Safety in Woodworking - effects of wood dust.

Posted by Bruce Dean on

When we think of a woodworker what comes to mind? A carpenter, Joiner, Cabinet-maker or a Craftsman or someone who just enjoys working with wood? Today you still have a large variety of the meaning, from novice to professional you will get a different viewpoint. I have heard “they say the origin of the word dates back to the 1870’s, a person who worked with wood”.

Regardless of the meaning or expertise, woodworkers use a variety of tools and safety is an issue and concern. We all have family, friends, relatives or someone that cares or depends on us. Whether we work from home in our basement, garage, or for a corporation in a facility safety should be our priority, and not just for ourselves.

When we work for a corporation we have an expectation they will ensure our health and safety, by having policies and procedures in place to help protect us and others. Somehow when we work at home, we lapse in procedures. No safety manual for reference, no hazard assessments for the job or task we undertake, heck I have even seen homes with no first aid kit. This article is a reminder to maintain the level of safety at the home as high or higher than we have at a workplace. After all, while at home if a serious injury occurs, who is there to help?

Today I want talk about wood dust and its possible effects on our health. As a hobbyist we think wood dust is more a nuisance and irritant, something that bothers our eyes, nose and throat or gets on our project while we work. Nevertheless, today exposure to wood dust can create severe health problems.

Wood being either a softwood (coniferous trees) such as spruce, pine and fir, or hardwood (deciduous trees) such as maple, oak and alder. The dust or chemicals these products produce can be very dangerous.

Numerous types of wood is imported from other provinces, states or counties, of these, as an example: western red cedar is a common product. However, this particular wood is of concern, it has been well documented of the exposure-related effects.

My concern is the respiratory system effects due to the exposure of some of these wood products. Woods such as, western red cedar, douglas fir, western hemlock, spruce, balsam and alpine fir show exposure has had an effect on reduced lung function.

Additional concerns;

Toxic hardwood such as teak, oleander, laburnum and mansonia.

Tropical wood such as obeche, mahogany and rosewoods often cause allergic dermatitis.

These health effects are due to chemicals in the wood, some are natural and some, can be created by the mold, fungi or bacteria that is present in the wood.

An example of this; Plicatic acid found in western red cedar, is responsible for asthma reactions and allergic outcomes associated with wood.

It is important to understand the potential health risks of such exposure and take proper precautions.


  • Some chemicals from wood can cause the skin to become red, itchy or dry and blisters may develop. Repeated exposure can create sensitized exposure, which may develop allergic dermatitis.


  • Chemicals that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat causing, runny nose (rhinitis), nose bleeds, impaired sense of smell, nasal blockage, shortness of breath, dryness and soreness of the throat, sneezing, tearing and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the eye).

Toxic effects;

  • toxic woods contain chemicals that can be absorbed through skin, lungs or the digestive system.
  • Health effects can include – headaches, giddiness, weight loss, breathlessness, cramps and irregular heartbeat.

Respiratory effects;

  • Affected wood or lumber can contain chemicals or particles that cause; Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of the walls of the air sacs and small airways), particles known or suspected to cause this condition, include molds, bacteria and fine dust from some tropical hardwoods.
  • Health effects can include – headache, chills, sweating, nausea, and feverous symptoms. Tightness of the chest and breathlessness often occur and can be severe.

The importance of proper ventilation and respiratory protection cannot be stressed enough.

You can find a lot of good information on the web about respirators, so I will not go into detail about the types, styles and models. I will mention that I use the 3MTM 6000 Reusable Respirator.

Today many use the 3MTM 7500 series Reusable Respirator.

Each unit uses the same cartridges and filters, and it is a preference to fit feel and comfort, example; the 7500 has a 3MTM CoolFlowTM valve.

For more information follow the link below to the 3MTM site.