Known Toxic Wood Species

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Forum topic by cckeele posted 10-22-2007 05:24 PM 4145 views 2 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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76 posts in 3871 days

10-22-2007 05:24 PM

Topic tags/keywords: toxic wood list

Just a little info on this subject as I have read a few posts under cutting board projects where it seemed to be unclear as to what type of woods may be safe to use for direct cutting boards.

Toxic Woods
and Occupational Lung Diseases

Mark Anderson, M.D.

May 1, 2000


There are various forms of toxicity caused by exposure to woods through dusts or by direct contact.

You can develop allergies following contact by touch or through the inhalation of dust. In other words, both large and small particles can sensitize you to the allergen. The reaction can be a skin or lung reaction. Skin reactions are generally itchy rashes. Lung reactions are generally chronic coughs or wheezing.

Other types of problems come from chronic exposure to dusts that are small enough to reach the small airways and alveoli. Dusts larger than 10 microns settle out in the upper airways. Less than 0.1 micron particles are so small that they don’t settle anywhere very much. They go in and out. Between 0.1 and 10 microns they reach the small airways and some of them stay.

The risk isn’t just cancer, but also scarring, inflamation and other damage, that eventually causes stiffening of the lungs so that the work of breathing increases. It’s not quite the same as your typical smokers emphysema, but it’s similar enough, and less responsive to treatment (e.g. antiinflamatories and bronchodilators).

Of course, woodworkers and boatbuilders can develop occur problems due to exposure to other materials such as epoxies and silicates. Glass, being basically silica, and of course colloidal silica, both could cause silicosis. Epoxies, particularly the hardeners, are well known as allergy sensitizers.


Asthma: Reversible airway obstruction, often with accompanying inflamation. Evidenced primarily by wheezing.

Bronchitis: Inflamation of airways (also not infectious here)

Bullae: Lung blisters – hollow areas that have no functional lung tissue and may pop, causing a pneumothorax.

Fibrosis: Scarring – leads to stiffness and impaired breathing

Granuloma: Non malignant tumors

Interstitial: The tissue of the lung that isn’t the airways or alveoli. Literally, “between cells”.

Mesothelioma: A cancer of the surface of the lung.

Pleural plaques: Deposits of material and scarring on the surface of the lung.

Pneumoconiosis: Lung disease caused by dust.

Pneumonitis: Inflamation of lung. (pneumonia), in this case not infectious.

Pneumothorax: Collapsed lung (partial or complete)

Rhinitis: Nasal inflamation, usually with a runny nose (rhinorrhea) and often with lots of sneezing if the cause is allergic.

Occupational Lung Diseases
Disease Agent Effects
Aluminosis Alum.& al.oxide Fibrosis, bullae, pneumothorax
Asbestosis Asbestos Pleural plaques, lung cancer,mesothelioma
Byssinosis Cotton, flax, hemp Airway obstruction, loss of elasticity
Metal fume fever Cadmium, Cobalt, Nickel, Zinc & others Chemical pneumonitis
Occupational Asthma Western Red Cedar and others Reversible airway obstruction
Siderosis Iron oxide Dust deposits
Silicosis Silica Dust deposits and fibrosis
Talcosis Talc, hydrated Mg. silicates Perivascular fibrosis

Types of reactions:

