Is Purple Heart Wood Toxic?

The world is full of beautiful woods.  The grain of red oak, the warmth of Brazilian mahogany, the endurance of teak, and the richness of sugar maple all come to mind.  We all have seen, at least, furniture from each of these woods and perhaps even worked with one or more of them in our woodworking shop.

Amaranth, more commonly known as purple heart (sometimes written as one-word purpleheart), among exotic woods, is a particularly beautiful wood.  Maybe you’ve seen it used in flooring, a dark, eggplant shade, as an accent wood alongside a lighter color grain.

It grows natively in the countries between Mexico and Brazil.  The characteristics that set it apart from other exotic woods are its striking grain pattern and a unique color rarely found in other woods from which its name is derived.

It’s an extremely strong and durable wood and prized especially for its use in fine inlay work on musical instruments.  It is a favorite in turnery, cabinetry, flooring (as mentioned earlier), and furniture.  Woodworking hobbyists use purple heart wood in the making of bowls and jewelry boxes.

It is resistant to decay and insect attacks.  It is also water-resistant, and you will see it used sometimes as decking on more upscale boats.  However, it’s an exotic wood and expensive, and since all wood eventually succumbs to the elements and would require ongoing care, it would seem such a waste to use it for any outdoor use.  Cedar would seem the more appropriate choice.

Purple Heart End Grain

Purple heart trees are large, often growing as tall as 160 feet and with a diameter of up to 5 feet.  They grow in the endangered rainforests of Central and South America.  While none of the 23 varieties of the species are on the endangered list, the harvesting of purple heart, teak, and mahogany does contribute to the destruction of those forests.

Although purple heart wood is available in the US, it is expensive.  Harvesting in the rainforests is highly regulated, and transporting over such a long distance contributes to its high price.  If you wish to work with purple heart, expect to pay upwards of $14 per board foot.

It is also challenging to work with, and the extracts from purple heart that contribute to its heartiness to withstand rainforest weather and pests are thick and gummy, and can adversely affect your woodworking tools.

Questions often asked about purple wood include its toxicity and whether it is safe to use in some applications.  However, it is not known to be dangerous, and although it might cause some reaction in a small percentage of people and animals, it is not poisonous. 

The extractions from purple heart wood, which we mentioned earlier, can irritate sensitive skin.  Reactions might include eye and skin irritations and some reported cases of nausea, but purple heart wood is not likely to cause any severe reactions.  Those who have a wood allergy should probably avoid working with purple heart wood, although they can certainly enjoy its beauty in furniture, flooring, cabinet, and inlay work.

Speaking of purple heart wood and its beauty, imagine a wide slab of the wood, or a few slaps joined, live edge, formed into a dining room table.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine.  We found a video for you that will show the process of creating that dining room table top from raw slabs of purple heart wood with a live edge.

Festool 574432 Domino Joiner DF 500 Q Set
  • NOTE: The DF 500 only come with the 5MM cutter which is installed.
  • Unique, patented cutting action that rotates and oscillates to create perfect, clean, and repeatable...
  • Mortise width adjustment with the turn of a dial allows for easier alignment when joining panels.
  • Pivoting Fence allows you to create angled mortises from 0-90° with positive stops at 22.5°, 45°,...

You’ll see some of the power tools we’ve written about on these pages, including one of our favorites – a track sawa planer; a Festool Domino; and a miter saw.  If we didn’t know better, we’d think the fellows followed Obsessed Woodworking!  Imagine that.

Watch this video as the dining room table takes shape.  See how the color of the purple heart wood is brought out during the project, and see it come alive with the sanding and application of the finish.  Amazing!

Those looked to be 2” slabs of considerable length, making that table a very expensive project.  But, look at it again, and tell me you wouldn’t love that in your dining room if you can.

Is Purple Heart Wood Good For Cutting Boards?

We’ve already told you that purple heart wood is hard, strong, durable, and water-resistant.  The possible allergic reactions to the wood are to its gummy extracts when working with it. 

As a finished project in your kitchen, purple heart wood is an excellent choice for a cutting board.  The wood is food safe and safe in general, and once assembled and finished, will cause no allergies or adverse reactions.

It will be a more expensive cutting board than other hardwoods, of course, but it will also be more beautiful.  You saw in that video how the wood comes to life in a project, how the planer and the sander and the finish brought out that eggplant color.  You’ll have the most beautiful cutting board in your neighborhood.

Purpleheart Lumber Board - 3/4" x 2" (4 Pcs) (3/4" x 2" x 18")

An exotic wood from a tropical rainforest in Central or South America, with an exotic color and name, purple heart, is among the world’s most lovely woods.  It adds warmth, style, and beauty to whatever project you use it in, from inlay, furniture, flooring, and cabinetry. 

If you can swing the price and bring it into your woodworking shop, you are a very lucky woodworker.  If you’ve worked with purple heart wood and have a photograph handy, please send it along.  We’ll add it to this page and credit you with the project. 

Last update on 2023-09-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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