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Purple heartbreak – Michael Dresdner

Michael Dresdner

straight talk about wood finishing

Purple heartbreak

Q: I made a small box out of Purple Heart. What can I finish it with to get a brilliant purple color?
A: Purple stain or dye. I realize that sounds like a strange answer, but it will make more sense if you bear with me a bit and let me explain a few things about purpleheart.
When you first cut or sand purpleheart, it turns a sort of grayish, ashy color. Let it sit in the presence of oxygen (air) and in a couple of days it once again deepens to its nice, rich purple color. For that reason, it is the only wood we generally do not finish immediately after sanding, Letting it sit two days will give you more rich color.
That’s the good news. The bad is that any finish that is amber, such as an oil, most lacquers, shellac or oil varnish, will discolor the purple, since yellow and purple make brown. Thus, it’s good to avoid amber finishes. Worse, once exposed to light, the wood will soon fade to brown, even after it is finished. Keeping the piece in the dark will help, but then, we can’t much enjoy it in the dark. That’s why many people resort to staining the wood purple, especially with lightfast pigments or largely lightfast dyes. By adding stain that matches the original color of the wood before finishing, you can keep the same color and also preserve that color longer after finishing.