- The materials and processes used in sculpting can create exposure hazards for the artist. The information below presents information on those hazards and ways to mitigate risk. Please also see the Ceramics webpage for information on some other sculpting materials. Please refer to the 3D printer SOP if there are processes related to 3D printers.
Plaster and Plaster Molds
Plaster varieties may include: Plaster of Paris, casting plaster, white art plaster, molding plaster, and Hydrocal. They mainly consist of calcined gypsum and calcium sulfate. Plaster can be carved, modeled, or casted. Vaseline, tincture of green soap, auto paste wax-benzene, silicone-grease- benzine, and mineral oil-petroleum jelly are materials used as plaster mold releases.
- Plaster dust (calcium sulfate) may cause severe respiratory problems if inhaled in large amounts. It also may result in slight irritation to the eyes and respiratory system.
- Accidental ingestion of potassium sulfate and potassium alum may be highly hazardous, and borax may be moderately hazardous. Potassium alum may cause irritation or allergies to some people by skin contact. Borax may cause alkali burns by skin contact.
- Concentrated acetic acid may be highly hazardous by ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact.
- Burnt lime (calcium oxide) can be corrosive to skin, especially when skin is wet, and highly toxic by inhalation or ingestion.
- Cuts or punctures may be caused by improper use and storage of sharp tools. Chipping set plaster can result in eye injuries from flying chips.
- Benzene, a flammable solvent, is used with many mold releases. It is moderately toxic by skin contact and inhalation, highly toxic by ingestion, and is a confirmed human carcinogen.
- Wear appropriate gloves and safety glasses/goggles while mixing acetic acid and burnt lime, and pouring benzene. Wear safety glasses/goggles when chipping plaster.
- Use of corrosive materials like acetic acid, burnt lime, and benzene, should only occur in locations where there is immediate access (i.e., within 50 ft.) to eyewashes and drench showers.
- Always carve or cut in a direction away from you, and keep hands behind the tool. Please find the cut and puncture prevention SOP (https://ehs.umass.edu/cut-and-puncture-prevention) and the Cut Safety Video (https://vimeo.com/583032765) for more information. Cut resistant gloves are recommended for sharp tools. Please find the glove selection guide: https://ehs.umass.edu/glove-selection.
- Use a plaster-impregnated bandage, not plaster for body part casts, along with vaseline or similar mold release as protection.
Stones and Lapidary
Stone carving involves chipping, scraping, flaking, fracturing, crushing, and pulverizing with a wide variety of tools. Manual tools can be used for soft stones whereas electric and pneumatic tools may be needed for hard stones that require crushing and pulverizing. Crushed stone may also be used in casting procedures. Lapidary involves cutting and carving semiprecious stones and has similar risks as hard stone carving.
- Soft stones: soapstone (steatite), serpentine, sandstone, African wonderstone, greenstone, sandstone, limestone, alabaster, and several others.
- Hard stones: granite and marble.
- Stone casts: Portland cement, sand and crushed stone.
- Lapidary: garnet, jasper, jade, agate, travertine, opal, turquoise, etc.
- Polishing materials: carborundum (silicon carbide), corundum (alumina), diamond dust, pumice, putty powder (tin oxide), rouge (iron oxide), tripoli (silica), and cerium oxide.
- Sandstone, soapstone, and granite contain large amounts of free silica. Limestone contains small amounts of free silica. Free silica is hazardous to inhale, as it may cause emphysema, bronchitis, and fibrosis.
- Quartz gemstones such as agate, amethyst, onyx, and jasper are made of silica. Other gemstones such as turquoise and garnet may be contaminated with substantial amounts of free silica. Opal is made of amorphous silica. When cut or carved, silica may become airborne breathable dust.
- Asbestos may be contained in serpentine, soapstone, and greenstone; it can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and stomach and intestinal cancers.
- Flying chips, pieces of rock, stone and dust from grinding, sanding, chipping, and other carving techniques may cause eye injury.
- Lifting heavy pieces of stone or rocks may cause back injuries.
- Power tools and pneumatic tools may create larger amounts of fine dust and free silica dust than hand tools. Grinding and sanding, especially with machines, may also create fine dust. Grinding wheel dust (especially sandstone wheels) also pose inhalation hazards.
- Raynaud's phenomenon, ("white fingers" or "dead fingers") may be caused by vibration from pneumatic tools, and can cause you to lose control of your tool.
- Calcium oxide in Portland cement is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. The silica contained in the cement is also highly toxic by inhalation. Inhalation of Portland cement may cause lung problems including emphysema, bronchitis, and fibrosis.
- Acrylic resins are skin irritants and sensitizers.
- Do not use materials that may contain asbestos.
