Relief Carving with Purple Heart Wood

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Forum topic by cowboyup3371 posted 01-06-2019 07:32 PM 768 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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115 posts in 703 days

01-06-2019 07:32 PM

Topic tags/keywords: purpleheart cherry carving tool carving

I have done some relief carving in the past but always with a softer wood – primarily Pine. As I want to use purple heart in the doors of a cherry makeup vanity desk that also contains a jewelry cabinet, I’m thinking of also doing some carving of a purple rose on one side and something else on the other. Can anyone tell me what to think about before I start designing the carving portions of the doors? Can I do the carving directly into the purple heart or should I use a different wood for that section?

-- Cowboy Up or Quit - If you are going to quit than get out of my way

8 replies so far

View LesB's profile


2201 posts in 3949 days

#1 posted 01-06-2019 08:57 PM

Purple heart is quite hard and while it has the lovely “purple” color when it is freshly cut it will eventually oxidize to a brown color. If you seal it very soon after cutting with a varnish or varathane you can preserve the color for a while, depending on exposure to intense light (sun).
If you are looking for a standout color on your doors and carving that will last I would suggest a wood you can dye or stain after the carving is done.

-- Les B, Oregon

View Phil32's profile


615 posts in 409 days

#2 posted 01-06-2019 09:47 PM

Any wood can be carved if your tools are sharp and you use a mallet. Sometimes the grain figure competes with the detail in relief carving. That is why relief carvers choose light colored medium hard woods with little grain figure. You might consider doing the purple heart rose as an inset or applique to one panel and a similar design on the opposite panel.

-- Phil Allin - There are mountain climbers and people who talk about climbing mountains. The climbers have "selfies" at the summit!

View Planeman40's profile


1452 posts in 3266 days

#3 posted 01-07-2019 07:38 PM

Yep! Purple Heart is very hard, brittle, and looses its nice purple color after it is cut and the surface turns to a reddish brown. If your tools are very sharp you can carve it, but it won’t be easy.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View DrDirt's profile


4592 posts in 4248 days

#4 posted 01-07-2019 09:04 PM

It being brittle is what is hardest – - means as you push through the sharp details tend to break off, as they have little to no “resilience”

Key thing I would do is try a little sample section, or try just a basic small 1×1 Acanthus leaf to see how it behaves and whether you need a mallet for fine control, or if you can push through with hand pressure. Things that are hard for one person are no biggie to another…. so try it out before building something.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View ruger's profile


126 posts in 601 days

#5 posted 01-08-2019 02:16 AM

I ‘m retired and enjoy making boxes. use a lot of purple heart for it’s beauty. the wood is very brittle, be careful some planks get tiny hairline cracks that are hard to see. to me it’s not the cost of the wood so much,but the wear and tear on router bits and saw blades. sanding is another story the time it takes to sand marks out of purple heart you could sand through a 3/4 inch hard maple i spent hours shaping and sanding this heart. maki


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126 posts in 601 days

#6 posted 01-08-2019 02:25 AM

also making double dovetails is very hard on the best router bits.

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115 posts in 703 days

#7 posted 01-08-2019 02:29 AM

Gorgeous project there Ruger. After reading your opinions I stopped into Woodcraft and talked with them too. Two of the guys there questioned my wood choices saying they wouldn’t work well together mostly due to the color. As my daughter has already requested the Cherry for whatever project I make her (she knows she is getting something but not sure what), I’ll switch over to a maple or other lighter wood for my cabinet door plans.

Thank you all and I’ll figure out a different project to use the Purple Heart in.

-- Cowboy Up or Quit - If you are going to quit than get out of my way

View RobInVT's profile


8 posts in 141 days

#8 posted 05-27-2019 01:20 AM

Wow Ruger, that’s beautiful!

-- Everything Happens for a Reason. Make the Most of it!

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