Woodworking is an extremely rewarding career or hobby, but it comes with some inherent risks (see Part 1). These include the potential for developing major health problems due to inhaling tiny wood dust particles as well as developing skin reactions from the weather & insect resistant oils the wood contains. Another trigger for such skin problems is the chemicals found in the wood itself. Though some of these organic substances are used to make beneficial medicines, they can cause harmful reactions in people with allergies to those chemicals.
Chemicals Present in Wood May Cause Allergic Reactions
If you already have an allergy to certain over the counter or prescription medicines, you’ll want to take those allergies into account when you’re working with wood. People are often surprised to learn that some of the same chemicals found in certain pharmaceutical products are naturally derived from wood. For example, someone who is allergic to the Salicylic acid in Aspirin may be allergic to certain species of wood with a high level of this same chemical, such as Willow or Birch.
Another source of allergens in wood is fungal spores. These spores, which are prevalent in all sorts of wood species, can enter the body either through the skin or through the air and wreak havoc on woodworkers who have fungal allergies.
Chemicals that are Added During the Woodworking Process May Cause Harm
Some of the toxins that are present in the wood are those introduced during the woodworking process itself. These would include the arsenic and other harsh man-made chemicals that get added during pressure treatment, or formaldehyde and other potentially harmful gases that are emitted into the air during and after the construction of plywood and composites.
As woodworking continues to become more focused on green technology, some of these toxins are becoming less of a problem, but they still do exist. Each time you’re exposed to these types of toxic man-made chemicals when working with wood, you should take the potential dangers they pose to your health into account.
Is Working With Wood Extremely Dangerous? Not If You Take Proper Precautions
You may have read these two articles and gotten completely nervous about the prospect of woodworking altogether. Please be reassured that we don’t want to scare you away from working with wood. Don’t allow your fears to outweigh the advantages of working with this incredibly useful natural resource. Instead, we hope that by raising awareness of these potential dangers, you’ll decide to take necessary measures to prepare yourself for safe woodworking.
Any time you work with any type of building material, whether it’s organic or man-made, there are going to be some inherent risks. The key is to be aware of those risks and to take the proper precautions. If you follow some simple steps you can greatly reduce the health hazards associated with woodworking.
In our final article in this series, we’ll focus on how to prevent yourself from inhaling toxic wood dust particles, how to keep from developing allergic reactions to oil or chemicals, and some of the other ways you can prevent common problems which people tend to develop when they work with wood.