TOXICITY

I've always thought that the commonly used term "toxicity" as regards woods is an overstatement (since it means, literally, poisonous and possibly fatal), although not in every case. There ARE woods that actually produce deadly poisons, but not very many and the rosewoods are not among them.

Some of the rosewoods ARE, however, what are more accurately categorized as "irritants" and some are even "sensitizers". The irritation can be from the oil in the wood or from the dust when the wood is worked and may take the form of lung, skin, or eye irritants. Also skin irritants, especially, are sometimes "sensitizers" which means that the reaction is cumulative; after a bad first reaction to the dust on your skin, the next time you get the dust on your skin the reaction is worse, and it continues to get worse and worse upon subsequent exposures.

Tree leaves, fruit and bark can also be sources of such irritants.

In most cases, rosewoods cause no adverse reaction and even those that do cause problems don't do it with every person. There are numerous tables of wood toxicity on the internet (there is one on my site and links to others).

I personally have had all three irritant reactions with cocobolo and none with any other rosewood. With cocobolo, I once had a skin reaction, but it was not a sensitizer for me and I regularly get cocobolo dust on my arms now with no effect at all. You may not be so lucky. I had to go to the emergency room once because of an extreme irritation to my eyes from cocobolo dust, but have never had another reaction with my eyes. Similarly, I once (very early in my woodworking days) had to go to the emergency room due (unknown to me at the time) to breathing cocobolo dust. I subsequently started wearing a dust mask (ALWAYS) and have had no further problem.

I HIGHLY advise you to wear a dust mask when sanding ANY wood, but especially the rosewoods, and if you notice any irritation on your skin from the dust, wear long sleeves (preferably on a hooded sweatshirt) thereafter, and possibly gloves if you continue to work with the suspect wood.

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