Abstract The ability of sawdust (treated and untreated) waste, a waste material derived from the commercial processing of cedrus deodar wood for furniture production, to remove/preconcentrate Cd(II) ions from aqueous solution was determined. Sorption was found to be rapid (∼97% within 8 min). The binding of metal ions was found to be pH dependent, optimal sorption accruing at around pH 4–8. Potentiometric titrations of sawdust revealed two distinct p K a values, the first having the value similar to carboxylic groups (3.3–4.8) and second comparable with that of amines (8.53–10.2) with the densities 1.99 × 10 −4 and 7.94 × 10 −5, respectively. Retained Cd(II) ions were eluted with 5 ml of 0.1 mol l −1 HCl. Detection limit of 0.016 μg ml −1 was achieved with enrichment factors of 120. Recovery was quantitative using sample volume of 600 ml. The Langmuir and D–R isotherm equations were used to describe partitioning behavior for the system at different temperatures. Kinetic and thermodynamic behavior of sawdust for Cd(II) ions removal was also studied.