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Wood I, or wooden I

I’ve stated before that there’s not a species of wood I won’t work with. Well, I take it back.

A few years I joined a not-very-exclusive group: woodworkers allergic to cocobolo. I’d worked with it without issue for decades, but as I age a lot of things bother me now that didn’t when I was younger, and increasing sensitivity or outright allergies have made me rethink a lot of activities, including in the woodshop.

One of the things I’ve made frequently is a small turned bowl with a pewter lid. I’ve made dozens over the years, and cocobolo was one of my favorite woods to make them out of, among others.

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I had a request to make another one, and digging through my box o’ blanks found a nice piece of cocobolo that would be perfect. Since the last time I’d worked with cocobolo caused some discomfort, I took precautions: a long sleeve shirt buttoned at cuffs and collar, paper dust mask, and a dust hood over the lathe to suck up as much flying debris as possible.

Everything went fine for most of the turning and I thought my precautions had done the trick, but by the time I was ready to sand I couldn’t go on. My nasal passages were burning, my throat felt thick and hard to clear, I was coughing. I was getting no joy out of a favorite project, so I stopped.

The following day I thoroughly vacuumed my lathe area, put on a fresh shirt and mask, and hurried through the sanding and finishing… and found myself holding my breath a lot. Since the bulk of the work was already done it didn’t take long, and although I was starting to have allergic symptoms again they weren’t as bad. I wrapped the bowl up quickly, cleaned everything up, and consider it done.

I still have a good bit of cocobolo in my racks, and I’m sure I’ll use it for other projects down the road. But as far as turning it is concerned, I’ve decided that those days are in the past.

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