Category Archives: Safety

>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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>Be Safe, Learn Something, and Have Fun!


Back when I was in the Army I flew a lot with an old instructor pilot that before each flight he would say “be safe, learn something, and have fun”. He was very specific about the order it was said and it has always stayed with me and believe it translates to anything we do, especially woodworking. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional woodworker safety should always be your first goal after that hopefully we will learn something and have fun doing it.
Dewalt DPG52-1C Contractor Pro Clear High Performance Lightweight Protective Safety Glasses

Most of the accidents I have had myself or witnessed others have been due to user error and being 6 years prior military, a project manager on large construction jobs, and a life long woodworker I have had plenty of opportunity to hurt myself. Most of us tend to forget some of the basics when we are on a tight schedule or have a lot on our minds. Below are a few general safety practices that I use and hope others will incorporate into their woodworking and well any other endeavor they partake in.

• Always unplug machines when adjusting them. I make it a habit to leave my machines unplugged when I am not using them and although it takes a few seconds longer each time to reach down and plug them up, it could safe me from an accident.

• Wear safety glasses when working with machinery. Keep extra sets around so that you always have a pair on hand.

• Wear hearing protection, most of us are pretty good about wearing safety glasses but forget about hearing protection. The most damaging noise to our ears is often at a decibel that we cannot even hear.

• Avoid wearing loose clothing. Shirt sleeves and tails can get caught in saws and drill and cause serious harm. Tuck in your shirt and if wearing long sleeves roll them up to avoid possible mishaps.

• Avoid standing in the path of possible kickback. When using table saws and planers avoid standing directly behind the board. I try and position myself so that if the board kicks back I am out of harms way. I have had a board kickback when I was growing up and cracked an oak garage door, luckily I was standing to the side and the board missed me!

• Always keep a respirator on hand. We often think of wearing a respirator when spraying chemicals but wood dust can be just as harmful. Woods such as Cocobolo, Ebony, Teak, and Wenge can cause respiratory problems and even woods such as Oak and Birch can cause irritation.

• Avoid distractions. Many of us use our home shops as a way to get away and as a stress reliever. But after a long day at our “day jobs” or if you are a professional woodworker thinking about a deadline we do not always have our full attention at the task at hand. Maybe try and work on a few not so hazardous tasks when you first get in the shop until you have had a moment to relax and concentrate on the task ahead.

• Keep your tools sharp! Keeping your tools sharpened is one of the best preventive measures other than your safety equipment for preventing kickback. A dull blade or bit is much more likely to catch or throw splinters than a sharp tool.

These are just a few tips that I use every time I go into the shop and there are many more that I have not even included. By far the best safety practice that we can have is to just slow down and think before we do something. So remember:


MSA Safety Works 817663 Multi-Purpose Respirator

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