Cocobolo Blues (allergy)

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Forum topic by reggiek posted 09-14-2011 06:58 PM 8252 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2240 posts in 3355 days

09-14-2011 06:58 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cocobolo allergy dust allergy wood toxicity rash from wood

After all these years of woodworking, I have never reacted to a wood in this way. Last week I was dry turning (I usually turn green) a couple of cocobolo spindles and the next day found a horribly itching red rash on the inside of my arms and around my neck (I usually wear a long sleeved smock when I turn but that day the temperature was 102 degrees outside and about 90 in the shop – so I opted for a short sleeve and an apron). Luckily, I always wear my Triton respirator when I turn or I am sure my face would also have suffered from the same. It has taken almost a week of cortizone to get rid of the itch and rash.

I spoke to a good friend of mine and he recommended I try a Tyvek coverall with a hood. I do not really like a hood but I do need a good seal around the neck. I have ordered a pair and will see how well they perform when I clean out the DC’s filters (full of cocobolo dust).

I have seen several folks listing this malady here on LJ’s and was curious whether they found a solution or did they just quit using this wood? My understanding is that once you react to cocobolo, you can have similar reactions to woods in its species – like rosewoods. I have used alot of both woods…and have probably built up quite a sensitivity now (the wood is known as a sensitizer and continued exposure will have a compounding effect rather then the opposite with most allergens). My reaction certainly proves that continued exposure could cause a reaction as I have turned and worked with ALOT of this wood.

I do not want to discontinue using these woods, but nothing is worth the horrible discomfort (I have heard folks compare this to poison ivy or poison oak – I have never had any problem with these plants – but I guess now I know what it is like).

If you are using these woods – and you have not had any reaction – I would recommend that you still wear protective clothing and do not contact the dust unless protected – that way you should reduce the possiblity of building up a reaction later down the road.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

20 replies so far

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2778 days

#1 posted 09-14-2011 07:00 PM

Count me as one who’s allergic. I’m allergic to cocobolo but bocote is the one that really gets me. I’ve had full body hives before. It’s a real drag.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3355 days

#2 posted 09-14-2011 07:47 PM

Have you quit working those woods? Or do you have a method to keep you from exposure?

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Drew's profile


46 posts in 2773 days

#3 posted 09-14-2011 07:52 PM

As I understand, Cocobolo is kin to POISON IVY!
all Rosewood actually is related to poison ivy.
So for those such as myself, I am turning as much as I can so when I become sensitive I won’t be too bummed out.
As an aside, I get a sneezing fit when I turn black walnut. Sneezing with a face shield down, well does ricochet mean anything? ;)

-- If A equals success, then the formula is, A = X + Y + Z, Where X is work, Y is play, And Z is keep your mouth shut." -Albert Einstein.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3355 days

#4 posted 09-15-2011 12:38 AM

Actually, I was reading up on this and the active ingredient in Poision oak/ivy is a chemical callled urisol….it is not present in these woods, but there is a different chemical obtusaquinone (the body converts urisol to a form of quinone) which is much worse in a fashion. The main difference in the chemicals is that you will build up a tolerance to urisol…and after continued exposure your skin may gain it’s own protection. With the rosewood family the chemical is compounding which means continued exposure just means more and more severe reactions. That is why I recommend you take precautions now so that over the years you do not find yourself having a surprise reaction – I have heard it go as severe as anaphylactic shock – which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3200 days

#5 posted 09-15-2011 01:07 AM

sorry you hit the wall there , sort of speak , Reggiek
I still have to look forward to work with these beautyfull woods
so I thank you for the warning I will deffently use at least a filtermask
when it comes to sanding or if ever geting a lathe
I hear there shuold be several woodtypes we have to use protection
if we want to avoid reactions when working with them

take care

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 3011 days

#6 posted 09-15-2011 01:19 AM

I met a fellow woodworker a few weeks ago at our wholesaler, he told me to stop out at his place since he had a pile of 3-4’ offcuts (I was smiling inside and rubbing palms together) he could let me have.

I drove out to see him and after he loaded me up with a nice variety of African Mahogany, cherry, beech, walnut, sassafras, wenge, and a few others, he told me he is severly alergic to rosewood, and would I like to buy what he had left?

To shorten the story somewhat, he was rushed to the hospital (after cutting some rosewood) without the ability to breathe properly and remained there under watch for 4 hours while he came out of it. Said it was the most horrible feeling, thought he was going to die, heart palpatations, sweating and short of breath.

Since I don’t have that problem, I bought every piece he had…

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3071 days

#7 posted 09-15-2011 01:30 AM

Cocobolo does not bother me, nor does Rosewood, but to be fair, I’ve done only minor amounts of work with either. HOWEVER, recently I discovered I am woefully, terribly, awfully allergic to Ipe. Just one pass through the planer on a small piece was enough to instantly turn me red and itchy EVERYWHERE. It’s really disheartening!

