If you are getting into woodworking, like I am, and looking forward to creating things and having a good hobby to spend time and money perfecting, one of the many safety concerns you need to watch out for is wood dust.
Woodworking will cause wood dust. Tools like routers, sanders, and power saws create more fine particulate dust than hand tools. Wood dust can cause long-term lung problems such as cancer and short term allergic reactions if inhaled. Proper dust collection and breathing protection are important for your health.
We will be going over how much wood dust woodworking causes, the health effects, and if you should be concerned. If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to read further!
What Is Wood Dust?
You know about regular dust, the stuff that you want off everything in your house because it makes everything appear unkempt and filthy. Normal amounts of dust aren’t an issue for most people because it’s something that occurs, and the only thing you can do about it is clean it off.
There is another type of dust that happens when working with wood, known as wood dust.
When working with wood, you are cutting down the material to shape it as you desire. Usually, saws are used to accomplish this, but drills are used as well. The problem with this is that wood provides quite a bit of friction between the blade and the wood itself and thus, not only are you cutting through the wood, but you are also grinding it.
Naturally, this creates wood debris in the form of easily visible wood chips, which can be easily spotted and cleaned up. Woodworking also causes wood dust, which isn’t as easy to spot, especially airborne.
Wood dust is similar to “regular” dust in that it is a fine particle that gets everywhere and can stay airborne for a prolonged period, which can then be ingested by anything and anyone that breathes. It is very similar to how conventional dust acts, only that it is made up of wood and not 80% human skin.
How Much Wood Dust Does Woodworking Cause?
Because woodworking is such a broad topic in itself, the discussion of “how much dust woodworking causes” varies widely depending on what kind of woodworking you are doing.
If you are carving sculptures with chisels, there will be a very minimal amount of wood dust caused by this, and it won’t affect you. Hand tools, in general, don’t produce much harmful wood dust. Most of it will fall rather than be flung around in the air.
When you start using power equipment where the bulk of noticeable and harmful wood dust starts to arise, powered saws make up a large portion of airborne wood dust due to their rapid spinning motion that can fling a relatively large amount of wood dust into the air.
It gets even worse when working with larger saw blades since you are likely working with larger lumber; thus, more dust gets kicked around.
Is Wood Dust Harmful?
Wood dust is essentially tiny pieces of wood, and inhaling lots of it is going to wreak havoc on your lungs. People who inhale a good amount of it into their lungs can experience breathing problems and even lung diseases in the future.
Furthermore, it can cause eye irritation or even damage. It’s just not something you want to be exposed to if you can help it.
There’s also another quite scary danger. We all probably know that wood is combustible, and with wood dust being, well, wood, it is entirely possible for an explosion to happen if sparks were ever to hit airborne wood dust.
Letting lots of wood dust float and lay around increases the risk of a fire breaking out, and while accidents like these are rare, it is important to keep this in mind to avoid future catastrophes.
We have linked a short video below if you’d like to learn more about wood dust dangers:
Should You Be Worried About Wood Dust?
As we mentioned previously, how much wood dust you are exposed to will depend on your doing. It’s safe to say that most woodworkers aren’t wearing dust masks during their projects, and many of them are fine. However, that doesn’t mean that you are immune to the negative effects it can cause. If you are working around saw blades, chances are, you are breathing in some amount of it.
Our take is that it isn’t worth risking it. You can buy a pair of dust masks for under $25, such as these BASE CAMP Cross Dust Face Masks, and not have to worry about breathing in harmful wood dust.
Additionally, you should also be wearing safety glasses in the workshop when working with powered machinery. It will not only protect you from wood dust but also larger wood debris that can potentially fly right into your eyes.
In summary, while wood dust in the average hobbyist workshop is unlikely to cause health issues, it is better to be aware of the risks and take precautions. If you are mostly working with hand tools, you can get away with not wearing a dust mask. However, we still highly recommend wearing safety glasses to prevent any eye accidents/irritation.
Wood dust can also make your work harder. If you like to apply finish to your projects, having an area that is as dust-free as possible is important; otherwise, dust will cling to the wet material. The more wood dust you have floating around in your workshop, the harder it will be to get a clean finish.
How Do You Prevent Wood Dust?
Protecting yourself from wood dust by wearing a dust mask and safety goggles is a good first start, but trying to mitigate it in the first place will leave you with a cleaner, safer workshop overall.
We recommend having an air filter for your workshop, such as this WEN 3410 Remote-Controlled Air Filtration System. It will help cut down on airborne wood dust, which will not only protect you, but you won’t have to clean up so much of it.
Additionally, ensure that your blades are sharpened and replace them when needed. Dull saw blades kick around more debris due to the friction between the blade and the wood. If you noticed that it is becoming dustier than usual in the workshop, this might be the culprit.
You should also clean up after each session to avoid wood dust building up over time. It helps to have both a handheld and floor vacuum, so you can suck up lots of it quickly while getting airborne dust into the vacuum in the process. A broom and a dustpan is also something to keep handy after you finished up in the workshop to clean up large amounts of wood dust.
Woodworking does cause wood dust, and depending on the type of woodworking you are doing, you can be causing quite a bit of it. You are more likely to get excessive amounts of wood dust when working with powered tools, namely with saws and drills.
Wood dust is harmful to both your lungs and eyes and is also a fire hazard. Wearing a dust mask, safety glasses, and installing a dust filter in your workshop can help protect you from future lung and eye problems.