Health Warning

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Don posted 12-26-2006 04:30 AM 3150 reads 1 time favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I just read Larry’s blog “Dust”, posted on November 14th. It reminded me of this article I placed in my woodworking club’s newsletter.

This article first appeared in the 1988 woodworking magazine, Chit Chats and was written by Tom Frazer.” Although perhaps an extreme case, it is a reminder of the hazards of inhaling wood dust.

I encourage members to wear dust protection equipment when woodworking.

“As I type these words, my breathing is being assisted by pure oxygen conducted by a plastic tube from a portable unit at the rate of three litres a minute. The oxygen is necessary 24 hours a day to help me breathe, because I suffer from a lung disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). In my case, the disease will be fatal. My only hope is a single-lung transplant.

Idiopathic means “of unknown origin” and so far, physicians have been unable to determine conclusively what triggered the disease, which causes progressive scarring of lung tissue. Scar tissue cannot absorb oxygen that is vital to life. As the disease progresses, my breath becomes shorter and shorter.

Although what triggered this disease has not been determined conclusively, the physician managing my case said he is “morally certain” that wood dust – perhaps that of spalted wood – is the culprit. Perhaps he believes this if for no other reason than I have been exposed to wood dust for a number of years as an amateur woodworker. As a newspaper reporter for the past 20 years, I have not been exposed to significant amounts of other lung irritants such as chemical fumes. What about smoking? I smoked cigarettes for about 15 years before kicking the habit some seven years ago. Yet IPF is not a “smoker’s disease”. My physician said that smoking may have been a contributing factor – I might not have contracted the disease if I had never smoked – but that smoking itself was not the cause fo the disease.

Although I have had a life-long interest in wood and woodworking, it was not until about eight or nine years ago, after my wife and I bought a house in the suburbs of
New Orleans, that I was able to set up a woodworking shop in a one car garage. As if making up for lost time, I soon filled my shop with every power tool I could get my hands on. Mostly a weekend woodworker, I felt I had little to fear from wood dust. I spent relatively short periods of time in the shop. I wore a filter paper mask, attached by a rubber band, only when I knew I would be making billowing clouds of wood dust with a belt or disc sander. Otherwise, I was not particularly worried about wood dust and did not wear a face mask. I realise now that I should have been more aware of the dangers that wood dust can pose. And, I should have taken specific steps to protect myself. But at the time, I felt that a dust extractor system was clearly too expensive, and was more appropriate for professional woodworkers.

Although sawdust from different woods varies in the way it affects woodworkers, I have become very suspicious of using spalted wood. Spalting is a phenomenon that occurs naturally in a number of woods. It is caused by a fungi eating downed timber, and for practical purposes, amounts to the decaying process. Yet, many woodworkers have discovered that this seemingly worthless, rotting wood produces remarkable figure patterns and colors.

After reading a magazine article several years ago, I became aware of the possibilities of spalted wood. My first “find” was a couple of lower trunk sections left by a curb by a city crew which had cut down and removed a huge Elm. The wood was magnificent. A design network of inky black lines sharply divided cream colored portions from dark brown portions. My spalted Elm would be just the material for turning bowls or crafting a small box. As I sawed, turned and sanded the spalted Elm, I not only produced my usual cloud of wood dist, but also unwittingly released into the atmosphere zillions of live fungi which had been happily eating away at the Elm. At this point I suspect the fungi that I subsequently inhaled began to irritate
my lung tissues. In response, my natural immune system launched a counterattack against the foreign invaders.

The serious problem began when my immune system went out of control and failed to shut down. The ceaseless struggle led to inflammation of the lung tissues and unchecked inflammation led to irreversible scarring. As a layman, I am guessing that my lung disease is the reverse of the process that takes place with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Instead of refusing to fight, as in the case of AIDS, my immune system’s cell army is battling with such enthusiasm that it refuses to stop.

I have zeroed in on spalted wood as a likely cause of my lung disease, but it is possible that dust from healthy wood of various species also caused the initial lung irritation. IPF is and insidious illness. It affects the lungs so gradually that the body is able to compensate for the shortness of breath subtly. So subtly, that one is unaware anything is amiss. I was jogging as much as three miles a day after I contracted the disease. The two symptoms that eventually send one to the doctor are shortness of breath and a non productive cough. But in my case, shortness of breath developed too gradually for me to notice. After all, I was jogging. I had developed a mild cough a couple of years before a chest X-ray revealed the IPF. But circumstances conspired to make me believe it was not significant. So I went on my merry way, working in my shop whenever possible. My only hope is for a successful single lung transplant.”

The editorial note stated, “Amateur woodworker Tom Frazer, 48, died in September 1987 from a chronic lung disease that he had been battling for some time.”

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

9 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4090 days

#1 posted 04-11-2007 09:03 PM

I just came across this and thought I would comment so that it would show up to new members.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4081 days

#2 posted 04-11-2007 09:13 PM

Thanks… Honestly when growing up we had a big old silver shop vac in our shop that we would hook to the machines but the shop was very open. This being the case I thought little of dust collection when started building my shop… after reading this accounting and several others I purchased a good 2 horse delta portable dust sucker… and a Jet air cleaner is on its way.


