sensitivity to wood dust

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Forum topic by Tom posted 07-29-2012 08:52 PM 1896 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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11 posts in 2151 days

07-29-2012 08:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question


I’ve been lurking around the forums for some time now. I finally feel the need to post and hopefully gather some collective wisdom. Before snagging an internet job I had been a framer and finish carpenter for 10 years. During that time I had always dreamed of setting up a small wood shop and explore the other side of working with wood.

Well, I’ve finally done it and not one year into my endeavor I have sadly become super sensitized to the dust. I’m itchy all over. Hopefully my dermatologist will be able to help ease the itch. What I was hoping you all could do was point me in the right direction for keeping dust down in my “shop”.

My current dust solution is a shop vac and a dust right separator. If’m I’m sanding I set up a box fan with a furnace filter attached. I know it’s a meager setup.

Any suggestions on how I can better protect myself are very welcome. I really would hate for this itchiness to make me get rid of my shop stuff.


-- - Tom

26 replies so far

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3074 days

#1 posted 07-30-2012 12:33 AM

Long sleeves and a good respirator. Is it all wood dust or just a specific species? If it’s all wood dust, you may need to take up pottery. Being super-sensitized can be a death sentence if you forge blindly ahead. Stay out of the shop until the Doctor says you can go back. Something like the Trend Airshield will help, but not with skin sensitivity.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Gary's profile


9333 posts in 3456 days

#2 posted 07-30-2012 12:39 AM

Make a downdraft sanding table. That will help

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View brtech's profile


1029 posts in 2946 days

#3 posted 07-30-2012 01:52 AM

You need real dust collection with a good filter. A shop vac has lots of pressure and not much volume. You need volume. The most bang for the buck is a Harbor Freight “2HP” DC. The filter that comes with it isn’t good enough. You want a Wynn Environmental 35A – they sell a kit that is a bolt on to the HF DC.

Then you need to pipe it to your machines. Lots of threads here on that, search for them. It IS possible to get 95% of the dust into the DC, and roughly none of it in the shop. Most of us don’t do that well, and you can invest in an overhead air cleaner that will get a lot of the dust the DC doesn’t collect.

You probably want a downdraft table to sand on.

Start reading:

Tons of info there. Not everyone believes everything Bill preaches, but everyone agrees there is a lot of good information there.

View HalDougherty's profile


1820 posts in 3260 days

#4 posted 07-30-2012 02:08 AM

Ditto what everybody else has told you. The Harbor Freight dust collector is first rate. I solved the filter problem by putting the DC outside on the porch and running the duct through the wall. I don’t hear the noise and the tiny dust particles are outside. I also wear a respirator anytime I’m working. I bought one with replaceable filters that are designed to stop paint fumes. It took a while to get used to it. Especially when it’s hot, but I’m not sneezing out walnut dust any more.

-- Hal, Tennessee

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3092 days

#5 posted 07-30-2012 02:21 AM

Earlier this year, I got a real bad case of the crawly itchy and thought it might be from the poplar I was working with at the time. The Dermatologist said that it might be, but I could probably deal with it by taking short showers with minimal soap, taking antihistimines, and using some prescription strength itch cream. Within a week, the itching was gone.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Tom's profile


11 posts in 2151 days

#6 posted 07-30-2012 01:11 PM

Thanks everyone for your replies. The downdraft table is next on my list of this to construct. I also think I am going to learn how to use a card scraper and smoothing plane much better. I was so shocked when I went the Harbor Freight website and saw how inexpensive the 2 HP unit is. It will definitely be an addition to the shop, provided I don’t have to take up pottery.

I had already made appointments with the appropriate medical personnel when I first made this post. Although, I do feel better after reading Sawkerf’s reply.

Looking back I realize that I started to get sensitized from working with Soft Maple. But it wasn’t until I was making a father’s day gift from Leopardwood that it really started up. I’m gonna wrap myself up in a berka and thoroughly clean out my table saw.

