two pics.
uncooked and cooked closeup showing the particularly strong color change in pieces 7 and 10. Piece 9 (with the X under the number) was not cooked.
uncooked and cooked showing the resin lines in the uncooked piece and how they have spread out after cooking. It is this suffusion of the resin throughout the wood that makes the color more uniform and brighter.
The upper pic shows a small plank cut in two lengthwise and the lower pic shows the pair again after the upper piece was baked for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F One thing to note about this is that the baked piece took on a noticeable crook and baking larger pieces results in significant cracks in the wood.
same two pieces as above, but the bottom pic shows the cooked piece after I sliced off 1/8" and then sanded it down. As you can seen, the color change goes all the way into the wood. These pics make the cooked piece look darker than it really is. The cooking does make it pretty dark, but it is a little more purple that what shows up here. The true color shows up best at the 2nd enlargement.
cooked in a different batch, these two planks show some of the best color to come out of cooking. Some planks hardly improve in color at all and some, like these, get very nice.
"before"pic of a set to be cooked (see directly below)
"after" pic showing the effect of one hour at 300 degrees F on the planks on the left side. The pic doesn't quite catch the vibrancy of the purple in the cooked planks. I'm really pleased that these took the cooking so well because they are from a very large plank and I'm assuming that the whole plank will now produce really terrific planks for my bowls (once they are cooked).
misc planks shot at a lumber yards. HUGE enlargements are present.
plank and end grain sold to me as purpleheart / Peltogyne lecointei
end grain closeup of the piece directly above
END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above
plank and closeup --- I bought this one because of the strong cathedral grain
this is the other end (and a closeup) of the same plank as directly above --- this end actually IS the brighter purple shown in the pics, a fact that seems to be coincident with the weaker grain pattern.
a closeup of the plank directly above
a less striking plank and a closeup --- I chose this one for the consistent strong purple color.
two sections cut from the same plank and a closeup of the pair
plank and closeup --- notice how the plank clearly shows the effect of having part of it (top) exposed to light and air while the rest was covered by another plank. Purpleheart has a muddy purple color at first but if you expose it to sunlight it turns a brilliant purple.
correspondent Shawn Longino reports: I wanted to give you some feedback about Purpleheart. I bought a big plank of the stuff and it was amazingly purple, even fresh cut, and it smelled like vinegar. This wood changed to that fleshy mauve that is typical of un oxidised purpleheart over a period of a couple of months. I had a hellufa time restoring that color when I finished the wood. Oil
based Poly brought up the red, while water-based poly pulled a bluish grey color right out of the wood into the finish, obscuring the grain considerably, I attribute this to the alcohol solvent, but I haven't done any further experimentation.
Here's what my solution turned out to be; Somewhere I read a tip that an application of diluted Muriatic acid would bring up a bright hot color. I used regular vinegar, because I didn't want a raspberry red shade, and it did seem to hasten the purple-ising of the wood. The grain didn't raise too much! After sanding, I sealed the wood with a water-white lacquer, which brought out the depth of the grain beautifully, A coat of water-based poly over that, brought the color back to the glorious violet hue that the wood is so famous for, without coloring the finish. This did a nice job or restoring a piece of Purpleheart that got left out too long and had started browning out. i didn't get as brilliant a hue, but it definitely doesn't look like Mahogany now!
both sides of a little cut-off. HUGE enlargements are present and make it particularly easy to see the details of the white "threads" that sometimes appear in purplehart (it's some sort of white stuff clogging the pores but I don't know what it is)
end grain and
END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above
both sides of a little cut-off plank
end grain and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above
I use purpleheart as sacrificial blocks at the ends of groups of wood when I am doing my end grain updates, and this is just a few pieces that got fine-sanded all the way to 1200 grit and looked to be worth taking pics of.
the web pic of a small plank I bought on ebay --- the actual color of the wood is purple, not the red/orange of the web pic, as you can see in the last of the 3 pics directly below.
planks. the last one is the same piece as the web pic directly above.
a small piece and a set of flats. Both of these, especially when enlarged, appear slightly more red than the wood.
both sides of a plank that I bought because it has an odd black coloration but it turns out that it is just on the surface and I have been told that this is a natural long-term patina for purpleheart, not a fungus or metal contact or anything like that.
two plank and end grain of one of them --- note the way in which the end grain shows VERY resinous growth rings. The color on these pics is a little too red.
plank with a very light curl (can be seen in the enlargements)
a couple of planks at a lumber yard --- I chose two that were farthest apart in color
curly purpleheart planks shot at a craft show. This vendor told me that about 1 in 10 of their purpleheart planks show some curl and about half of those are this good. HUGE enlargements are present.
both sides of a sample plank of fiddleback purpleheart / Peltogyne spp. --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. First, the designation "fiddleback" for this piece is legitimate based on common usage but it is a very weak fiddleback, as is normally the case with purpleheart. Second, I noticed with this piece, as I have with other curly purpleheart, that the figure is stronger when the board is planed but not fine sanded. The curl actually makes it physically, not just optically, to the surface and sanding reduces the effect, as can be seen in the difference between the labeled side (raw) and the 2nd side (sanded to 400 grit) above and ever more clearly in the end grain shots below that are before and after sanding.
