I inherited a bunch of my tools from an woodworker who had developed a severe lung condition due in part to sawdust. I've had lung problems my whole life so have been mindful of this via dust collection and masks.

However, after learning about different woods I'm realizing some are more dangerous than others. Exotic woods in particular can cause severe allergic reactions, but even common woodworking woods like black walnut produce shavings that will kill plants if you mulch it into your garden. Cedar has a number of great anti-microbial and anti-insect properties, but do those very properties carry allergy risks for people, too? Pressure-treated lumber is bad due to the chemicals injected into them.

Given adequate dust collection and so on, which commonly woodworked woods are most allergy-safe? Which are the worst?

2 Answers 2


I do not know what wood is common in Portland. Common woods will differ between locales.

If you have lung issues then I would imagine you should't be working unknown woods.

If you are fortunate enough to know the wood you are working then I would refer to the Wood-Database as it has an extensive database with details about "Allergies and Toxicities" for all its known woods.

Take Spruce Pine for example:

Working with pine has been reported to cause allergic skin reactions and/or asthma-like symptoms in some people.

I'm sure that warning is shared among other pine species as well. I work with pine and spruce quite frequently and I don't personally have issues.

I can't include the whole table here but another article has a well drawn table including more details. That page is well partnered with another article on Wood Dust Safety.

Even If you were to do nothing else at least wear a mask

All dust has the potential to cause issues as small particles will be breathed into you lungs. A fair warning from aforementioned wood dust article:

Long-Term Damage: Forget about the large chips and visible sawdust: perhaps the most damaging element is the invisible fine dust (sometimes called “coarse inhalable particles” ranging from 2-10 microns). Basically, these tiny bits of sawdust float around the air and linger even after the tools have stopped running. These invisible particles get inhaled and cause tiny wounds and scarring to our lungs: each time this happens, it causes a very small amount of irreversible damage. The immediate effect is unnoticeable, but over long periods of time, this can result in significantly decreased lung capacity, and a number of other health issues.

I used to never really worry about sawdust but now that I'm engaging in woodworking more I try and keep at least some simple dust masks around at all times.


Adding to Matt's answer, all sawdust is bad for your lungs. Some is just worse than others. It is the small particles that get in them and cause physical damage, very similar to how asbestos works.

After that you get woods that have different chemicals that can cause different reactions. The wood-database does have a list of woods and their 'danger' level of toxicity which is mostly how dangerous they are to anyone. However, when dealing with allergies, that is an individual basis and is impossible to guess. Even though some woods have a more likely chance to cause allergic reactions in some people, any two people will react differently to each wood and general precautions should always be taken.

The WDB also mentions woods that can affect a person by contact, not just inhalation, and those woods should have more care taken and protecting skin could be a very real issue.

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