Native to Central and South America, this is a very strong, heavy wood without annual rings, rays, or grain. The color is usually a uniform purple, but some pieces have vivid white streaks. In the shop, there are four primary problems with purpleheart: splintering, its effect on tools, color changes, and toxicity.
Purpleheart is a very hard, somewhat brittle wood. Going too fast when ripping or crosscutting will cause it to splinter. Routing the wood can also cause splintering. This usually occurs at the beginning or end of the cut. One way to prevent this is to butt two pieces of wood against the edges of the board you are routing, to provide a continuation of the cut.
Purpleheart will change color for several reasons, including excessive heat. When pressure accrues on a spot while sanding or routing too slowly, it darkens, as though a deep purple ink had been spilled on it. After purpleheart is finished, it may turn a dark reddish brown from the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. A sealing finish like spar varnish or tung oil is a good choice, and purpleheart refinishes beautifully.
Used primarily as an accent in fine furniture and casework, purpleheart is quite beautiful and can remain that way, but it is definitely an indoor wood. A piece of this species that is exposed to the elements will, unfortunately, turn black.
Wood grain images provided by HobbitHouseInc.com