Dealing with Toxic Wood Dust

There are moments in woodworking, just like in everything else we do in life, that we look back and say why didn’t I think of that before I started? I have a tendency to just jump and get me feet wet and figure the details out as I go. As far as figuring out the details on how I build something I like to rely on my skills at “figuring things out” but what we should not figure out as we go is shop safety. We are all conscious of protecting ourselves when using power equipment or protecting ourselves from hazardous chemicals but what about wood dust? Wood dust can potentially be just as hazardous as anything else in our shop.

On a project I have been working on I am using Wenge as an accent. I have never used Wenge before but have always wanted to incorporate it into one of my projects. Other than hearing that it is expensive I knew little else about the wood. After picking up a piece at almost $14 per board foot, I discovered that the one thing I did know about the wood was correct, it is expensive!

Like many hobby woodworkers my workshop is in my two car garage and space is limited and for the amount of work that I do I have never justified purchasing a dust collector. I have a respirator mask that I wear when sanding or using chemicals but never bother when using the table saw. After getting the Wenge into the shop I cut the pieces to length and then put on my mask before sanding. After being in the shop for a few hours I came back into the house and told my wife that I felt congested, nauseous, and drowsy, and that I thought I was coming down with something. After lying down I felt better after a couple of hours.

This whole incident should have been a clue but being hard headed and wanting to finish I went back out into the shop and worked for another hour later in the evening only to find that once again I started feel bad again. Finally making a connection I came in and looked up the toxic effects of Wenge, they include respiratory problems, nausea, and drowsiness as well as the dust can cause a poison ivy like rash on the skin! The mistake I made was not being aware of the potential problems of a material that I had never used.

There are many woods such as Greenheart, Padauk, Rosewood, Teak, Wenge, and even Black Walnut can cause respiratory, eye & skin, nausea, and a number of other problems, some woods such as Sasafras that have been linked to nasal cancer. The important thing is be informed with what you are working with and protect yourself accordingly, such as wearing a mask or respirator when cutting and sanding. I protected myself while sanding but failed to protect myself when cutting and from the dust that remained in my shop. Another way I could have helped protect myself would have been to open the garage doors and turned on a fan to help clear the dust from the air.

This experience has also made me realize that a dust collector is more than just a way to my shop clean but could also help in keeping toxic dust out of the shop and more importantly out of my home where it could affect my family.

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2 Responses to “Dealing with Toxic Wood Dust”

  1. January 10, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    Wow–I didn’t realize the effects of Black walnut, but I just did a project on the lathe with it and I couldn’t stand the taste in my mouth and could feel it in my throat. I’ll start wearing a resperator and do my homework.

    • highrockww
      January 10, 2012 at 4:32 am #

      Walnut is one of the only domestic woods that can cause issues so it is definitely a good idea to wear a respirator. The fact is that it is not good to breath too much of any wood dust and better be safe that sorry, as they say. I have been working on my dust control lately to try and cut down on some of the fine dust particles and found that a hepa filter is a must.

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