Health Hazards » Wood Dust

Exposure to wood dust has long been associated with a variety of adverse health effects, including dermatitis, allergic respiratory effects, mucosal and nonallergic respiratory effects, and cancer. Contact with the irritant compounds in wood sap can cause dermatitis and other allergic reactions. The respiratory effects of wood dust exposure include asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and chronic bronchitis.

Potential Hazards

Wood dust shown on worker.
  • Both the skin and respiratory system can become sensitized to wood dust. When a worker becomes sensitized to wood dust, he or she can suffer severe allergic reactions (such as asthma or dermatitis) after repeated exposure or exposure to lower concentrations of the dust.

  • Other common symptoms associated with wood dust exposure include skin and eye irritation; nasal dryness and obstruction; and prolonged colds.

  • The OSHA permissible exposure limit for nuisance dust is 15 mg/m3 , total dust (5 mg/m3 , respirable fraction) 8 hour time weighted average. NIOSH has set a recommended exposure level of 1 mg/m3 total dust. The ACGIH has recommended a 0.5 mg/m3 Threshold Limit Value for western red cedar based on its asthma effects. Certain species of hardwood—such as oak, mahogany, beech, walnut, birch, elm, and ash— have been reported to cause nasal cancer in woodworkers. This is particularly true when exposures are high.

Possible Solutions

Local exhaust hood for table saws with arrow pointing to moving table and fence

Engineering Controls

  • Wood dust is emitted at a high velocity by moving or spinning machine components. The primary method of controlling wood dust is with local exhaust ventilation (LEV), which removes dust at or near its source (Fig. 31 a&b). LEV systems often can often be integrated with machine guards. Exhaust hoods should be located as close as possible to the emission source, either on the woodworking machinery itself or near to the machine. The local exhaust systems should have an efficient air-cleaning device.

  • Labeled local exhaust hood for table saws

    For LEV systems to provide maximum protection, they should be properly maintained. Check and clean ducts and dust collectors at regular intervals. Inspect ducts to ensure that they are not loose, broken, or damaged. Check the V-belts on the drive units of belt-driven exhaust fans for slippage or breakage. Make sure the duct velocity is maintained at a minimum of 2,500 to 4,000 feet per minute to effectively remove light, dry saw dust, heavy wood chips, and green shavings, and to prevent these from plugging the system.

Improved hood configuration for shapers
  • Sanders, shapers, and routers generally produce the greatest amount of dust. Conventional means for exhausting these machines are not very effective. NIOSH has developed new, innovative means for controlling dust exposure from these machines, but these methods are not yet commercially available. These methods either increase the exhaust volume or velocity, or supply pressurized air to help blow dust particles from the machine into an exhaust hood.

Blower collecting, and exhaust systems must be designed, constructed, and maintained in accordance with American National Standards Z33.1-1961 and Z12.2-1962 (R1969). 1910.265(c)(20)(i)

All mills containing one or more machines that create dust, shavings, chips, or slivers during a period of time equal to or greater than one-fourth of the working day, need to be equipped with a collecting system. It may be either continuous or automatic, and must remove such refuse from points of operation and immediate vicinities. 1910.265(c)(20)(ii)

Each woodworking machine that creates dust, shavings, chips, or slivers must be equipped with an exhaust or conveyor system. 1910.265(c)(20)(iii)

Exhaust pipes may not discharge into an unconfined outside pile if uncontrolled fire or explosion hazards are created. They may empty into settling or dust chambers, designed to prevent the dust or refuse from entering any work area. 1910.265(c)(20)(v)

Operations not required to have an exhaust system or having refuse too heavy, bulky, or otherwise unsuitable to be handled by the exhaust system may remove the refuse daily by hand. 1910.265(c)(20)(vi)

The following machines all have wet systems and liquid catch basins to recycle liquid for dust control:

Saw blade sharpener
Modern saw blade sharpener
Chipper knife sharpener
Planer knife sharpener

Circular Saws

  • Exhaust the saw through the bottom of the table. Provide LEV under the blade slot. To decrease the open area between the table and the lower hood, attach a strip of flexible material to the machinery that will cover this area when the hood operates.

  • For increased dust control, add a local exhaust hood above the top of the saw blade. The hood should be integrated with the guard on the upper art of the blade.

  • For more information on control of wood dust from circular and other kinds of table saws, please consult the NIOSH Hazard Controls C10.

Band Saws

  • Provide LEV under the blade slot. To increase the collection area of the hood, add holes (1/8 inch in diameter) in the table around the lot area.

  • To collect wood dust from the saw teeth, place a suction nozzle above the table at the rear of the saw blade.


  • Place a hood under the machine head.


  • Control each head with an open-faced hood, located on the table behind the head. For additional protection, use a combination of fixed and adjustable hoods. A fixed open-faced hood can be attached to the rear of the table between the shaper heads. Movable open-faced hoods also can be used on the table. For more information consult the NIOSH Hazard Controls C5: Wood Dust from Shapers.


  • Place open-faced hoods above the spinning heads of planers. Each head can be ventilated separately, or one hood can be used to controlseveral heads.

  • Place open-faced hoods around the spinning components of moulders. Each head should be controlled separately.

  • For increased dust control, add a small open-faced hood along the side of the moulder between the main head and the worker.


  • Place an open-faced hood attached to a movable mechanical arm at the point of operation.


  • Sanders produce a considerable amount of dust and are difficult to control. Conventional methods do not effectively remove dust. New innovative systems have been developed for controlling dust emissions from horizontal belt sanders, large-diameter disc sanders, random orbital hand sanders, and orbital hand sanders. Although these systems are not yet commercially available, more information can be obtained from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The following NIOSH Hazard Controls deal with horizontal belt sanders, large diameter disc sanders, random orbital hand sanders and orbital hand sanders respectively: HC4, HC 7, HC 8 and HC 9 (See Appendix B). Some of these systems are iscussed below.

  • Enclose disc sanders with an exhaust hood, installed below the table; cover the back of the sanding disc at points above the worktable. A system has been developed that supplies pressurized air to the disc inside the hood. The jet of high speed air blows dust particles out of the disc air layer so that they can be captured by the exhaust hood.

  • Orbital sander with labeled parts

    On random orbital sanders, use an aspirator in combination with a perforated sanding pad. The aspirator creates a vacuum that draws wood dust up through the holes of the sanding pad. An innovative dust control system has been developed that uses additional exhaust and a slotted sanding pad.

  • Dust control plenum for orbital sanders

    A new dust-control plenum has been designed for orbital sanders (Fig. 30 a&b). The plenum fits between the sanding pad and the sander body and has a series of exhaust slots along its edges.

  • Enclose horizontal belt sanders with exhaust hoods covering each end of the belt. These hoods control the dust carried by the belt. To further control dust emissions, install an additional hood above the area where the wood is processed. To increase the effectiveness of this system, add a narrow hood and a stripper.


  • Place two open-faced hoods behind the heads of the router table. Connect the hoods to the exhaust ductwork via a flexible hose.

  • Locate an open-faced or slot hood at the rear end of the router table.

Other Sources of Information on Wood Dust Control NIOSH has published a series of “Hazard Controls” concerning wood dust control techniques. For details, see the Additional References section of this eTool.

Excessive buildup of sawdust

For more pictures related to wood dust housekeeping, see Wood Dust Housekeeping Images