end grain pre-sanding and post-sanding. To be fair, the fiddleback figure IS still quite visible in the post-sanded piece, it just isn't nearly AS visible and it doesn't show at all from this particular angle the way it does in the pre-sanded version.
end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above
both sides of a sample plank of violeta / Peltogyne altissima --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. The color in the pics is a bit too purple; it should be a little bit more brown
end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above
END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above
veneer sheet and closeup
veneer sheet and closeup
the web pic from the vendor who sold me the lot that most of my veneer sample pics are taken from
a veneer sheet that was half covered and then left exposed to direct sunlight for about an hour a day for a week (and indirect sunlight for the rest of the day). The side on the right, which is the side that was exposed, shows clearly how this wood can be enriched by exposure to sunlight. The first level of enlargement seems to show it even better.
a veneer sheet that has been exposed to the light for some time --- color is accurate and this sheet started off looking EXACTLY like the left side of the sheet directly above
I had the top piece of purpleheart laying out in indirect sunlight for months and when I noticed how purple it had turned, I found a consecutive sheet from the same flitch (which had been out of any direct light) and here they are for comparison. Notice also how the ribbon stripe grain is more pronounced after exposure. See also the pic directly below.
I wanted to show even more clearly the ribbon stripe grain, so I took this angled view, but it doesn't show up all that much better than the direct view you see in the top sheet of the pic directly above.
figured veneer sheet and closeup --- actual color was slightly more purple than what shows here
planks with wet and dry sections
plank specificially listed as Peltogyne confertifolor
plank specificially listed as Peltogyne paniculata
plank specificially listed as Peltogyne porphyrocardia
planks specificially listed as Peltogyne pubescens
plank specificially listed as Peltogyne venulo and with the common name sasaka, which is a common name for purpleheart in Asia.
I'm confident that the colors on these are accurate 'cause I've seen pieces that look like these.
flat cut plank and closeup --- brilliant color is quite believable although rare
plank and closeup with reasonable color, although redder than most purpleheart
plank with a color that is just ridiculous
large, freshly milled planks, all from the same vendor and all listed as roxinho (one of the MANY other common names for various purpleheart species). Judging from the rest of the pictures from which these were lifted, I's say the color is quite accurate. This is some really nice purpleheart although by the time they get to market, they might not be so bright.
figured plank and closeup
turning stock and planks
turning stock with unlikely color --- well, that's what I though, but I've been informed by a correspondent that purpleheart DOES come in an almost luminescent violet and that this pic is NOT inaccurate. Just shows how little I really know about wood.
curly turning stock and planks
sold as "florescent" purpleheart, which I have not otherwise heard of, so I think that's just a marketing term and since it's from the BogusColorVendor, it's hard to say how accurate the color is (but not hard to say that it's probably exaggerated here, BUT ... see the new comment under the turning stock directly above)
another brightly colored pic from the BogusColorVendor which MAY be correct but probably isn't
listed as curly but I don't see much curl
curly scales --- very weak curl, but it's there
scales with a more pronounced curl
veneer --- I'm not sure on the last three whether the faded tan color is really the wood or just a washed out pic --- I have never seen purpleheart this color.
veneer with accurate color
veneer all from the same vendor --- color may be slightly too rich
veneer sheet closeups with both levels of enlargement --- color may be slightly too red; in my experience the veneer is either a grayish purple or a fairly bright purple, depending on its exposure to light, but it has no red in it.
two shots and a closeup of the same plank of figured purpleheart. I'm dubious about the red color in this but that's not surprising since it's from the BogusColorVendor
figured; actual color is likely less vivid than this, but it COULD be accurate
a vase of pure purpleheart --- unfortunately the size wasn't listed, but judging from the grain, my guess is that it's about a foot tall and the color appears to me to be very accurate.
bowl by Al Amstutz
two views of a bowl
platter and vase
purpleheart star inside curly maple. I made this as a gift for a Jewish gentleman who bought several of my bowls and I like the way it turned out.
This turning sample was done to show purpleheart side grain, end grain, and so forth. It has been coated with polyurethane, and the first shot is not color corrected --- it is more red and less purple, and slightly darker than the actual wood, all of which taken together make this pic seriously misrepresentative of the actual piece. The second shot was carefully color corrected and on my monitor it looks exactly like the piece of wood. Contrast this with uncorrected view you get some idea how UNrepresentative many wood pictures are on the web, not through any attempt to deceive but just as an effect of digital cameras and an unwillingness to take the time to do color correction. As I have noted elsewhere on this site, some vendors DO use color correction, but use it to grossly exaggerate the colors of the woods they sell. In particular, see tulipwood and pink ivory for examples of such exaggeration.
This view of the turning also shows how coarse-grained purpleheart usually is.
I just got this piece out again after 9 years, mostly spent in a box, and as you can see below, it has darkened considerably
the same piece as directly above but after 9 years, most of which was spent in a closed box and even other than that the piece was not exposed to any direct sunlight and to very little indirect sunlight. The original color as a fairly light lavender/purple and the color now (accurately shown here) is a deep reddish purple