Prior to the industrial age and mass production, cabinets were designed and fashioned by professional cabinetmakers. In the early 19th century, publications of cabinet design and constructions were extremely popular, much like the modern how-to books of today. With the advent of steam power, handcrafting cabinets slowly lost out in favor of mass production. However, there was still a small market for expensive, finely made furniture, and this kept cabinetmakers in business well into the 20th century.
After World War II, woodworking also became a common hobby for those in the middle class. Both professionals and skilled amateurs spent long days in dusty garages and clouds of sawdust across the country, building unique pieces of furniture. This, however, was not without its hazards. While cabinet-making is no longer a prolific practice or profession, many cabinetmakers of the past used asbestos and related materials in the construction of cabinets.
Asbestos and Cabinet Making
As is the case with most employees in the construction business, cabinetmakers and other woodworkers are at high risk for exposure to asbestos. Beginning in the 1930s, paper liners laced with asbestos were employed in cabinet construction. Adhesives may also have contained some asbestos, compounding the exposure for those involved in woodworking. These practices went on well into the 1970s, with many cabinetmakers unable to stray from the old practices or continuing to use supplies they already had on hand.
Unlike those who received direct contact through woodworking, cabinetmakers who altered or re-shaped older cabinets may have unwittingly breathed in this dangerous particle. This is an example of secondary exposure. Cabinetmakers that are in the demolition and disposal business have an increased risk for secondary exposure, as the destruction of old cabinets results in the release of floating particles. In addition, building demolition could release asbestos particles used for insulating, fireproofing, and other parts of an older building. Those who work with old machinery in the destruction of old cabinets may be exposed to asbestos in brake pads or high friction gaskets. Given the variety of tasks those in the construction and woodworking trade must undergo, it is highly likely that these workers have had some exposure to asbestos and other harmful airborne materials.