BOTANICAL NAME: Peltogyne spp. of the Family Fabaceae (syn Leguminosae) the legume, pea, or bean family, including at least 20 species, with the most prevalent including P. pubescens, P. paniculata, P. porphyrocardia, P. venosa and P. densiflora. Otheres include P. campestris, P. catingae, P. confertiflora, P. discolor, P. excelsa, P. floribunda, P. lecointei, P. purpurea

COMMON NAMES: algarrobito, algarrobo, amarante (french guiana), amaranth, amarantholz, amaranto, amaratante, barabu, bois bagot, bois de coeur, bois pourpre, bois puorpre, bois puurpre, bois violet, bois voilet, coracy, daba, dachitan, dastan, ellongrypho, guarabu, guarabu (brazil), guarabu branc, guarabu preto, guarabu rajado, guarabu roxo, guaraburajado, guarabussu, guarabú, guarado vermelho, guarbu, hoepelhout, koeroeboerelli, kooroobooelli, koorooboovelli, kooroobovelli, koroboreli (guyana), koroborelli, koroborezi, kouburelli, kuraburelli, kuroburelli, kuruburelli, lastan, legno amaranto, legno porpora, legno violetto, madera purpurea, malako, marado, maraka, marako, marawineroo, mor ado, morado, morado (panama, moriadiana, mu, nazareno, palo concha, palo morado, palo morado (mexico), palo violeta, pao rojo, pao roxo, pao violeta, pau ferro, pau roxo, pau violeta, pauferro, pauroxo, pelo morado, pinyaukun, poerprehati, port-orford cedar, pourpre, puperhart, purperhart (surinam), purplewood, purpuurhart, queensland walnut, rajado, rarabu, sacka, sackaballi, saka, sakavalli, sapater, sapatere, simirirang, sucupira, tananeo (columbia), tangapaou, tannaneo, viola, violet, violet wood, violetholz, violetwood, zapatero, zeedrat

TYPE: hardwood

COLOR: There are two radically different reports on this wood's color and my own experience says that one of them is a presumably erroneous reversal of the true facts and that this report has been copied by other inexperienced people into further incorrect reports.

Anyway, what it is is this: The wood is (in my experience and that of most of the reports I've consolidated here) a dull (sometimes described as "mousy") brown when first cut and turns to purple when exposed. The degree and shade of purple depend on species and length of exposure and ranges from dull brownish purple to deep purple to vibrant bright purple. The reports that I believe to be erroneous (but remember, I haven't seen all 20+ species) says that the wood starts off purple and turns brown or brownish purple on exposure, which as I said is exactly backwards from my own experience and that represented by most of the reports I've consolidated here.

At its best, the purple is a brilliant vibrant color that makes this wood widely used in jewlery and where strong colors and/or strong contrast is desired. Sometimes it is more of a deep purple, and that can also be of great interest, depending on your taste and the application. At times, it is a brownish or grayish purple that is not especially attractive.

Some reports say that after turning from the brown color upon being cut to the purple after exposure that the wood then, after long exposure, turns brown again, or purplish-brown. That has not been my experience. I have observed some deepening of the purple color after long exposure, but I have never seen purpleheart turn brown again and I have seen some pieces that I believe have been exposed for years.

Color variation between boards is reported to be moderate to high. Presence of minerals in some boards may cause uneven coloration and steaming is reported to affect the color. Purpleheart is reported to vary widely in color between, and probably within, species.

To protect against ultra-violet fading, a coat of Armorall, a car finish product, under a lacqeur application was suggested by one report. The treatment is reported to hold the color of the wood rather well against fading. Other reports suggest a color stabilizer.

There are sometimes thin white streaks (almost like threads)

The sapwood (which I do not personally recall every having seen), is reported to be creamy white, sometimes pinkish and sometimes with light brown streaks, and sharply demarcated from the heartwood and is generally less than 2 inches thick even on large trees.

GRAIN: generally tight, fairly straight grain but sometimes irregular and sometimes wavy and interlocked in a way that gives a beautiful figure that is sort of a cross between a curl and a mottle.

TEXTURE: medium (rare reports say coarse, other rare reports say fine, but I have never experienced either coarse or fine, although I have seen some purpleheart that is on the coarse side of medium). Luster is medium to high and it polishes fairly well (many reports say it takes a high polish, but that has not been my experience)

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: This wood is hard, heavy, dense, and does not dent easily but most cutting operations are moderately easy with both hand and machine tools, although you HAVE to use sharp tools and the blunting effect is moderate to severe. Slow feed rates and light passes are recommended. Dull tools will heat up the wood causing gum exudation that will both make continued cutting difficult and will also produce patches of much darker purple which will turn almost black if a finishing agent is applied before they are removed. Also, there is Some tendency to tear and split, and localized splintering occurs with any but the sharpest saw blades. I haven't noticed chip-out to be much of a problem. It glues well. Nailing and screwing are difficult without pre-boring, but nail-holding capabilities are reported to be good. This wood splits fairly easily except pieces with interlocked grain.

All cutting operations require shart tools, as previously stated, but that said, it turns readily, bores well, routes well, mortises well and so forth although pieces with interlocked or wavy grain are reported to be especially difficult to plane and mould, which makes sense.

One report says the timber is soft and exhibits very little resistance during sawing, but I don't know what planet that person is from. It ISN'T enormously hard to saw but neither is it easy and saying it is soft is somewhat like saying that concrete is soft. In my own experience, trying to sand the butt-end of a purpleheart plank is not quite as difficult as trying to sand your sidewalk, but it's not a lot easier either. Sanding across the edge or side grain is much easier than sanding the butt end, as on any wood, but it it still difficult.