- Work in a well-ventilated area or near local exhaust ventilation, or use wet methods when grinding or cutting dry stones that release dust particles. If local exhaust ventilation is unavailable and you think you may need respirator protection, please contact EH&S (email@example.com) for evaluation of your process and assistance with selection and fit-testing of appropriate respiratory protection.
- Wear safety goggles to protect against flying particles when grinding, sanding, or polishing (it is also recommended to wear an additional face shield for heavy grinding); wear protective shoes, at least closed-toe shoes to protect against falling stones.
- Always carve in a direction away from you, and keep hands behind the tool. Please find the cut and puncture prevention SOP (https://ehs.umass.edu/cut-and-puncture-prevention) and the Cut Safety Video (https://vimeo.com/583032765) for more information. Cut resistant gloves are recommended for sharp tools. Please find the glove selection guide: https://ehs.umass.edu/glove-selection.
- Use proper lifting techniques, such as bending at knees, when moving heavy objects. Wear crush-resistant gloves (colloquially known as miner’s gloves) when lifting heavy stones. Steel-toed shoes are also recommended for working around or lifting heavy stones.
- Take preventative action to protect against vibration hazards from pneumatic tools such as having comfortable hand grips, directing the air blast away from your hands, keeping hands warm, taking frequent work breaks, etc.
- Wear proper lab/studio attire, such as tying back long hair, and don't wear loose items or clothing which can get caught by machinery.
China clay in an oil and petrolatum base are usually the main materials used in modeling clays of the plasticine type. Additives, including dyes, sulfur, sand, talc, vermiculite, perlite, vegetable oils, aluminum silicate, preservatives, and turpentine, may be present.
- Although there are usually small amounts, some of the additives might cause skin irritation or allergies, and sulfur dioxide (which can result from firing the clay) might cause some respiratory problems.
- Vermiculite is very often contaminated with asbestos, which is a lung irritant and carcinogen.
- The curing temperatures of some products may be very close to the decomposition temperatures, which may generate hazardous fumes or airborne particles.
- Wash hands with soap and water after contacting modeling materials and before leaving the studio.
- Gloves are recommended to prevent any skin irritation.
- Know the materials you plan to work with. Always review the SDSs for all chemicals used in a process so that you are fully aware of the hazards and how to mitigate those hazards, and use the least toxic and least hazardous materials possible. Make sure the temperature of decomposition is not reached.
- A variety of types of waxes are used for modeling, carving, and casting, including beeswax, ceresin, carnauba, tallow, paraffin, and micro-crystalline wax. In addition, there are synthetic chlorinated waxes.
- Solvents used to dissolve waxes: alcohol, acetone, benzine, turpentine, ether, and carbon tetrachloride.
- Waxes are often softened for carving or modeling by heating in a double boiler or with a light bulb, by sculpting with tools warmed over an alcohol lamp, or by the use of soldering irons, alcohol lamps, and blowpipes.
- Additives include rosin, dyes, petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and many solvents.
- The release of flammable wax vapors (when overheated, sometimes to the point of decomposition, e.g., acrolein fumes and other decomposition products) can be highly irritating to the respiratory system.
- Alcohol, acetone, benzene and turpentine may pose hazards by skin contact and inhalation. Carbon tetrachloride is highly toxic, and may cause liver cancer and severe liver damage, even from exposure to small amounts, and may be fatal by skin absorption or inhalation.
- Skin contact and skin absorption of highly toxic chlorinated synthetic waxes should be avoided, as they may cause a severe form of acne (chloracne). If contaminated with highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), it may cause chloracne, liver problems, and possibly cancer of the pancreas and melanoma (a potentially fatal form of skin cancer).
- Know the materials you plan to work with. Always review the SDSs for all chemicals used in a process so that you are fully aware of the hazards and how to mitigate those hazards, and use the least toxic and least hazardous materials possible.
- Do not overheat waxes, and do not use open flames to melt waxes.
- Dissolve waxes with the least hazardous solvent. Do not use carbon tetrachloride or benzene.
- All use of solvents must occur with use of appropriate local exhaust ventilation (i.e., a fume hood). If local exhaust ventilation is unavailable and you think you may need respirator protection, please contact EH&S (firstname.lastname@example.org) for evaluation of your process and assistance with selection and fit-testing of appropriate respiratory protection.
- Avoid using chlorinated synthetic waxes if possible.
Various types of hard and soft woods are used in wood sculpture, including many exotic tropical woods. Many of these woods may be hazardous themselves and sometimes they may be treated with hazardous preservatives or pesticides.
- Saps present in many green woods, and lichens and liverworts present on the surface of freshly cut wood, can cause skin allergies and irritation from direct contact.
- Many hardwood dusts or finished hardwoods, especially those from exotic woods, are sensitizers and may cause allergic reactions. Softwoods have a lower risk of causing skin and respiratory problems.