1) Respiratory: E.g. asthma, rhinitis, mucosal inflamation

2) Skin and Eye: Contact dermatis (excema), conjunctivitis (itchy,

watery, red eye), pruritis (itch) and other rashes

Here’s a partial list (somewhat selected for boat building pertinence) on various dusts that cause occupational lung diseases:
Arbor vitae (thuja standishii) 1
Ayan (Distemonanthus benthamianus) 2
Blackwood, African (Dalbergia melanoxylon) 2
Boxwood, Knysna (Gonioma kamassi) 1,2
Cashew (anacardium occidentale) 2
Cedar, Western Red (Thuja plicata) 1,2
Cocobolo (Dalbegia retusa) 2
Cocus (Brya ebenus) 2
Dahoma (Piptadeniastrum africanum) 1
Ebony (Diospyros) 1,2
Greenheart (Ocotea rodiaei) 1,2
Guarea (Guarea thompsonii) 1
Ipe [Iapacho] (Tabebuia ipe) 1,2
Iroka (Chlorophora excelsa) 1,2
Katon (Sandoricum indicum) 1
Mahoghany, african (Khaya ivorensis) 1,2
Mahoghany, american (Swietenia macrophylla) 2
Makore (Tieghemella heckelii) 1,2
Mansonia (Mansonia altissima) 1,2
Obeche (Triplochiton scleroxylon) 1,2
Opepe (Nauclea trillesii) 1,2
Peroba rosa (Aspidosperma peroba) 1,2
Peroba, white (Paratecoma peroba) 1,2
Ramin (Gonystyus bancanus) 2
Rosewood, Brazilian (Dalbergia nigra) 2
Rosewood, East Indian (Dalbergia latifolia) 2
Satinwood, Ceylon (Chloroxylon swietenia) 2
Satinwood, West Indian (Fagara flava) 2
Sequoia Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) 1
Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) 1
Stavewood (Dysoxylum muelleri) 1
Sucupira (Bowdichia nitida) 2
Teak (Tectona grandis) 2
Wenge (Millettia laurentii) 1,2

Wood Type of Reaction


National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health

International Labor Organization “Encyclopedia of Occupational Safety and Health”

“Sculpture in Wood” by Jack C. Rich, Da Capo Press, New York, 1977

“Toxic Woods” by Brian Woods and C.D. Calnan, British Journal of Dermatology, Vol. 95, Supplement 13, 1976

I’m afraid this list of woods may be incomplete because my sources are 20 old.

-- All donations should be made out to me and in the form of wood or tools ~Chris

18 replies so far

View snowdog's profile


1164 posts in 3981 days

#1 posted 10-22-2007 05:32 PM

My uncle dies last year from a lung problem due to (they thing) cutting plastics in the prior month. He was 70+ and still strong as a bull, working in construction his whole life. He owned and operated a union shop, building hospitals, churches and a lot of other really large buildings all across the North East coast.

Be careful and protect your lungs.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4245 days

#2 posted 10-22-2007 06:09 PM

Good report on wood toxicity. I wrote up a personal account of a bout I had with spalted maple I was using a lot of in turning and not wearing enough protection. I had to go to an eye Dr. and it took us both a while to figure out what was going on. Swollen eyes, red, itchy, runny nose. She was stumped until she said it looked like a fungul infection, then it dawned on me that I was working with fungus in the wood I was using. I told her about it and she agreed that is the cause and gave me scripts, both oral and topical for my eyes to clear it up. It took about a week and a half to clear it up and I am now very careful around spalted woods. I strongly urge everyone to do so. It was not a pleasant experience. jockmike2

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Dekker's profile


147 posts in 3879 days

#3 posted 10-22-2007 06:21 PM

A few years back, I bought a NIOSH respirator for stripping and painting a van. With it, I could not even smell the fumes! Something similar to this (though it doesn’t mention its rating here)


Now, that was a one-time only project, but I have continued to used the respirator for my woodwork. What a godsend! In addition to being the ultimate in dust-removal, they offer the benefit of keeping your safety glasses from fogging up, since the “exhaust” port is downward. The only downside is the exhaust port is prone to dripping from your breath’s humidity… It also will protect you from the epoxy fumes (get the correct rating of filter!)

All this to say, thanks for the reminder… Most woodworkers only think in terms of irritants. There are also serious medical issues that take years to build up.

-- Dekker -

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 3922 days

#4 posted 10-22-2007 06:23 PM

Thanks for the information. I guess to be safe one should ware a resporator ANY time you even think there may be dust and ALLWAYS when you spray finishs indoors or out doors.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#5 posted 10-22-2007 07:28 PM

pretty much looks like “any wood” isn’t healthy

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View cckeele's profile


76 posts in 3871 days

#6 posted 10-22-2007 08:10 PM

Well I dont think there is such a thing as healthy sawdust thats for sure, but what I do take away from toxin list like this is there are alot of species that cause some type of irritation which is just about any wood. The ones to look out for are the “Direct” or “touch” variety because they are the most potent of the bunch. With that being said I think respirators are a must use at anytime we are cutting or sanding and you may as well just leave it on cause when your done with the cutting and sanding your gonna put a finish on it.

