Wood Working Toxic Woods

Blog by Steve Laug

I have used several exotic woods, such as coco bola and ebony when I make shank extensions and have purchased pipes from others that have such woods incorporated in the pipe. I have always wondered about the saw dust and sanding dust that is generated by these woods and what damage if any they can cause. As I did a bit of digging on the web for information came across these charts. I saved them but somehow lost the link. One of the readers Larry G. found the link for me and I include it now http://www.spacecoastwoodturners.com/newsletter/Toxic_Woods.pdf
I found this helpful information to have on hand so I am posting it here for those who are interested. It is entitled Wood Working Toxic Woods. It lists toxic woods and the reaction they cause and the symptoms.


9 thoughts on “Wood Working Toxic Woods

  1. Rick

    Thanks for the detailed response and links. (y)
    The reason I asked about mountain laurel is that many people believe it to be toxic and as Robert Leverette in one of your blogs has stated, “Though Wikipedia states that “All parts of the plant are poisonous,” other botanical sources state that only the leaves are poisonous, and here poisonous would be in reference to cattle and sheep eating the leaves with fatalities depending on the quantity consumed.”
    I also believe from what I can find, that while the leaves may be poisonous, the wood is not. If this weren’t the case and it were true that the wood contained the poisonous resins, then similarly the marijuana dealers would have quite a market for stems and twigs of the cannabis plant.
    Seriously though the danger is not so much in the use of the pipe but in the making; in the breathing of the dust of the wood when cutting because as much as we say smoke the pipe we really are only smoking the contents of what we put in it. yes in the breaking in of the pipe, until a cake is built up, there is scorching or charring of the wood. I probably have inhaled some of this I’m sure of whatever woods my pipes are made from. I have 2 I had made from some mountain laurel which have a gorgeous grain and I refuse to believe they are toxic.
    I have 2 I had made from Manzanita which to me are probably just as good but I don’t have the same affection for them. Other alternative wood pipes I have you may not list above: I have 2 made from Indonesian (not African) ebony, a super hard tight grained wood, and one from Russian bog oak which was so light it burned right through. I have another claimed to be an Indonesian “morta” made from and excavated submerged wood, which too is super hard and smokes quite well. I have others made from “sawo” or Sapodilla and Dewondaru.
    Also Olive wood and Rosewood. I find the rosewood to be quite comparable to briar except the grain not nearly as interesting and the olive, while it has quite beautiful grain, I have had trouble with cracking.
    Living in Asia it makes access to “traditional” woods difficult so there is much experimentation going on here so your list above is quite helpful. I also understand its a similar situation in south America.
    Anyway I look forward to any information on using alternative woods, successes as well as failures.

    1. rebornpipes Post author

      I have several pipes that are made of Mountain Laurel. They are marked Breezewood and also Medico. I have posted a piece by Mike Leverette on the blog about them under the topic of alternative woods. They were made during the war years in the US. I smoke them regularly and find they deliver a good smoke.

  2. Robert M. Boughton

    Thanks again, Steve, for good info. Of course I scanned the list for “Chinese Chicken Wing Wood” and “jichimu” as it is called in the native language, and was relieved not to find it listed considering my guest blog in your forum. But I was aware of the Wenge wood’s potential for adverse reactions, having found it listed during my research. However, I always clean my used or unusual wood pipes thoroughly with alcohol before smoking and hope this is enough. My own only suspected allergy, says my mother, is to penicillin. Please advise if my precautions are not enough for the Wenge, one of which I own and enjoy now and then.


  3. upshallfan

    Very interesting and timely Steve. I have seasonal allergies, with symptoms showing up in Spring along with budding trees, grass and the pollen count. Last weekend, I was as miserable as I’ve been in the past decade. I attributed it to a high pollen count – but I spend several hours clearing debris from under the 40 arbor vitea plants that border our property. Now, I see from your chart their dust is an irritant. I better save that clean up for earlier in the year, before the trees start to bud. To keep it pipe related, I was feeling so poorly, I didn’t smoke a pipe for four days!

    Another pipe buddy, who lives in Florida, makes pipes from what he calls “Hackberry” wood. It is a splated wood and someone him that it would not be safe to smoke. They said the splated wood is typically dangerous to inhale due to the mold contained. Hackberry’ biological name is Celtis.


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