If you are concerned about the possible hazards of working with a particular material, MSDS sheets are a good starting point for your research. These sheets list the components of thousands of materials and products and their known hazards.
For an online listing of MSDS sheets, please look at this site for further information or to search their data base.
DUST: When sanding, always make sure you use a dust mask. This is especially important when sanding cedar, yew and tagua.
TURN OFF THE HEAT: Make sure you turn off the heat of your burners when you leave your work. Fires can start if the nib tips over and kids will also be in danger of touching the hot element.
KIDS: are very attracted to burning irons. Don't leave them unsupervised around your pyrography machine.
MDF (Medium Density Firbeboard): should NEVER be burnt on. Nope...not even out doors. It's made of very toxic materials and it's fumes, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other serious health problems.
NOTE: I can't tell you how many times I've heard 'people' say not to worry too much about working with MDF and other known toxins. At least, if you are informed, you can make your own mind up whether to continue using it or not. Here is the MSDS link for MDF. My mind is made up after reading this and how formaldehyde and other chemicals are used in manufacturing MDF. Here is a link if you would like to read about the dangers of exposure to formaldehyde.
MAN MADE BOARDS: Some man made wood can be used for burning, but you have to be sure about what you're burning on. For instance, you can burn on ply wood but you must take care not to burn through the wood into the glue layer. To assess the safety, here are the links to several MSDS sheets about man made boards.
PLY: don't be tempted to burn so heavy on ply that you burn into the glue layer. This is toxic and when heated, the fumes can be harmful.
PREPARED WOOD: wood that is already varnished, oiled or treated should never be burnt on. It is toxic.
BURNING ON PIGMENTS: there are some techniques that have the pyrographer burning on top of pigments. It is still unknown if there is general danger in this practice, but care must certainly be taken in the type of pigments you choose to burn on. Avoid paints and pigments that contain lead and other metals such as cadmium. Avoid pigments that contain arsenic and other chemicals. Do not burn on acrylic paints. Ask your art supplier if unsure or the company who makes the pigment.
PERSPEX/PLEXIGLASS: avoid burning on this material. If you must, please burn out of doors. The fumes the heat releases are toxic.
REMOVING SMOKE: unless you are burning very hot, pyrography doesn't produce much smoke. To extract any smoke should you be producing much, use a small fan. Instead of pointing it across your work to blow the smoke away, place it close to the work, but pointing AWAY. That way it will suck the smoke in back and out the front. It's a more gentle breeze that wont upset your burning. A dust extractor is also effective.
CEDAR: I have no problem burning on cedar, but I have heard a few reports of cedar causing respiratory discomfort. If you feel any irritation, please discontinue its use.
LEATHER: Leather is wonderful to work on but please only use vegetable tanned leather, chrome tanned or metal tanned can produce dangerous fumes.
SMOKE EXTRACTION: can be done using an inexpensive computer fan. The fan can be mounted in PVC tube to suck the smoke away from a project.