- Contact with the dust of many hardwoods, such as Canadian and Western Red Cedar, may cause conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), hay fever, asthma, coughing, and other respiratory diseases.
- Some highly toxic hardwoods, such as giant sequoia, cork oak, some maple woods and redwood, may cause hypersensitivity pneumonia (alveolitis). Frequent respiratory attacks can cause permanent lung scarring (fibrosis).
- Some hardwoods, such as hemlock, contain toxic chemicals, and may cause various symptoms, including headaches, salivation, thirst, giddiness, nausea, etc.
- A particular type of nasal and nasal sinus cancer (adenocarcinoma) with a latency period of 40-45 years, may be associated with inhalation of hardwood dust among 7 in 10,000 heavily exposed woodworkers.
- Whenever possible, use common hardwoods rather than rare tropical hardwoods.
- If there is a history of allergies, avoid using common sensitizing woods.
- Wear gloves if you are handling woods that can cause skin irritation or allergies.
- Use wet methods, local exhaust ventilation, or respiratory protection when cutting, grinding, or sanding wood to prevent wood dusts from entering the breathing space. If local exhaust ventilation is unavailable and you think you may need respirator protection, please contact EH&S (email@example.com) for evaluation of your process and assistance with selection and fit-testing of appropriate respiratory protection.
Plywood and Composition Board
Plywood is made by gluing thin sheets of wood together with either urea-formaldehyde glues (for indoor use) or phenol-formaldehyde glues (for outdoor use). Urea-formaldehyde resins are also used for gluing wood dust, chips, etc. to make composition boards, such as particle boards. The materials may emit unreacted formaldehyde for some years after manufacture. Formaldehyde releasing may also be caused by heating or machining these materials from decomposition of the glue.
- Formaldehyde is highly toxic by inhalation, highly toxic by eye contact and ingestion, and it is an irritant, strong sensitizer, and a probable human carcinogen.
- Decomposition of adhesives may release formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide (in the case of amino resins) and phenol (in the case of phenol-formaldehyde resins) may result from machining, sanding, or excessive heating of plywood or composition board.
- Use low-formaldehyde products whenever possible.
- Store plywood or composition board in a cool, well ventilated area.
Wood Preservation and Other Treatments
Pesticides and preservatives are often applied to wood when it is being timbered, processed, or shipped. Although pentachlorophenol and its salts, creosote, and chromated copper arsenate (CCA) have been banned for sale in the United States as wood preservatives, they may still be found in older woods, and chromated copper arsenate is still allowed as a commercial treatment. A variety of other chemicals, such as fire retardants, bleaches, etc., may be used in treating wood.
- Pentachlorophenol is highly toxic. It can be absorbed through the skin, cause chloracne (a severe form of acne) and liver damage, and is a probable human carcinogen and reproductive toxin.
- Chromated copper arsenate is a known human carcinogen and teratogen, and it is extremely toxic by inhalation and ingestion, and highly toxic by skin contact. Skin contact may cause skin irritation and allergies, skin thickening and loss of skin pigmentation, ulceration, and skin cancer. Inhalation may cause respiratory irritation, and skin, lung and liver cancer. Inhalation or ingestion may cause digestive disturbances, liver damage, peripheral nervous system damage, and kidney and blood damage. Acute ingestion may be fatal.
- Creosote is a strong skin and respiratory irritant, and is a probable human carcinogen and teratogen, which is used for outdoor wood.
- Zinc and copper naphthenate are slight skin irritants.
- Know the materials you plan to work with. Always review the SDSs for all chemicals used in a process so that you are fully aware of the hazards and how to mitigate those hazards, and use the least toxic and least hazardous materials possible. In the United States, CCA-treated wood is required to have a label and information on safe handling.
- Do not handle woods that are scrap, old, or unknown origin, or have been treated with pentachlorophenol or creosote.
- Use zinc or copper naphthenates as wood preservatives, if possible.
- Do not burn wood that has been treated with creosote, pentachlorophenol or chromated copper arsenate.
- Use wet methods, local exhaust ventilation, or respiratory protection when cutting, grinding, or sanding wood to prevent chemically-treated wood dusts from entering the breathing space. Please contact EH&S (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assessment of your process if you believe that you may need respiratory protection.
Carving and Machining Wood
Woods can be hand carved with chisels, rasps, files, hand saws, sandpaper, etc., or they can be machined with woodworking machines, such as electric saws, sanders, drills, or lathes.
- Physical hazards are present in using woodworking machinery and tools. Missing machine guards, faulty equipment, or using the wrong type of machine may cause accidents. Dull tools or improper machine use are the major causes of tool accidents.
- Vibration from some tools, for example chain saws, may cause "white fingers" (Raynaud's phenomenon) which is numbness of the fingers and hands due to a lack of circulation.
