Never shortchange your health and safety

Each month, at the bottom of this page, there is a safety warning promoting the use of blade guards, push sticks and eye protection. After visiting hundreds of shops, I can honestly say it is a rare occurrence to see a blade guard installed. Other safety devices have also been banished. But it's bad practice because these devices exist for a good reason: to protect your health and safety.

The absence of blade guards is a common discussion point, but wood dust from exotic woods is rarely talked about. A friend of mine in New Mexico recently had a wicked encounter with wenge. Even though he was wearing a respirator, he developed an infection that landed him in the hospital for more than a week. After several days of consultation, doctors broke one of his back ribs and discovered a form of streptococcus bacteria. Although his doctors can't definitely tie the illness to wood dust, it is a strong possibility.

I know a worker at a West Coast exotic wood dealer who had severe respiratory problems several years ago while cutting guanacaste. By mistake, he cut some a few weeks ago and another ugly reaction occurred.

One of the most notorious woods is cocobolo, which has a habit of giving users rashes and respiratory problems. Despite its beauty, many woodworkers won't even work with it.

The strange thing about exotic woods is that they can affect one person severely, yet have no impact on another. Also, allergic reactions are not just limited to exotic woods. Even a timid wood like osage orange did a tune on my respiratory system.

If you're experiencing allergic reactions, Bud Latven offers a cure. He provides the details on Page 18.

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On a lighter note, I have a confession to make: I have become a wood junkie. It started slowly and I was unaware at first, but now I know I am addicted. If I walk into a place that sells wood, it is a virtual certainty that I won't walk out empty-handed.

Some of my spur-of-the-moment purchases have been curly maple and Tasmanian blackwood from Hearne Hardwoods, yellow narra from Gilmer Wood Co., and my latest addition: a slab of claro walnut from Berkshire Products. Heck, when I got up that morning I didn't have any intention of driving within 20 miles of the business. But I did.

A couple of years ago when I traveled to Hawaii for a relative's wedding, I was making phone calls by the third day to find out where I could acquire some koa. I'm proud to say I was successful, even though the cost of shipping it home was the same as the cost of the koa.

It is probably time to attend a meeting of Woodaholics Anonymous. My wife has been silent, but the day is approaching when she is going to undoubtedly ask what I intend to do with all this wood. But first, there's some zebrawood I've had my eye on ...

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.