Which respirator to use for woodworking: why and more

As a woodworker, you may be wondering if a mask is really necessary for the job. Or you may ask which mask is recommended to provide adequate protection. You will know which respirator is recommended and why they are essential.


  1. What respirator do I need for woodworking?
  2. Should I wear a mask for woodworking?
  3. How much wood dust is harmful?

What respirator do I need for woodworking?

The type of mask or respirator that you will need for woodworking will vary depending on the job that you are doing. Generally, a N95 respirator is good to limit the inhalation of wood particles and a P95, P99, or P100 respirator is good for working with smaller airborne particles and chemicals like VOCs.

Not all masks and respirators are the same. Virtually any mask or respirator with a filtration percentage of 95 or more will protect you from wood dust. However, these masks will be essentially useless if used to protect yourself from other harmful chemicals.

When working with harmful chemicals like VOCs, you will need to have an organic vapor cartridge or filter. The N95 are not equipped with one. However, most P95s, P99s, P100s, and R95s come with an organic vapor cartridge.

Filtration PercentageVapor CartridgeWood dust protectionVOC protection
N9595 % or higherNoYesNo
R9595%Generally YesYesWith vapor cartridge, Yes
P9595%Generally YesYesWith vapor cartridge, Yes

Now I will discuss if you should wear a mask and what implications may arise if you don’t. Afterwards, I will discuss how must wood dust is harmful and home remedies to clear your lungs of dust.

Should I wear a mask for woodworking?

You should most definitely wear a mask while woodworking. There are many health effects that come from inhaling wood dust from allergy like symptoms to more severe respiratory and breathing issues and cancer.

Reasons to wear a mask while woodworking

Wood dust protection

You should use a mask when cutting or sanding wood. A mask is not as necessary when drilling or chiseling larger pieces of wood off a piece.

However, it is still recommended to keep a mask on because a mask is less effective the more you take it off and put it on. You will likely still have some airborne particles that you are exposed to.

VOC protection

While woodworking, you are commonly exposed to other chemicals that arise from paint, stain, mineral spirits and other materials in your workshop. You will need the correct respirator with a organic vapor cartridge to provide protection from these chemicals.

VOCs are known to cause various respiratory and neurological issues. Additionally, they are also linked to certain forms of cancer (Wu, Xiangmei (May) et al. VOCs can also cause allergy like symptoms like sinus irritations, loss of coordination, damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system, and nausea (Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality, 2022)

How much wood dust is harmful?

According to OSHA, a wood dust count of 5mg/m^3 or more for hard and soft wood in an 8 hour period requires the use of a respirator in the work place. However, red cedar wood is an exception of 2.5mg/m^3 for an 8 hour period due to its increased likelihood to cause allergies in comparison to the other wood types.

According to the CDC, OSHA originally proposed a “1mg/m^3 8 hour TWA for hard wood and a 5mg/m^3 8 hour TWA for soft wood” . Which are the same requirements for the ACGIH. However, OSHA’s standing requirements are 5mg/m^3 8 hour TWA for hard and soft woods

Certain agencies recommend to wear a mask in lower hard wood dust concentrations than what is recommended for soft woods. When woodworking, it is good to keep a mask on, regardless, to protect yourself from airborne particles and to have the full effectiveness of the mask or respirator


In this article, we discussed the different types of respirators and which one you should use, if you should wear a mask, and how much wood dust is harmful when woodworking.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!


My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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