Which Exotic Woods Should You Avoid?


Woodworkers worldwide seek to create marvelous masterpieces be it with their creativity, use of beautiful wood, functionality, or all of the above. But, in choosing to work with specialty or exotic wood, it is important to know that there are some types you should avoid.

Avoid using exotic woods that are toxic or endangered. Bosse, Cedar, Cocobolo, Ebony, Greenheart, Pau Ferro, and Rosewood (varying irritation levels) are toxic. Brazilwood, Ebony, Mahogany, Merbau, Monkey Puzzle, Parana Pine, Rosewood, Sapele, Teak, and Wenge are, at some level, endangered.

Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list as there are many different types of exotic wood used throughout the world. These are some of the most commonly known or used types of exotic wood that should really be more carefully considered for different reasons.

To find specific information, you can visit the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) archive. I did some basic research and put the information in this article for you for a good starting point.

Toxic Exotic Woods to Avoid

One of the main reasons to avoid using a certain type of wood for your next woodworking project is because it might be toxic. This might sound rather obvious to you, but the types of wood that actually have toxins in them could surprise you.

Of course, you would likely never think to consume wood in the first place, but wood can be toxic to the touch or cause irritation when its small dust particles are inhaled.

There are many different levels of irritation that various types of exotic wood can cause. While some are a bit more mild irritants causing runny noses, headaches, and sensitivity issues, others can become highly toxic, causing cardiac issues, central nervous system problems, skin irritation, and more.

Paduak is a good example. Just touching the dust from this type of wood gives me a rash. This is unfortunate because I think it is a beautiful wood to work with.

Some types of exotic wood are even poisonous to the touch or when their sap is consumed. Again, you are most likely not going up to these types of wood and licking them (or at least I hope you are not), but you could accidentally expose yourself to the toxins by touching wood and then touching your face or in another more subtle way.

Fortunately, many of the most poisonous or toxic types of exotic wood are not on the market (considering the great lengths that it would take to acquire and transport them in the first place).

However, there are many more commonly sought after types of exotic wood that you will want to avoid (or at least will have to put a disclaimer on for any time you plan to sell a piece that you have crafted out of it).

Exotic Wood that is Considered to Have Toxic Irritants

So, what are some of the various toxic exotic woods to avoid? Consider avoiding this list of toxic (or irritating) exotic types of wood when selecting the perfect piece for your next project:

  • Bosse. Bosse is known as an extreme irritant when it comes to toxic woods. It has toxins that can cause symptoms like nausea, asthma, headaches, and more.
  • Cedar. Surprisingly, several different cedar types are considered toxic due to the strong irritants they perpetuate. Specifically, Aromatic Cedar, Australian Red Cedar, and Western Red Cedar are known to be extreme irritants. These types of wood can cause asthma, migraines, behavioral changes, stomach cramps, and even affect the central nervous system. Be wary of working with cedar, even though it is a more commonly seen type of wood.
  • Cocobolo. Cocobolo is another extreme irritant on the list, known to be a toxic wood that causes asthma, pink eye, and nausea.
  • Ebony. Not only are various types of ebony known to be endangered, but this type of wood is also on the toxic/strong irritant list. Consistently, it is a moderate irritant that is known to cause pink eye when exposed to its dust.
  • Greenheart. Greenheart is another moderate to strong irritant. It is a toxic wood known to cause asthma, sepsis if splintered wood enters the human body, cardiac issues, and intestinal disorders. Although its toxic level is considered moderate to strong, this type of exotic wood has some of the worst toxic symptoms out of all.
  • Pau Ferro. Pau Ferro is another type of toxic exotic wood. Its most common symptoms are extreme irritation and sensitivity issues.
  • Rosewood. Various types of Rosewood are also considered to be toxic- generally, more on the side of strong irritation. Particularly, the extreme irritants found in various types of Rosewood can cause sensitivity issues, asthma, rash, hives, and more.

Exotic Wood that is Considered to Be Poisonous

More seriously, there are several types of exotic wood that are considered to be poisonous. You probably do not have to worry much about your woodworking crafts with these wood types as they can be hard to come by considering their poisonous state. Still, it is important to note this more extreme level of toxicity.

These types of wood include:

  • Laburnum. Laburnum has a direct poisonous toxin that leads to nausea, headaches, and vomiting.
  • Milky Mangrove. Milky Mangrove has a poisonous sap that can cause temporary blindness, burning of the throat, and skin blisters.
  • Mulga. Mulga is another poisonous wood that is used as a spearhead for war by some tribal communities. It can cause nausea, legions, and more.
  • Oleander. Oleander is not harvested for commercial use, considering most of the plant is poisonous and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and more.
  • Poison Walnut. The name says it all with Poison Walnut. Its sap is corrosive and poisonous and is known to cause extreme vomiting, nausea, and headaches.
  • Tambootie. Tambootie is a direct toxin known to cause blindness and diarrhea, among other symptoms.

Endangered Exotic Woods to Avoid

The other top reason to avoid using wood in your woodworking craft is that the particular type of wood is endangered. Now, there are many different endangerment levels, so there can sometimes be a bit of confusion on how some endangered wood is even accessible to the average woodworker- much less on the market in the first place.

Fortunately, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has developed an index of various types of endangered wood. With this list, there are many categories. Three different levels (Appendix I, Appendix II, and Appendix III) categorize various endangered exotic woods from the most endangered (Appendix I) to vulnerable but not near extinction (Appendix III).

With this list, you must recognize that some exotic wood types will still be available in your region even though they are considered endangered. This is most typically because the CITES categorization of endangered species of trees, in essence, stops international trade, but this does not mean that regional or national trades/sales are necessarily halted.

Due to this, you are likely not in violation of any international laws just for owning these types of exotic wood, but you will want to check the source that your wood is coming from to verify that it was legally acquired in the first place. Then, of course, consider using another type of wood for future projects considering the endangered status of these exotic types of wood.

So, what are some endangered exotic woods to avoid? Consider the following list when choosing the right type of wood for you and your woodworking projects:

  • Brazilwood. Brazilwood was listed in the Appendix II category in 2007 by CITES indicating that it is endangered but not close to extinction.
  • Ebony. Ebony, coming from various regions, is also listed as an Appendix II endangered species of exotic wood. Though it is highly sought after, there are particular restrictions in Madagascar and Mun where it is critically endangered.
  • Mahogany. While you might find this to be a shock, several Mahogany types are considered to be Appendix II level of endangerment. Particular regions to keep an eye on including Brazilian, Cuban, Honduran, and Mexican Mahogany.
  • Merbau. Merbau is another type of endangered exotic wood to avoid as it is categorized as a vulnerable wood.
  • Monkey Puzzle. Monkey Puzzle is yet another type of endangered exotic wood to avoid as it is categorized in a more severe category of endangered.
  • Parana Pine. Even more severely, Parana Pine is categorized as critically endangered and should be considered a type of endangered exotic wood that you will need to avoid.
  • Rosewood. To the dismay of many, Rosewood was classified as an Appendix II level endangerment in 2008 for Honduran Rosewood and in 2013 for Siamese Rosewood.
  • Sapele. Sapele is another type of endangered wood listed in the vulnerable level of endangerment, meaning it is not close to extinction but should be avoided.
  • Teak. Unfortunately, the ever-popular Teak, including Burmese Teak, is also included in the list of endangered exotic woods to avoid.
  • Wenge. Finally (for this list, although there are many more types of endangered exotic wood out there), Wenge is another popular type of exotic wood considered to be endangered.

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