It reportedly carves fairly well, although I find that a little hard to imagine since it is so tough.

DURABILITY: Heartwood has high resistance to wear and is rated as highly resistant to attack by decay fungi and very resistant to dry-wood termites but has little resistance to marine borers. Good durability in wet conditions and also resistant to chemicals such as acids. The sapwood is susceptible to attack by powder post beetle but is permeable and thus susceptable to preservative treatment. One report says the timber is prone to blue-stain and attack by termites.

FINISH: Takes finishes well, but spirit based finishes reportedly remove the purple color whereas lacquer based finishes preserve the color. I've used polyurethane and have not noticed any degrade in color after years of exposure (albeit, only to indirect sunlight, never to direct sunlight). At least one report says there is some tendancy for some finishs to bleed and that water-based finishes hold the color better. Some say wax is best for preserving the color. I have personally noticed that oil-based finishes REALLY enhance the color (although they do deepen it considerably)

STABILITY: small movement in service

BENDING: steam bending is reported to be reasonable easy with high bending strength, although some reports say it affects the color of the wood (no note on HOW it changes it)

ODOR: no distinctive odor or taste

SOURCES: Central America and tropical South America including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Columbia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

USES: One interesting use for this wood is for vats and chemical containers of various kinds because it is very acid resistant). Also, in areas where it is grown and is readiliy available, it is fairly widely used where resitance to degrade in wet conditions is needed, such as boat building, bridge construction, canoes, diving boards, docks, dockwork, harbor work, joinery (external with ground contact), marine construction, outdoor construction, railroad ties, shipbuilding, and wharf construction. It is also used where strength is needed, such as in mine timbers.

In the US it tends to be used mostly as an accent wood and for decorative objects, because of the vivid color.

This is a "workhorse" lumber in areas where it grows, so it has more uses than you can shake a stick at, even a purpleheart stick, including the following partial list: abutments, agricultural implements, architectural accents, architectural uses, bedroom suites, billiard cue butts, bobbins, building construction, cabin construction, cabinetmaking, carving, chairs, chests, concealed parts (furniture), construction, decks, decorative veneer, desks, dining-room furniture, domestic flooring, door, dowell pins, drawer sides, factory construction, figured veneer, filter press plates, fine furniture, floor lamps, flooring, floors., furniture, furniture components, furniture squares or stock, handles, hatracks, heavy construction, inlay, inlay work, interior construction, jewelry, joinery, kitchen cabinets, light construction, living-room suites, marquetry, mathematical instruments, millwork, moldings, musical instruments, office furniture, overlay, paneling, parquet flooring, picker sticks, picture frames, poles, radio, rustic furniture, sculpture, shade rollers, shafts/handles, shuttles, silverware handles, skis, specialty items, spindles, spools, sporting goods, stair rails, stairworks, stencil & chisel blocks, stereo, stools, structural work, sucker rods, tables, tool handles, traditional flooring, turnery, tv cabinets, umbrella handles, utility furniture, vehicle parts, veneer, walking sticks, wardrobes, wheel spokes, and wheels.

TREE: grows to heights of 170 ft with diameters to 4 ft, but usually more like 125 to 150 feet high and 1.5 to 3 feet in diameter; boles are buttressed up to as much as 12 feet, then clear, cylindrical, and straight up another 60 to 90 ft

WEIGHT: Most reports are in the 60 pounds per cubic foot range, but various reports quote from 43 to 75 pounds per cubic foot, with some of that variation undoubtedly being due to the fact that there are 20+ different species and some of it resulting from natural variations based on growing conditions. Personally, I'm dubious about the low end of that quoted range.

DRYING: Very mixed results reported concerning drying of purpleheart, possibly due to fact that so many species share the name. Some report that wood dries rapidly with little degrade and other reports say ease of drying is moderate to difficult, with some tendancy to twist or warp or develop end splits or surface checks and it takes a long time for thicker boards to dry. Difficulty in air-drying varies from easy to moderately difficult, and drying rate range from slow to fairly rapid. Moisture extraction from center of thicker stock is rather difficult since many of the species contain a HUGE amount of moisture when green. One report says drying time can be reduced considerably if stock is air-seasoned to 30% moisture content before kiln drying.

AVAILABILITY: readily available in both lumber and veneer although the veneer is relative rare in the USA

COST: low to moderate


Possible skin, eye, respiratory irritation.

web quotes:
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HOBBIT NOTE: This is by far my favorite quote about purpleheart (talking about the color):

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.

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Purpleheart’s color change is remarkable to behold, says Greg Engle, sales manager for Certainly Wood of East Aurora, NY. "When you first see it, it’s almost a mousy gray-brown color, but when it’s cut, it turns a brilliant purple. It will "mature" and age to a deeper, crimson color." Engle cautions users to protect it from ultraviolet rays because the wood is photosensitive. Engle suggests protecting the color by adding a UV inhibitor to the finish if the purpleheart will be anywhere near light. "The good news is you can bring the finish back if there is any damage by sanding or recutting the wood," he adds.

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This is a very dense hardwood that requires sharp tools and patience, but the results can be stunning.

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Purpleheart’s unique color is also a big draw. Custom cabinetry and furniture maker Bill Hergenroeder, owner of Springwood Construction Inc. in Cockeysville, MD, uses purpleheart for inlay and marquetry as well as specialty items like picture frames. “I buy it in the solid form for the picture frames. It’s a popular color for that use. If I make 40 frames of various woods, the purpleheart frames always seem to be the first to sell.”

Hergenroeder says purpleheart is a fine tropical wood, attractive, hard and dense. “The color change is very dramatic when you first cut it and it’s exposed.”