Also, although cloth type dust mask are common to use as they are cheap and disposable they really do not offer enough protection. Besides have you ever seen what one looks like after the sanding process? Just about useless within minutes. Ensure that you get yourself a decent respirator with a good comfortable fit.

-- All donations should be made out to me and in the form of wood or tools ~Chris

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3989 days

#7 posted 10-22-2007 08:11 PM

I work full time with people whose lungs are shot. It’s not a pretty sight. Take care of what you have today so I don’t have to take care of you tomorrow.

By the way cckeele, good article and research. I realize your sources are old but you definately put your point across.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View cckeele's profile


76 posts in 3871 days

#8 posted 10-22-2007 09:26 PM

Thanks Dadoo. Its been hard to find a decent study within the last 10 years. I am sure many, many findings since then have changed with the advances in technology. It would be interesting to see for sure.

-- All donations should be made out to me and in the form of wood or tools ~Chris

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3989 days

#9 posted 10-22-2007 09:59 PM

I’ll do a little research for you and get back to ya later.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View VTWoody's profile


95 posts in 4056 days

#10 posted 10-23-2007 03:21 AM

I recently milled up some Sapele for a project I am working on and noticed that my legs and arms were a little itchy that afternoon. I am not, knock on wood, allergic to anything I know of, so that was particularly interesting to me. I will post again later when I mill up the rest of the wood.

View cckeele's profile


76 posts in 3871 days

#11 posted 10-23-2007 03:46 AM


With the exception of some domestic woods the rest stand a good chance of being an eye or skin irritant. If you have access to a compressor then you may try and limit your exposure by blowing the sawdust off your skin after each exposure. Although it may be uncomfortable you have to slap on some jeans and long sleeves to see if it helps.

Im not trying to spook anyone out just keep them aware and reduce their exposure by taking small precautions whenever possible. I think it would be a good benefit for people to do their own research on this and possibly make themselves a list they can hang in their shop for reference or as a reminder. If you know your gonna be working with a certain type of wood you may then look it up on the chart and see what precautions you can take to avoid exposure. Eye, Skin, Respiratory or direct.

-- All donations should be made out to me and in the form of wood or tools ~Chris

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4092 days

#12 posted 10-23-2007 05:52 AM

I recently read a generalized article about irritant woods (I can’t remember where though…) and there was a suggestion in the article about the clothing you wear. Basically, if you have done anything such as sanding or routing that causes a great deal of fine dust, you should not continue to wear the clothes that day or even sit down on your furniture (if made of fabric) without changing out of these closes first. The prolonged exposure or transfer of the dust to furniture (extreme cases) can cause an outbreak that you may not normally experience if only exposed to a species for a short time.

I experienced such an occurrence when I spent several hours milling a bunch of pine. Normally I’m not bothered. I do have an allergy to pine tar derivatives though and the contact over the course of a long day milling a lot of stock was enough to set me off.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View TreeBones's profile


1827 posts in 4022 days

#13 posted 01-01-2008 02:05 AM

I don’t know that I am allergic to any particular type of wood but I definitely feel that I have been infected with burl and figured wood. I just cant get it out of my system.

All that aside we should all wear a dust mask at the minimum as I do believe it has affected my lungs over the years.

-- Ron, Twain Harte, Ca. Portable on site Sawmill Service

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#14 posted 01-01-2008 02:19 AM

that’s not good, Ron…. :(

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View CaptnA's profile


116 posts in 3812 days

#15 posted 01-01-2008 03:33 AM

Good advice to always wear protection. Eye protection, respiratory protection, hearing protection.
May I add though, that NO filter mask made for dust/fumes can or will protect you from low oxygen. Dust masks do not filter fumes. Sometimes the fumes can build up and displace oxygen.
Also please never forget that a lot of finishes are flammable.
I have responded to house fires caused by woodworking finishes.
Ventilation can literally be a matter of life and death –
And yes, I have seen death through accidental asphyxiation – from wood working finish.
We all have to think safety every time we walk in the shop.

-- CaptnA - "When someone hurts you, write it in the sand so the winds of forgiveness will scatter the memory... "

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