Yesterday I was shimming up the saddle on one of my guitars by about 0.025" to raise the action a little without making a new saddle. The operation was a success as it cured the buzz I was getting on the B-string when flatpicking and mostly cured the buzz on the D-string (unless I dig in really hard with the pick). I used my usual technique of gluing a piece of ebony shim stock on the bottom of the bone saddle with CA and sanding it down to the correct height with 320-grit sandpaper...

...except this time to speed things along I used a Dremel tool sanding wheel because I was starting at 0.080" thick and wanted to get it down under 0.040" with a rough cut before switching to sandpaper on a marble cutting board. I did not anticipate how much finer and airborne the ebony dust would be from using the Dremel tool.

I have not felt well today and a couple times I've blown my nose and found clumps of something inky black, presumably ebony dust. I'm lucky not to be allergic to the ebony but just the general insult to my immune system seems to be enough to have me moving at half-speed and a sort of half-headache all day (the 100-degree temps outside didn't help late in the day).

So no more Dremel on ebony for me. I'll stick to the slow sandpaper method and even though that does not produce airborne dust I'll use a mask next time, too. Very poor judgment, that.

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dust masks help........big time
I started using purfling cutoff pieces a couple of years ago. They're just about the right size for most jobs and no sanding.
Hi Bret, yep, that blow your nose and spit black look is the ebony - I do react to it and wear a industrial vapour mask now to stop the stuff getting on board. I also wear long sleeve shirts as the stuff used to get on my forearms and itch like crazy after a while. I also have problems with it getting in my eyes and sticking to my tears. it seriously gets everywhere that stuff. I have also stopped using compressed air to blow out the workshop and use a vacuum instead to stop stirring up the bio-hazard.
One thing to beware of is having a drink after a hard day sanding - I've found if we drink our own body weight and stay up all night after a day of work I feel really bad and sluggish the next day - must be the sanding eh!
Year ago I did work in cheap guitars factory. For a short period they asked me to sand the bridges (both ebony and rosewood) at the belt sander machine. I wear glasses since the age of ten because I was just myopic. Do you know what it means? The glasses or the mask! Lenses were mist in seconds so I couldn't see what I was doing. Without the mask... well I won't describe the content of my kleenex at the end of the day! So I went back to the final assembly line.
Now, with the lowering of youth, I became also farsighted, and I can do some jobs without wearing glasses. And, best again, I don't have to sand wood all day long! Wood is wonderful, but sometimes...
If you look at the Chinese guitar factory film on U tube See if you feel a bit horrified at the monotony of their jobs and the speed they have to keep up.Not my idea of a nice life.It`s the film where they slam each guitar body on endless racks .Imagine all that dust inside you.Whizz whizz Bang.Another guitar.Could you last a week?
How about a plastic sheild like grinders have? Or a box w/rubber inserts to poke your hands into like a lab tech
or nukalar physicist?
I had a similarly unpleasant experience with cocobolo once, so I feel your pain. Clearly, to run an efficient shop you can't get around using sandpaper for all sorts of tasks. However, in the right contexts, edged tools can significantly cut down on dust (and or time) because the waste drops to floor in wood chip form.

On the rare occasion that I make an ebony nut, I find that the luthier's friend sanding station (which comes with a great dust collection system) and a block plane can do most of the work quickly with little airborne wood dust.

The block plane is also a good tool for cutting down a micarta saddle (it won't melt the waste of this and similar materials to the underside of the saddle like a disc or belt sander). Placed in a vice with the sole up, you can draw the workpiece across the cutting edge. If you have a razor sharp plane iron and good glue joint between shim and saddle, I imagine that you could use this method to cut your glued on saddle shim down to .025" with no problem. A well tuned plane (paired with a wooden bench dog) can get a mahogany shim thinner than .010" so it would seem to follow that it could handle the glued on shim.

I made an intarsia desk three years ago, out of 23 different species of wood. All went went well until I started to cut up and machine the paella, which is supposed to be from South America or somewhere. Within minutes, my eyes were watering, my throat was closing up and I could not stop sneezing. Air cleaner, fans on and everything, it took a few hours for the shop to be breathable again. Of course, I manned my way through long enough to make the parts I needed. It smelled like cinnamon and nutmeg on steroids.
It would be helpful if suppliers made the hazards of such caustic species more clear to us. Dan Erlewine's auto exhaust fan is a great example to follow.
Hello - I'm brand new to the forum. I had this very same thing happen to me with ebony dust on my forearms. I also had the breathing difficulty described after high speed sanding african zebra wood. Zebra wood will also cause the itchy skin on your hands and arms, and to top it off when its being cut or sanded it smells like dog sh, well, it smells really bad. Since then, gloves, respirators, dust collectors and air cleaners have reduced the trouble to zero.
Take care -
Right, I forgot about the zebra. It also seems to have some kind of mineral-ly stuff in it too, because it pretty much ruins a nice pull saw blade.
I'm fortunate in that I don't do any of this for a living. It's only to do a better job than the places I can get work done in a timely manner and/or avoid being without my guitar for a month or more at the one place locally that does good work. So I think in future I will Just Say No (tm) to anything involving making copious amounts of ebony dust. Or any other resinous wood for that matter.

I do like the idea of getting it down to the right ballpark by shaving with a plane instead of sanding. I have a fairly precise block plane that uses double-edged razor blades and it seems to shave the ebony quite thinly.
The first time I used my Dremel with the drum sander to take down a bone nut blank, I was instantly enveloped in fine, powdery bone dust -- very unpleasant. I have since had good luck clamping the hose of a vacuum cleaner to the bench about two inches from the bone blank. I fire up the vac before starting the Dremel and have had great results. I don't even smell the bone, or find any dust collecting on the workbench or me. Seems like it should work for things like Ebony too.


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