A Guide To Toxic Woods

Important information on potentially toxic woods that all woodworkers should know

The following information “Toxic Wood”, has been reprinted. With permission from Roy Banner, data provided by . Ron is a wood turner from Torrance, California. He almost lost his life in 1989 to anaphylactic shock after turning pieces of exotic wood. So these claims about the list of toxic woods and there causes they can bring. You should take them very seriously. In conclusion, you can bet Roy wears his RACAL respirator every time he uses his woodworking lathe now! Roy has assembled this data over the years from various sources and when an entry appears in red, this indicates that the information has come from only one source and has not been verified elsewhere.

Some of the information here has come as a surprise to me and it’s a wonder I’ve never had a toxic reaction to wood that I’ve been aware of.

As a craftsman, I’ve worked with a lot of exotics, but as a wood collector I’ve worked with lots more strange stuff from all over the world with no ill effects. Each of us is different and you can call me old “iron gut”.

Read carefully

Sorry that this is such a patchwork effort and may be difficult to follow, and that Latin names of woods are not included. I can’t judge with any authority the validity of the information presented here. It’s up to the user’s discretion to further research any wood themselves, though Roy has told me the information here has appeared in several woodworking magazines (for what that’s worth).

Take this as a jumping off point.

After each wood name comes categories between slashes / /: Explanation

Woods can either be an irritant or sensitizer. An irritant can cause a reaction fairly rapidly after exposure. A sensitizers which may have a latency period of hours or months, may require repeated handling before reaction occurs. Sensitizers are the more severe, once you’re sensitized, you’re sensitized for life, the reactions get more dramatic. A bit like paying taxes to the Government, huh?

Reaction Category:

Eye and Skin irritation (hives, itching, redness). Respiratory problems. Nausea headache, or general malaise, possibly even liver or kidney malfunction. Cancer of nose and sinus. Statistics are now showing, that woodworkers have a 40 per cent greater chance of nasal cancer. Working with toxic woods, you have great chance of getting nasal cancer, than people that don’t work with these toxic woods. The majority of statistics on nasal cancer are based on data from 1920-1960. That’s when the furniture industry became highly mechanized with little or no dust control methods. So don’t freak out, protect yourself and get a dust collection system and ware a respirator.

Potency: Small, Great, Extreme. There is great risk of wood or sawdust causing harm to your  respiratory system. Those people with allergies, should take extra precautions working with these types of woods.

Source: Dust or Wood or both

Incidence: Unknown, Rare or Uncommon.

This is probably the vaguest of the categories as most doctors wouldn’t know an allergic reaction to wood if it bit them in the face.

Note that this data does not take into consideration Man’s penchant for trying to poison himself by using formaldehyde in plywood, treated woods, sodium compounds in white pine to prevent blue stain, etc.

List of Wood Alphabetically

A

Afromosia: irritant/eye & skin, respiratory/great/dust/rare
Alder: irritant/eye & skin, respiratory
Angelico: irritant/eye & skin, respiratory/great/dust
Arborvitae: irritant/respiratory
Ash: irritant/respiratory

B

Baldcypress: sensitizer/respiratory/small/dust/rare
Balsam fir: sensitizer/eye & skin/small/dust/rare
Beech: sensitizer/respiratory/great/dust/rare
Birch: sensitizer/respiratory, nausea/great/dust, wood/rare
Black locust: irritant/nausea/great/rare
Blackwood: sensitizer/eye & skin/great/dust, wood/common
Boxwood: sensitizer/respiratory/small/dust, wood/rare

C

Cashew: sensitizer/eye & skin/great/dust, wood/rare
Chechem: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin/great/dust, wood/unknown
Cocobolo: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin/great/dust, wood/common

D

Dahoma: sensitizer/respiratory/great/dust/common

E

Ebony: irritant, sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/great/dust, wood/common
Elm: sensitizer/eye & skin/small/dust/rare

F

Fir: irritant/eye & skin/small/rare

G

Goncalo Alves: sensitizer/eye & skin/small/dust, wood/rare
Greenheart: sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/extreme/dust, wood/common
Guarea: sensitizer/eye & skin/extreme/dust/rare

H

Hemlock: nasal cancer/great/dust/rare

I

Ipe: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin
Iroko: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin/extreme/dust, wood/common

K

Katon: irritant/respiratory
Kingwood: irritant/eye & skin

M

Mahogany, American: sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/small/dust/rare
Mahogany, African: sensitizer/respiratory/great/dust/rare
Makore: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin
Mansonia: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin/extreme/dust, wood/common
Manzanilla: irritant/respiratory/dust/rare
Maple: sensitizer/respiratory/great/dust, wood/rare
Mimosa: irritant/nasal/extreme/dust, wood/common
Myrtle: sensitizer/respiratory/great/dust, wood/common

O

Oak, red: nasal/great/dust/rare
Obeche: sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/great/dust/common
Olivewood: sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/great/dust, wood/common
Opepe: sensitizer/respiratory/small/dust/rare
Orangewood: respiratory/rare

P

Padauk: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin, nausea/extreme/dust, wood/common
Pau ferro: sensitizer/eye & skin/small/dust, wood/rare
Peroba rose: sensitizer/respiratory/great/dust, wood/common
Peroba white: sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin
Purpleheart: sensitizer/eye & skin, nausea/small/dust, wood/rare

Q

Quebracho: nasal cancer/great/dust/rare

R

Ramin: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin/small/dust/rare
Redwood: sensitizer/respiratory, nasal cancer/small/dust/rare
Rosewood(s): irritant, sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/extreme/dust, wood/common

S

Satinwood: irritant/respiratory, eye & skin/extreme/dust, wood/common
Sassafras: sensitizer/respiratory, nausea, nasal cancer/small/dust, wood/rare
Sequoia: irritant/respiratory, nasal cancer/small/dust, wood/rare
Snakewood: irritant/respiratory/great/dust, wood/rare
Spruce: sensitizer/respiratory/small/dust, wood/rare
Stavewood: irritant/respiratory
Sucupira: irritant/respiratory

T

Teak: sensitizer/eye & skin/extreme/dust/common

W

Walnut, black: sensitizer/eye & skin/great/leaves & bark/unknown
Wenge: sensitizer/respiratory, eye & skin/great/dust/common
Willow: sensitizer/nasal cancer/great/dust/unknown
W. redcedar: sensitizer/respiratory, nasal cancer/great/dust/common

Y

Yew, Europe: irritant/eye & skin/great/dust/common

Z

Zebrawood: sensitizer/eye & skin/great/dust/rare
First of all, from this list you can see all the breathing hazards. Next is to
arm yourself with the proper PPE and keep yourself safe and living for
a long time.

Conclusion: Protect yourself with quality eye, hearing, and breathing protection
Go ahead and print this list out and post it in your shop for a reference guide.

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