-- - Tom

View derosa's profile


1577 posts in 2859 days

#7 posted 07-30-2012 01:32 PM

Go to the book store and find whichever mag has the dust collector listed for 150.00 and buy it. If we stay where we are my current plan is to run 2 of them, one up each side of the shop with 5” straight mains and 4” connections to all the machines. This way each DC has a 20’ run and at most 5 Y’s and no other turns for best efficiency. Might be a slight overkill but 2 of them at 150.00 is still a lot cheaper then one permanent DC unit that could handle several turns while still having the same amount of power. Each will be hooked to a switch to flip based on which tool I’m on. A proper air filtration system is a good idea as well. Also find out if it is just one wood in particular like walnut. I just discovered that large amounts of tigerwood causes hives which has slowed down my shop time. I eliminated most of the saw dust that was lying around the shop but couldn’t wash and dust every surface so every time I go out there I get a slight spike in itchiness that has been steadily decreasing.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View Steve Peterson's profile

Steve Peterson

377 posts in 3105 days

#8 posted 07-31-2012 08:17 PM


There are charts that list the toxicity of various woods. is a good starting point, although it does not list leopardwood.

I have sensitivities to several woods, so I try to avoid them when possible, or else I increase my dust collection efforts when I work with them. I use a combination of a cyclone dust collector, an overhead air filter, and a face mask. I have heard enough bad stories about cocobolo and rosewoods that I may never allow them into my shop no matter how nice they look. It sounds like you should add leopardwood to your list of “banned” woods.

-- Steve

View Tom's profile


11 posts in 2151 days

#9 posted 07-31-2012 08:37 PM

Steve – thanks for your reply, I had noticed that the Wood DB had nothing listed on Leopardwood concerning toxicity, but did find a lot of folks talking about it online. Do you use a full face mask or just a respirator. An over-head filter really seems like a wise decision.

I still have about 6 board feet of Leopardwood that I’ll find time to use sparingly after I’ve cleaned house and set up the shop better to handle the dust.

Appt with allergist is in the making!

-- - Tom

View MrRon's profile


4793 posts in 3267 days

#10 posted 08-01-2012 07:44 PM

Many LJ’s have been complaining about the heat lately. The excessive heat causes the pores to open. Thiat and dust can cause aggrevating itching (think fiberglass). Keeping your shop cool and implementing good dust control may solve your problem.

View Tennessee's profile


2873 posts in 2538 days

#11 posted 08-01-2012 07:49 PM

Mr Ron makes good advice on keeping the shop cool. Lots of people have to stop since they don’t have AC in their shops. I hate using mine, but tonight looks like one of those nights in SE Tennessee…

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Alexandre's profile


1417 posts in 2214 days

#12 posted 08-01-2012 07:49 PM

LOL, try a hazmat suit with a full face respirator…you’ll scare your wife.

-- My terrible signature...

View marcosvillamontes's profile


32 posts in 2205 days

#13 posted 08-01-2012 08:20 PM

there is one more advise, we work a lot with hardwood ipe, and dust from ipe makes you itchy and please don’t sweat and go into the sun because then it will start to burn right into your skin… Really, it gives you buring feeling, no harm though, just take a shower with ordinary soap and no problem.

-- Marcos Villamontes, Santa Cruz,

View Tom's profile


11 posts in 2151 days

#14 posted 08-01-2012 09:58 PM

@ Alexandre – LMAO Don’t think I haven’t thought of that!
@MrRon & Tennessee – I have noticed that while the symptoms have gotten worse the temp and humidity have also risen. Open pores easy dust access.

I’m staying out of the shop until Friday, I have an allergist appt and they don’t want me on any antihistamines for two days prior

-- - Tom

View Tom's profile


11 posts in 2151 days

#15 posted 08-01-2012 11:46 PM

@ marcosvillamontes – thanks for the heads up on Ipe. I have always wondered how it is pronounced. Since I’m not sure I just say I-P-E

-- - Tom

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