What is Purple Heart Wood: Origin, Characteristics, Types, and Uses

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As an exotic wood material with unique grain color and high durability, Purpleheart wood has become popular among many craftsmen, including myself. The only problem is it’s sold in wood types, and not all of them suit the same tools and projects. 

Stick with me as I dive into the origins, attributes, and best uses for Purpleheart lumber, so you can make a savvy investment.

Purple Heart Timber Characteristics Summary

What is Purple Heart?

Purpleheart lumber is a material you can derive from an exotic wood tree that’s a part of Peltogyne. It’s a genus with 23 species under the Fabaceae family that grows into massive trees. 

purple heart wood

The Purpleheart lumber trees have a growth range of 100 to 170 ft with massive trunks that grow up to 1.5m in diameter. From these exotic plants bloom tiny flowers with around five petals and a pod-like tree fruit with a single seed.  


This exotic wood originated from Central and South America, specifically in the Amazon Basin. You can also encounter Purpleheart lumber trees from tropical rainforests in different countries like Guyana, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, and many more. 

Although it’s one of the most durable and densest trees in Central and South America, most environmentalists don’t encourage the usage and harvest of Purpleheart lumber. 

These durable materials are also rare now, so I suggest considering alternatives like acacia, alder wood, cherry, red oak, walnut, or maple lumber

Appearance: Color, Grain Pattern, and More

Out of the many unique attributes of the Purpleheart species, its unique purple-grayish color caught my attention the most. However, you should know that the lumber color will transform into a deep violet-purple or eggplant-like shade as time passes by. 

purple heart wood texture

While most Purpleheart timber materials have straight lumber grains, some of their types are occasionally wavy and irregular. You can encounter Purpleheart lumber with a regular or medium texture. Fun fact, its lumber texture also comes with a natural wood luster. 

Endgrain Features


Purpleheart timber may have noticeable or indistinct growth rings and diffuse-porous depending on its development conditions and species.


The wood grain can be straight or wavy with single or multiple radial arrangements. 


Purpleheart lumber has medium to large vessels and often purple-like deposits.


It has winged and unilateral storage cells, making Purpleheart lumber sapwood susceptible. 

purple heart lumber


The wood’s surface has medium width and normal spacing attributes, barely visible to the naked eye without the help of lenses. 

Is it Hardwood or Softwood?

Hardwood lumber types are specified as leafy trees, while softwood ones are generally from conifer plants. Because of this, Purpleheart lumber undoubtedly belongs under the hardwood category. It shares the same specification as walnut, maple, oak, and cherry wood

How Hard/Dense is Purple Heart Timber?

The material must go through a Janka hardness test [1] to determine how tough Purpleheart timber is. It involves pressing a steel ball on the material and measuring the result per pound of force or lbf. 

In my own tests, Purpleheart lumber recorded 1860 Janka. To put that in perspective, it outperforms sugar maple and hard maple burl, which clock in at around 1450. The walnut wood also pales in comparison with only 1010 lbf. 


The wood’s scent depends on which Purpleheart specie you’re using. While most trees don’t have an odor, you should expect some types to have a pungent smell. 

applying sealer on purple wood


These materials have different grain arrangements, so the chances of tear-outs are higher as you try to plane them. And whatever you do, steer clear of dull or high-speed blades. Trust me, you don’t want the wood’s gummy resin splattering all over your workspace—it makes for a messy project.


Based on its Janka rating, it’s a no-brainer that this wood is tougher than average lumber. It’s also resistant to decay, so you won’t have problems using it as material on furniture and flooring. 

Drying and Seasoning

I highly recommend assisting this wood with its drying process. If you just leave it to air dry, you might end up dealing with issues like surface checking, minor warping, and case hardening. I’ve learned this the hard way.


Despite its durability perks, this wood type can cause occasional allergies from eye and skin irritations to severe nausea. 

Also Read: Exposure to Toxins in Woodwork

Availability and Pricing

Although harvesting these lumber pieces falls under strict regulations, Purpleheart is still widely available in the market. The prices for these materials vary highly, but you should be able to buy them at a low to moderate cost range. 

purple heart wood table

Is Purple Heart Timber Endangered? Is it Eco-Friendly?

These lumber types aren’t listed as endangered, but the harvesting process of wood like Mahogany and Purpleheart is known to harm rainforest conditions. And because loggers needed to travel a distance to access this wood specie, it leaves massive carbon footprints. 

Different Types/Species of Purple Heart Timber

Common Uses of Purpleheart Planks

As a long-lasting and tough wood material, Purpleheart can come in handy for a wide range of applications and projects. However, the tasks you can use it with are still monitored with strict regulations, so lowering prices are too far-fetched for these materials. 


Where does purpleheart timber come from?

Purpleheart timber comes from a tree part called Peltogyne. These plants grew under the Fabaceae tree family and became large trees. 

Is purpleheart timber sustainable?

No, purpleheart timber isn’t sustainable because these wood pieces are harvested from endangered rainforests. These materials are prone to overharvesting and illegal logging. 

Why purpleheart planks are expensive?

Purpleheart planks are expensive because of their geographical location. Most of these materials are harvested in rainforests requiring long travel time. 

Can you leave purpleheart planks outside?

Yes, you can leave Purpleheart planks outside because they can stand against rotting damages, insects, or harsh weather conditions. However, regular maintenance is still advised.  

To maintain the color and integrity of Purpleheart planks, I’d recommend applying a protective finish or treating them regularly with an outdoor wood preservative. Trust me, a little upkeep goes a long way in keeping that wood looking its best, especially in outdoor settings.


It’s easy to be attracted to what Purpleheart wood can offer. However, I urge you to weigh your project needs and compare these materials to other alternatives like maple and oak. 

If your assessment leads to still needing this wood type, don’t forget to check its specifications to see if it matches your woodworking requirements.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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