A peek at what we make
Two dust masks, side by side. The new one on the left has a crisp, almost hospital-like cleanliness about it. The used one to the right, is worn out and ready to be replaced. It did its job well, but to use it much longer would risk sucking those particles already trapped deep inside fully through, negating any benefit it may have otherwise served.
When people think about shop safety, they usually think of things that can cause immediate injuries, like saw blades cutting a finger or hand, or a saw kicking back and throwing a piece of wood at you. But saw dust can be much more than a nuisance, and it deserves as much respect as saw blades.
Although I do have a dust collector hooked up to my machines that can pull 850 cubic feet per minute of air, saw dust still gets into the ‘ambient’ air. The air that you breath. There are machines to remove saw dust that is floating freely, but I don’t have one. So instead, I make sure to always wear a dust mask while I’m working.
The worn out mask you see above is discolored from working with Padauk. Padauk (pronounced pa-dook’) is a beautiful orange-redish wood that is very dense. Cutting and sanding it makes almost everything around the work space turn red, including my dust mask. And it’s a good thing I was wearing it- Padauk saw dust is known to cause nasal irritation, vomiting and asthma. And that’s just if you breath it in! Repeated contact with your skin and eyes may lead to dermatitis, itching, eyelid swelling, and act as a skin sensitizer.
And Padauk isn’t alone. According to Wood: Identification & Use – Revised & Expanded there are 5 pages of listings that detail the types of reactions our bodies can have to repeated exposure to different types of saw dust. More odd yet, if somebody has no reaction to 1 type of wood, then comes in contact with a type that gives some sort of reaction, like a rash, your body may now have similar reactions to the previously non-reactive wood. And we’re not talking about only immediate reactions to be wary of- over time, some wood can cause nose bleeds, bronchitis and nasal cancer.
So what’s a woodworker to do? Take the proper precautions.
Wear tight fitting long sleeves. This will protect your arms without having dangerous loose fabric that can get caught on machines.
Wear eye protection. Aside from the obvious benefit of stopping large pieces of wood, they can eliminate some of the saw dust from going directly to your eyes.
Wear a dust mask or respirator. The masks shown above are available at most hardware stores for about $7 a pair. If you have a lot of work to do, you can find online retailers that sell a box of 10 for about $15.