- Electrical equipment may present electrical shock and fire hazards.
- Sawdust and wood may present fire hazards.
- Wear safety glasses/goggles when using machines that generate dust. For machines which may produce wood chips, such as lathes, use a face shield and safety glasses/goggles. Always make sure the machines are properly shielded.
- Always ensure that all woodworking machines are in good condition and equipped with proper guards.
- Wear appropriate studio attire, such as tying back long hair, and avoid wearing loose accessories or clothing that can get caught by machinery.
- Keep hand tools sharpened, and cut away from your body, and keep hands behind the tool. Please find the cut and puncture prevention SOP (https://ehs.umass.edu/cut-and-puncture-prevention) and the Cut Safety Video (https://vimeo.com/583032765) for more information. Cut resistant gloves are recommended for sharp tools. Please find the glove selection guide: https://ehs.umass.edu/glove-selection.
- Use wet methods, local exhaust ventilation, or respiratory protection when cutting, grinding, or sanding wood to prevent sensitizing wood dusts from entering the breathing space. If local exhaust ventilation is unavailable and you think you may need respirator protection, please contact EH&S (email@example.com) for evaluation of your process and assistance with selection and fit-testing of appropriate respiratory protection.
A variety of glues are used for laminating and joining wood, including contact adhesives, casein glue, epoxy glues, formaldehyde-resin glues (e.g., formaldehyde-resorcinol), hide glues, and white glue (polyvinyl acetate emulsion), and the cyanoacrylate "instant" glues.
- Diisocyanate glues are extremely toxic by ingestion and inhalation. Acute exposure may result in pulmonary irritation, allergy and asthma symptoms; chronic inhalation can sensitize the respiratory tract and cause asthma, dyspnea, immune disorders, nasal and lung lesions. Some diisocyanate glues have vapors that are fatal to inhale. Dermal contact can result in dermatitis, eczema, and severe skin burns. Serious eye damage may also result from exposure. These glues are usually flammable.
- Epoxy glues are moderately toxic by skin and eye contact, and by inhalation. Various types of hardeners, including amine hardeners, may cause skin allergies and irritation. Inhalation may cause asthma and other lung problems.
- Cyanoacrylate glues are moderately toxic by skin or eye contact. Due to improper use, they may glue the skin together or glue the skin and other materials together, sometimes requiring surgical separation. Eye contact can cause severe eye irritation.
- Resorcinol-formaldehyde and urea-formaldehyde glues are highly toxic by eye contact and by inhalation, and moderately toxic by skin contact. Formaldehyde can be a problem when working with fiber-board and plywood, and may cause skin and respiratory irritation as well as allergies, and is a known human carcinogen. Any unreacted formaldehyde may cause skin irritation, and sanding may decompose the glue and release formaldehyde, even when cured.
- Extremely flammable contact adhesives contain hexane, which is highly toxic by chronic inhalation, causing peripheral nerve damage.
- Dry casein glues are highly toxic by inhalation or ingestion, and moderately toxic by skin contact since large amounts of sodium fluoride and strong alkalis may be contained.
- Know the materials you plan to work with. Always review the SDSs for all adhesives used in a process so that you are fully aware of the hazards and how to mitigate those hazards, and use the least toxic and least hazardous materials possible.
- Avoid using formaldehyde resin glues and diisocyanate glues if possible.
- If you must use diisocyanate glues, use local exhaust ventilation and/or wear a respirator. Wear gloves and avoid any skin contact with the material. Store diisocyanate glues in flammable-rated storage cabinets.
- Work in well-ventilated areas, use local exhaust ventilation or respiratory protection to avoid breathing adhesive fumes. Please contact EH&S (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assessment of your process if you believe that you may need respiratory protection.
- Use water-based glues rather than solvent-type glues whenever possible.
- Wear appropriate gloves when using epoxy, solvent-based adhesives, or formaldehyde-resin glues.
Sculptors may work with a variety of metals and equipment, along with other art procedures involving metals. Potential health, safety, and property hazards result from the fumes, gases, sparks, hot metal, and radiant energy produced during hot work. Hot work equipment, which may produce high voltages or utilize compressed gases, also requires special awareness and training. Arc welders should be trained to take appropriate precautions to prevent the skin and eye burns that can occur as a result of exposure to the UV emitted during arc welding. It is also important to ensure that persons in the vicinity of the welding operations are prevented from entering areas where arc welding is occurring and are warned not to stare at the arc. The hazards associated with work in the metal shop can be reduced through the implementation of effective controls, such as PPE and local exhaust ventilation, especially snorkels.
Please refer to the Welding, Cutting and Brazing SOP for more information. (https://ehs.umass.edu/welding-cutting-and-brazing). Please also see the UMass Shop Safety Program (https://ehs.umass.edu/shop-safety-program).