#10: Purpleheart

Bird number: 30
Date: December 24, 2011
Wood: Purpleheart (Peltogyne)
Source: Woodcraft store

Shortly after I started on this project, Debra said that she wanted me to carve a bird from Purpleheart. Since the stuff doesn’t grow around here and I don’t know anybody who’s willing to give me a good sized chunk of Purpleheart, I went to Woodcraft and bought a bowl turning square (6 x 6 x 2 inches). I don’t usually pay for carving wood, since there’s plenty of good stuff just lying around for the taking.

You can definitely see some purple in the wood, but it’s not the deep rich purple that you typically see in pictures. It will be, in a month or three. The bowl turning blank was seriously purple before I cut into it. I ran into this same problem a few years ago when I carved a little Purpleheart bear. If it doesn’t turn purple, I guess I’ll just have to carve another one. I have three more cutouts.

Purpleheart is hard. It typically takes me 15 or 20 minutes to rough-carve one of these birds from the cutout. This one took at least 30 minutes. Some of that time was due to me being a little extra careful because my supply of Purpleheart is limited, but mostly it’s because the wood is so dang hard. That aggressive Typhoon bit I have on the power carver tended to burn the wood, it was so hard.

On the Janka scale, Purpleheart comes in at 2,390, and its specific gravity is between 0.79 and 0.86, depending on the source. A cubic foot weighs over 60 pounds. The wood is more dense than Osage orange (meaning that it’s harder to cut), but its side hardness is lower than that of Osage orange. At some point I need to make a post about the difference between Janka hardness (side hardness) and resistance to cutting.

There are 23 different species of Peltogyne, all of which are native to the Central and South American rain forest. Some of the species are endangered. I don’t have any idea which particular species I have here.

I see Purpleheart used more for furniture and other woodworking projects than for carving. Very few people will carve it with knives or gouges. Those who do use gouges usually use mallet tools. I’ve carved only two things from Purpleheart with a knife, and that’s enough for me. You have to be very patient, take thin slices, and strop your blade often. Otherwise you’re going to dull the edge and then probably ruin it by applying too much pressure. Not that I’m speaking from experience . . .

I’ve seen some beautiful things carved and turned from Purpleheart. It’s a distinctive wood, and a beautiful addition to my bird collection. I have three other birds cut out from the piece that I bought. I’m looking forward to carving them.