-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4170 days

#3 posted 04-11-2007 09:52 PM

Drew, there is a vast field of knowledge out there for woodworkers concerning dust collection. The most comprehensive site I know if is this one.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4081 days

#4 posted 04-11-2007 11:38 PM

I got this one… It sucks…

and a smaller remote air cleaner…


-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4170 days

#5 posted 04-12-2007 12:13 AM

“It sucks…”

Drew, I’m assuming this is a play on words and not your opinion on the efficacy of the unit.

I have a similar set up, but I’ve added a heavy particle separator immediately prior to the dust extractor. This removes the larger particles of wood prior to going into the filter system.

Also, I have tried to minimize the use of flexible hosing as much as possible. It tends to add friction to the air flow thus slowing it down. I use 6” PVC piping. Unlike a vacuum system which creates a vacuum and sucks air at high speed through a small diameter hose, a DC works by pushing a large volume of air through ducting at slow speeds. The more you reduce the size of the ducting, the less efficient it becomes.

By the way, I think the link I gave you, takes you to a non-functioning site. Here’s another site that discusses dust extraction.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6855 posts in 3972 days

#6 posted 09-14-2007 07:22 AM

Don; What is your condition now? Has it worsened over the past year, and have you learned new ways to deal with it. Are you still working with an oxy hose? A oxygen hose, while not most comfortable or convenient way to work,while striving for perfection, as is your custom. A full oxenogatd face mask just may help im making your work a little easire. Also the ceiling air cleaners, really make a huge difference in the ambient air! Do you use a router table in you work much? There several tools put out by Feetool, that when used in conjuntion with ther vacum system, are extremelty effective in dealing with this sort of problem. I have a routertable fence design which literatarlly lowers ambient dust by approx 80%(not to mention, it’s a hell of a good fence system. The best part is you get to make it as a woodworking project. There are enough critical details to make it challenging, and the endresult will give you msch satisfaction whiole using it.

While no one would want to give up on their passion, some adjustment should me made to enable you to work as comfortably as possible.

I too have lung problem. I was initially diagiagnoised with lung cancer in both lungs,and given three months to live.
As it turned out the doctor misdiagnoised the problem. It was a very scary few months prior to learning the truth about it, not to mention quite costly from both a fianancial standpoint, but also a fear standpoint. scary enough to through my body chemicals off enough to cause a serious case of depression for me. (I’m still being treated for that) That’s something I had no idea was possible. but I can vouch for it, as being true.

The ultimate conclusion was a touch of emphasemis, a touch of asyma, and a case of noncontagious tuberuloisis, which was apparently brought on by working in a house with the main drain of the building was left opened to the inside of the building. When they say the plumber protects the health of a nation, it is quite true. Anyway Don, I wish you the best with this situation, and I’f I can be of any help in developing a dust free enviroment with you,PLEASE ASK!

Well I had a terrible time writting this, as I’ve taken a sleeping pill and for once, it’s working. I would appear that someone replaced my keyboard with one with fench letters! I hope the spelling comes out close enough to english, that you’ll be able to read it okay.

Prior to working with any exotic wood, or a wood with a fungus type condition, like spalting, we owe it to ourselves to check the potential; harm we could be doing ourselves, in the name of fun,

Take care, Lee

-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4170 days

#7 posted 09-14-2007 08:52 AM

Lee, your expressions of concern and suggestions for alleviating my ‘condition’ are much appreciated. However, I think that you have mis-read the article I reproduced here. Go back to the top of this blog and read the three short paragraphs in bold type; I think you may have skipped over these.

Now, your suggestions are very well taken. If you check out my shop page, you will see that I have implemented most of your recommendations. Because, although I don’t have a serious condition, the more woodworking I do the more I find myself quite intolerant of wood dust of any kind.

I now don’t even go into my shop without wearing one of these.

And whenever I am generating wood dust I turn on my dust extractors, wear an air respirator, and turn on my ambient air filter.

I have dust extraction leading to my router table, but it’s a tool I only use infrequently. I will heed your recommendation to improve the efficiency of the dust extraction from the table.

Thanks, Lee, you are a great guy!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 4015 days

#8 posted 09-14-2007 01:30 PM

Woodworkers seem to spend a great deal of time and money on large volume dust collectors and cyclones but at the same time pay little attention to ambient dust that floats in the air and is too small to see.
While I applaud and endorse the large machines for keeping the shop tidy I would stongly suggest that every Woodworker get a proper face shield with filter and or at least a decent face mask with 1 micron filtration.
And secondly that they buy or build an overhead dust filter system to help deal with the ambient dust that infects even the cleanest of shops.
And lastly, that they build or buy a downdraft sanding station and use it for the majority of sanding procedures.
How many of us still smoke despite the overwhelming evidence today?


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4170 days

#9 posted 09-14-2007 11:54 PM

Bob, you are right. It’s the dust particles that you can’t see that will damage your lungs. And I could agree more with the irony of spending good money in an attempt to mitigate the effects of air-borne dust partials whilst ignoring the proven health hazards of smoking. Go figure?

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics