A Naturalist Who Doesn't Like Nature?

Toils of the Trade

Posted Nov 17, 2010 by Ben McNitt

Click image to enlarge

Shop dust control is critical

It's a bit like being a naturalist who doesn't like nature - or at least nature doesn't like him. As a woodworker I frequently choose to work with the Southwest's signature species of wood - mesquite. And I've developed a roaring allergy to mesquite.

A fair amount of medical literature is online about allergies to mesquite pollen and even mesquite smoke, but I haven't seen anything about allergic reactions to mesquite sawdust. However, it's common knowledge among woodworkers in this region of the country to be wary of what mesquite sawdust can do to you - in my case skin irritation, runny eyes and chest congestion - the whole works.

Allergies to wood are more common than you might think - many hardwoods such as wenge and rosewood carry that risk. I've read posts from one woodworker who's allergic to red oak.

As with any allergy the object is to avoid the irritant. Not being willing to abandon mesquite, for me that means a pretty elaborate mix of face masks, respirators, air purifers, goggles, fans, dust collectors, vacs, brooms and dust brushes. Plus a shower immediately after work. And a host of creams, ointments, pills, tablets, drops, sprays and inhalors.

The photo from my shop with this post shows an air purifer that traps dust down to 0.3 micros, a dust collector dedicated to my miter saw and jointer, (another collector serves the table saw, band saw, planer and dual drum sander), and table top versions of the collector and purifer.

A word of reassurance is due those who are interested in owning mesquite furniture: allergic reactions come from inhaling mesquite sawdust, pollen or smoke, not from having mesquite chairs or a mesquite table in your home.

For any woodworker, from the home hobbyist onward, the lesson is to be serious about dust control. Just as safety glasses are a must working with cutting machines and power tools, a proper dust mask or even a full face respirator in my case and a good vac and dust collection system are basics.