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Purpleheart: the versatile purple wood.

What possibly would be the uses for a purple-colored wood?

Billiard cue butts, gym equipment and chemical vats, to name a few. And that is only a short list of extremely eclectic uses for this semi-deciduous tropical hardwood with the arresting color and outstanding strength and durability.

Purpleheart has a wide variety of uses from the practical to the sublime. Despite its high density, it is sliced for decorative veneers and is also used to make cabinetry and furniture. It is used for sculpture, turnery and marquetry and has a variety of specialty uses that also are diverse: billiard cue butts, gym equipment, diving boards, skis, chemical vats or filter press frames. Purpleheart is also used to make parquet and traditional flooring, tool handles and for shipbuilding. But its looks are disregarded when it is used for heavy outdoor construction work, bridges and docks.

A heart of purple

Purpleheart has a creamy white sapwood but like its name suggests, the heartwood is a bright, striking purple when freshly cut, then darkening into a deeper purple. Recutting brings back the vibrant purple hue.

The wood has a medium to fine texture with a luster that ranges from medium to high. Its grain is usually straight but can be wavy or irregular.

Purpleheart has a highly durable heartwood, most resistant to attack by fungi and dry-wood termites. It is not so resistant to marine borers, however. The heartwood is extremely resistant to impregnation using preservative oils but the sapwood is permeable.

Popular despite poor workability

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service says reports vary as to the drying effectiveness of this wood, from "air dries easily to moderately difficult." It can dry slowly or fairly rapidly "with almost no degrade to some warping and splitting." The Forest Service recommends a kiln schedule T6-D2 for 4/4 stock arid T3-D1 for 8/4 stock.

There is no argument on workability. Purpleheart can be somewhat difficult to work with, using either hand or machine tools. The inherent gummy residue of the wood, if heated when worked, will dull tools. One solution is to use slow feed rates and hardened cutters.

Another reason for its problems in workability is its extreme density. It does rate highly for turnery, gluing and finishing, although some finishing materials will dull the purple color of the wood.

A warm-hearted species

Purpleheart, violetwood, or amaranth as it is also known, is a warm-climate hardwood, growing plentifully in tropical America from Mexico to Brazil.

With its unusual look, purpleheart has a sense of drama about it. Found primarily in tropical areas, this exotic wood is a worldwide favorite that goes by a variety of names. It is known as amaranth and violetwood in the United States; tananeo in Columbia; purperhart in Surinam; korboreli, saka and sakavalli in Guyana; and pau roxo, nazareno and morado in Venezuela.

The trees can grow quite tall. Some grow to heights of 170 feet with diameters of 4 feet, but average heights are 125 to 150 feet with diameters of 2 to 4 feet, with boles that are straight, cylindrical and clear 60 to 90 feet above buttresses up to 12 feet high.

The book, "World Timbers," calls purpleheart, or the various species of Peltogyne that name denotes, one of the "most distinctive of timbers. Dull-brown when freshly cut, the heartwood rapidly changes to the vivid and well-known purple which, on prolonged exposure, tones down to a medium or dark purple-brown. It can vary appreciably in color, weight and texture, the heavier wood generally having a darker color and finer texture."

The book reports that variations in density range from 50 to 70 pounds per cubic foot, with an average of 55 pounds per cubic foot.

Purpleheart is a wood that seasons well. It will dry quickly, but with the possibility of some interior moisture. Sawn lumber yields the best color. Steaming affects the color and the use of spirit finishes also will take away the purple coloring.

There are approximately 20 species of Peltogyne in tropical America from Mexico to southern Brazil. However, the most well known of the species comes from the Amazon Basin and the Guianas. The trees are used in the native area for construction work because it is possible to cut large dimensions of the wood which is hard, heavy and tough.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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