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3355 days

#8 posted 09-15-2011 03:16 AM

I was the same….never had a reaction….never even had a thought about it and I have worked with alot of different woods that I thought were worse – like silky oak, paduak and some very spalted woods.

I always use a respirator in the shop though as I have seen what constant exposure to micro dust can do to affect the lungs and heart but I have never needed to worry about the dust on my skin. I do usually wear a smock or coveralls…but this was to give me a bit of protectiion from flying debris….not dust.

So I cleaned up my shop (all the filters in the shop vac, the festool and my big DC…I put a new filter on my air cleaner…....that was all after I finished off the spindles that I had been turning (they were to repair a friends broken table).....I did all this while wearing a pair of Tyvek coveralls with the hood up and my triton respirator going full blast – Well for now so far so good – not even a twitch.

So hopefully there is a possible alternative for folks that want to use this wood (it is one on the best turning woods I have used) – I will see if I get so sensitivie I can’t touch the stuff…but for now…protective clothing and respirator seem to work great. Hope this info helps to head off the same problem for someone else and perhaps keeps them from an emergency trip to the medical center.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3190 posts in 3194 days

#9 posted 09-15-2011 04:06 AM

Rosewood makes my nose itch some, as does walnut or oak. Pine makes me sicker than a dog. I just made some pine drawers over the weekend, and the dust had my face neck and arms red and my eyes and nose were running like a faucet. I can rinse my sinuses with salt water and take a shower right after cutting it. That helps. Guess I have to give up on pine, or buy a Tyvek suit. sheeze.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View tom427cid's profile


294 posts in 2556 days

#10 posted 09-15-2011 05:33 AM

Cocobolo—-there are only two types of people,those that are allergic to it and those that are going to be allergic to it!
After many years I started getting the rash and itchiness-occasionally I will still work with it but I wait till the end of the day and let it be the last operation that I do. As soon as I am finished I shower and don all clean clothes. So far this seems to work,I was told that the oils are what cause the reaction so by showering as soon as possible it lessens the time for the chemical reaction to take place.

-- "certified sawdust maker"

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3159 days

#11 posted 09-15-2011 02:39 PM

I’ve worked quite a bit with cocobolo and other rosewoods with no problems except for Honduran rosewood. I don’t know what it is about Honduran rosewood but that is the only one that bothers me (so far).

I got in real trouble about 10 years ago when I sanded a jewelry box top without wearing a mask. I got terrible congestion in my lungs and a terrible rash on all exposed skin (especially my neck). I recall it was a hot day and this was before I had an air conditioned shop so the dust stuck to me.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2865 days

#12 posted 09-15-2011 02:48 PM

Olive wood..Tried a simple test turning on a branch I’d saved from my Russian Olive tree, got as far as starting to sand, full smock, face shield, dumb, no mask, started sneezing, nose running, coughing..fortunately it was a spell that only lasted about a half hour. It’s on the nasty lists as well, Killed Roman soldiers way back when they used it for canteens. When I worked the green chain in a sawmill ALWAYS had to wear a mask when we were running Western Red Cedar, way too much dust from that stuff.

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3366 days

#13 posted 09-15-2011 03:26 PM

Mahogany—it started with the feeling I had grit in my eyes. I was a couple months into a big job of making and installing moldings, cabinets, wainscoting and an ornate stair case. Then one morning I woke with my face so swollen I could barely open my eyes. My face looked like I had a severe chemical burn and, a little later, a couple layers of skin peeled off. I went to my doctor and asked him to get me through that job, I still had about $10,000 worth of mahogany stacked on the floor. With steroids, barrier cream, protective clothing and a respirator I finished the job. It wasn’t a good time and I don’t work mahogany any more.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3355 days

#14 posted 09-15-2011 06:06 PM

Lwllms, I hear that. I have about 150 bd ft of cocobolo and a big chunk of that is suitable for turning. I was thinking I would have to sell it after my run in….but with a Tyvek suit and respirator, I didn’t even see a bump.

Once this cocobolo is gone, I will only work on if for a highly commsissioned job as I do not see any reason to tempt fate. By the way, the Tyvek coveralls are amazing even though “disposable.” I will probably do a review on them as there seems to be alot more LJ’s allergic to woods then I imagined.

The Tyvek’s are not that expensive – I got a case of 25, extra large, for 79.99 and free shipping. The run between $2.50 each up to $14.00 each depending on thickness and “brand name.” The inexpensive ones seem to work just fine for a woodworker’s purpose.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View john50's profile


12 posts in 3317 days

#15 posted 09-16-2011 02:35 PM

My hospital stay was three weeks, I stoped breathing two times. I was allergic to everthing for years, took meds for four years. I lucky to be in the hospital emergancy room when I stoped breathing! It started with a rash then went to hives, head to toe. BE CAREFULL!!!!!!!!!

-- john50

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