"Dangers" of sawdust- Overblown??

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Forum topic by Tedstor posted 10-05-2012 07:52 PM 8157 views 0 times favorited 52 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1643 posts in 2595 days

10-05-2012 07:52 PM

I just read a report that said (paraphrased) “The lungs are very efficient at purging themselves of dust. A coal miner breathes 1000g of coal dust into his lungs over a career. But at the time of death, only 40g will remain in his lungs”

Now a coal miner is probably the most extreme example of someone that is exposed to dust. They work 40 hrs per week for 2-3 decades in such an enviroment.

It makes me wonder if the 3-4 hours per week I spend in my garage workshop should make me worried about sawdust? I mean I do have a dust collector; but housekeeping is my objective. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the true dangers of sawdust to the average hobby woodworker. Makes me wonder how much worse the air in my shop is compared to ambient air. Afterall, dust and other particulates are everywhere.

Bottom line is that I have a old 3/4hp Delta DC with a 30 micron bag. I wonder how much I’d truly benefit (healthwise) if I went to the trouble and expense to upgrade to a modern system with better filtration??

My thoughts are that the difference would be negligible, but I’d love to hear other theories/facts.

52 replies so far

View Murdock's profile


128 posts in 2446 days

#1 posted 10-05-2012 07:56 PM

Speaking as a asthmatic I can certainly say that working without a good mask is not an option for me for more that a few minutes depending on what I am doing.

I understand that your talking about the ‘average’ woodworker and maybe my asthma takes me out of that category, but there have been a lot of studies that show the very small particles (the ones that don’t weigh much) are the ones that get lodged inside the lungs and cause all the issues.

-- "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

View MrRon's profile


4710 posts in 3206 days

#2 posted 10-05-2012 08:07 PM

You also have to consider, some woods are highly toxic, not just an irritant. It can take a long while for pollutants to accumulate in your lungs, and by that time, irreversable damage could result. How long would you drive your car with bald tires? You could be passing a big rig and get a blowout. I leave it up to you to guess what the result would be.

View Murdock's profile


128 posts in 2446 days

#3 posted 10-05-2012 08:11 PM

I just took the time to read through most of that article, and while it does talk a lot about how good the lungs are a clearing dust it also goes into why dust can be so bad for the lungs and I would say is the entire point of the article.

MrRon makes an excellent point about wood toxicity , I would also add that wood dust can contain more than just the organic wood particles. Other organics such as mold as well as inorganic like silica.

-- "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2595 days

#4 posted 10-05-2012 08:49 PM

To expand. I’m sure inhaling wood dust is not ideal. I just wonder if spending 3 hours in my woodworking shop is any worse than spending three hours on a dusty baseball field, or hay field, or a dirt road. Heck, when I lived in Yuma, AZ I had to change my car’s air filter once a year or the car would barely idle. I figure I had to have been breathing a significant amount of dust from the ambient air. I assume outdoor dust contains molds, silica, etc.

View Murdock's profile


128 posts in 2446 days

#5 posted 10-05-2012 08:55 PM

I do believe there are higher concentrations of the fine stuff in woodworking than what you would experience in those other locations simply due to the nature of the tools used. Just as there are more fines generated by a table saw than by a handsaw. Certainly there would be some fines in those activities and could very greatly depending on the exact environment.

I guess for me it comes down to is do you really want to stack the woodworking dust on top of those other activities regardless if it is better/worse…

-- "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

View Murdock's profile


128 posts in 2446 days

#6 posted 10-05-2012 09:08 PM

There is also the factor of concentration, I would imagine woodworking outside be ‘safer’ than inside because the dust can travel with the wind.

Outdoor stuff like baseball and hay fields have the advantage of a lot of air to circulate with.

-- "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

View NiteWalker's profile


2736 posts in 2539 days

#7 posted 10-05-2012 11:08 PM

I don’t have much problem with sawdust from typical tools like the router, tablesaw, etc. IMHO the most dangerous sawdust is from sanding. Since it’s finer it stays in the air longer, with more of a chance to get in your lungs. Except MDF dust, that’s terrible no matter which tool produces it.

The smoke from tobacco products is far worse than sawdust IMHO….

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View 47phord's profile


182 posts in 2200 days

#8 posted 10-05-2012 11:25 PM

Well I can say from my experience that I do feel it in my chest if I spend an afternoon in the shop, particularly if I am using my tablesaw without a dust mask on. Another point to consider is the fact that if you are cutting plywood or MDF, you are not only putting wood dust in the air, but also dried glue particles which are probably worse than the wood.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2073 days

#9 posted 10-06-2012 12:00 AM

Just a thought…

I know several professional woodworkers and finish carpenters that work with wood and MDF dust all day long, then ride bicycles competitively or run marathons. All are in their 40’s and 50’s, and they’ve been working since trade school.

You guys that say you can “feel” it… Are you otherwise in shape? Do you exercise? Do you smoke?

View hhhopks's profile


651 posts in 2340 days

#10 posted 10-06-2012 12:16 AM

Good or bad studies???
Who is actually funding the studies?

It is your lungs. It you don’t take care of your self, who will?

I personally don’t like the idea, There are occasions where I have been working and fail to wear a mask and has to blow my nose. Not a pretty sight. I think a mask and dc does make a difference. I try to remember to wear one & run the dc and not to get lazy about it.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2647 posts in 2884 days

#11 posted 10-06-2012 12:17 AM

I have an 87 year old fellow woodworker that recently was diagnosed with COPD. He asked his doctor if the sawdust could be a cause of this. The doc told him “no, no one gets COPD from sawdust” He told him that the pollution outside (gasoline exhaust fumes etc.) is worse for your lungs than is sawdust.

-- Website is

View AandCstyle's profile


3023 posts in 2220 days

#12 posted 10-06-2012 12:45 AM

There are several articles on the web that indicate a link between sawdust and nasal cancer. Google “sawdust nasal cancer”. Since cancer is poorly understood in terms of causative agents, etc, I think it prudent to take reasonable steps to minimize contact with known carcinogens. Ya pays yer money, ya takes yer chances.

-- Art

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18244 posts in 3638 days

#13 posted 10-06-2012 02:37 AM

Being raised on a high desert farm back before anyone thought much about dust or pollution, I have probably digested tons of it. After I moved to Seattle, I flew back to Boise in the spring when the farmers were all working their fields. I just about gagged when the door on the plane was opened and I stepped out on the tarmac.

A few years ago some spots were discovered on my lungs during an x-ray for other things. The pulmonologist said they were most likely from organic compounds I inhaled when I was a kid on the farm. They are benign, but you never know when one of those materials will be the one your body does not tolerate! Why take unnecessary risks?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Grandpa's profile


3259 posts in 2638 days

#14 posted 10-06-2012 02:46 AM

I haven’t read any recent articles including the link above. The articles I have read about inhaling small particles indicasted that the larger particles were easier for the human body to clean or remove from the lungs. The finer the particles the more likely they were to remain in the lungs causing a problem. Maybe this is part of the problem that smokers have. hhhhmmmmm

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3271 days

#15 posted 10-06-2012 04:04 AM

There are a lot of toxic woods and weatherproof woods containing oils and resins that do not deterioriate in the weather…so there is no reason to believe that they would not survive in your lungs. Any way that I look at it I most certainly want to do everything possible to keep sawdust out of my nose, lungs and eyes. There is absolutely nothing positive that can come from it.
Have you ever noticed how much the smallest booger can restrict your breathing in your nose?

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