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How do you finish Purpleheart to keep it purple?

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by Terry_Dodson, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. Terry_Dodson


    Jul 10, 2002
    Our local woodzone store has some 2" x 2" x 60" Purpleheart for sale cheap ($5.99). How can i finish this as a knife handle to keep the purple from fading out to a brown? Has anyone finished Purpleheart and kept the purple color for several years?
    Thier website has this:

    Botanical Name:
    Peltogyne spp.

    Other Names:
    Violetwood, Amaranth, Sakavalli, Pau Roxom Nazareno, Armante, Tananeo, Saka.

    Natural Characteristics: Straight grain with a moderately coarse texture.

    Deep purple. Color changes to a rich brown as the wood matures.

    Can de difficult to work with.
    Tends to blunt cutters.
    Cutters must be very sharp or they can burn the wood.
    Purpleheart must be run very slowly through the machines.

    Finishes well.
    Lacquer based finished will preserve Purpleheart's purple color.
    Alcohol based finishes will remove it.

    Veneers, turnings, furniture, tool handles, etc.

    Purpleheart can have quite a bit of gum and sap in it that tends to leak out when the wood is heated by cutters. Because of this care should be take to ensure your blades are very sharp.
    Price: Moderate
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2008
  2. toecutter


    Dec 13, 2007
    I made a picture frame out of it around 8 yrs ago and it still looks pretty purple to me. I think I just gave it a tung oil finish. Hard handling/use may leach out some color, but not that I've seen. If you are real concerned, I would go with a hard, clear finish.

    Good luck,
  3. Bailey Knives

    Bailey Knives KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 18, 2004
    It turns more purple with exposure to air. If you hit it with a heat gun, or quickly with a torch, it turns a deep purple.
  4. Hypocrite


    Apr 23, 2008
    I have used purpleheart quite a bit in making martial arts dummies. I use a spar varnish with UV protection. UV is what turns the wood purple... and unfortunately what will also fade the purple over time. Sand your wood down, then let it sit until it is a bright purple. Apply several coats of varnish with UV protection. Might not be the best solution for knife handles though.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2009
  5. sunshadow


    Oct 2, 2006
    I finish purpleheart knife handles with Johnsons paste wax.
    it holds up reasonably well, eventually it will brown out with handling, a light sanding and rewaxing restores the color

  6. Terry_Dodson


    Jul 10, 2002
    Thanks for the input guys. I will probably go with the varnish with UV protection.
  7. Joe Cabaup

    Joe Cabaup

    Jun 13, 2004
    I've finished by knives with Butcher's wax with great results. Two knives I've seen recently are still as purple as they were four years ago.
  8. John M Cohea

    John M Cohea

    Oct 24, 2007
    I have used super glue as a finish for purpleheart with very good results.
  9. joe sangster

    joe sangster

    Jul 5, 2003
    I have it stabilized by WSSI .

  10. joelbolden


    Jan 10, 2006
    I like Watco's Teak Oil. Did several Purplehearts a few years ago, and last I heard they're still purple. I've some scales that have been laying around for around 2 years that are deep purple now.
  11. Chris Meyer

    Chris Meyer Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 15, 2005
    In this link, they tell you how to change the color of purpleheart with heat. I used my kitchen oven to get the desired color, then sent it out to WSSI for stabilizing. After it came back, I cut into the stabilized wood, and the color was still there. Only time will tell if it will retain the color for the long run.

    By the way, Hypocrite, those are some incredible wooden dummies.
  12. Troop


    Oct 26, 2006
    My daughter's favorite color is purple, so I made her this knife with purpleheart and some of Aldo's 1095.
    Just used a couple coats of Formby's Tung Oil Finish; so far, so good.
    Heat will make the color darker.
    - Mitch

    Attached Files:

  13. Terry_Dodson


    Jul 10, 2002
    Very good info. Troop that is the kind of handle i think i am trying for. I did try heatting a small piece in my toaster over to 400 degrees, and it did darken it some, but around the layer rings a really dark purple started bubbling out, i guess this stuff is not dry enough to get a good color from heat yet. But i will try it on a handle shape piece soon just to see. :D
  14. Troop


    Oct 26, 2006
    It's kind of "hit or miss" with this wood. If I were you, I'd just let it darken by itself a little. Also, I would stabilize it, in one form or another, before you work it. Watch that you don't burn it on the belts.
    - Mitch
  15. scottickes


    Oct 27, 2005
    I've used purple heart quite often, and it will darken with age. I've found that sunlight is what has the greatest effect on the darkening of the wood.

    I cut a bunch of it up into handle slabs about 5 years ago, and they actually turned a purplish grey color over time. Careful sanding brings them back to a rich purple color. Heat will definitely darken purpleheart to almost blackish purple. I'm attaching two photos. One is the Christmas knife I made this year for the Bladeforums gift exchange. I used a "Purpleheart Medal" theme and overheated the mosaic pin in the handle to put a bleeding dark purple look to the area around the pin. You can see how easy it is to get a dark purple. The other photo is the kitchen cutlery set I made for my wife for Christmas this year. This is the as finished look of the knives. I put 6 coats of gunstock oil on the handles and butcher block (purpleheart and hickory), and then put two coats of Walkers Wax on all of it. The handles of the cutlery set are from curly purpleheart that I had purchased about 10 years ago and was waiting for just the right project to use it on.

    Attached Files:

  16. Raymond Richard

    Raymond Richard

    Jun 17, 2001
    A few years back I remember Don Cowles suggesting the use of Armorall to stop woods that darkened when exposed to sun light. Its got UV protection. I tried it a couple times but can't remember if it worked or not. Rose colored glasses also help.
  17. firebert


    Mar 24, 2008
    I've heard of the armorall idea; I haven't tried it myself, though (I just try to avoid purpleheart).

    You can do interesting things to the color with acid exposure. HCl will turn the wood hot pink, (kinda fun). Purpleheart is very chemical resistant, and is used for chemical vats.

  18. jackrabbitslim


    Jan 28, 2008
    Is it just me or is $5.99 an awesome price for 5 feet of 2"x2" purpleheart? I'd nab that in a heartbeat, personally.

  19. Terry_Dodson


    Jul 10, 2002
    I was going to go back if i got off work early today and grab a few more sticks, and they have some eepee (sp?) and yellow heart also, for cheap also. but it appears i have to work all day today :(
  20. scottickes


    Oct 27, 2005
    If anyone near me needs purpleheart for a project, I have about 75 pieces that are about 2"x2"x5+" and two additional boards that are 2"x14"x12 feet. I'm thinking about sending a bunch to WSSI.

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