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Wood Pallet Project Ideas

Get inspired to build with these wood pallet project ideas, including an outdoor loveseat and an easily movable table.

June 19, 2013

By Chris Gleason

Use upcycled free materials to create the one-of-a-kind projects in Wood Pallet Projects (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2013). Author and craftsmen Chris Gleason uses sound woodworking techniques and trendy designs in his crafts. In this excerpt, learn how to scavenge for wood pallets and find wood pallet project ideas that you can incorporate inside and outside your home.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Wood Pallet Projects.

Wood Pallet Projects

How to be an Effective Scavenger

Pallets offer a great opportunity to obtain free materials for little or (usually) no money, and this fact alone makes them worth considering as a resource. However, not all pallets are created equal or are suitable for your project. Here are my tricks of the pallet-scavenging trade.Wood Pallets

Permission: Always Get It

It’s the golden rule of scavenging pallets: Always ask permission first.

Many businesses that use pallets actually recycle them. They may use the pallets repeatedly, or the supplier might pick up the pallets and reimburse them for returning them. So before you help yourself to what you think may be free, remember that if you don’t have permission it could also be viewed as theft. Just ask. Some businesses will be delighted to have you take extra pallets off their hands.

Safety: Know Which Pallets to Use and Which to Avoid

Most pallets are perfectly fine to work with, but some aren’t. Chances are that the pallet you’re working with is safe, but what if it was treated with some kind of chemical earlier in its life? I’ve also been emailed with a story in which someone got a nasty sliver from a pallet that introduced infection, requiring hospitalization.

So, just be picky. Always wear gloves and choose wisely. When in doubt, leave it out. But how can you tell?Pedigree Stamp

Fortunately, it is straightforward. My goal is to provide facts, not cause unnecessary concern. Common sense is your best starting point. Skip any that:

• Are unusually heavy
• Are wet
• Appear greasy
• Have stains
• Smell
• Display too many twisted nails
• Otherwise look unsavory

Beyond that, what else can you look for? Many pallets are stamped “HT” for heat-treated, which is a good sign that the pallet is newer and was kiln-dried to remove moisture, which could otherwise turn into a problem. Remember, if a pallet isn’t dry, it’ll be a pain to work with, and it could harbor bacteria, so give it a pass.

Some pallets are even stamped with a 1-800 phone number or website that lets you know about the pallet’s origins. You probably don’t need to get on the phone or fire up a web browser: the mere presence of an indicator like this is a very good sign that the pallet was produced as carefully as possible. These pallets are probably good candidates for your projects, provided they meet your other basic criteria (i.e., clean, dry, good condition, etc.).

 Label  Meaning 
 HT  Heat-treated
 KD  Kiln Dried
 MB  Methyl bromide treated
 DB  Debarked
 S-P-F  Contains spruce, pine, or fir components

Beware bacteria

Even if a pallet was clean and dry and safe on the day it was manufactured, it could have been exposed to undesirable bacteria sometime during its lifetime. To play it safe, scrub the wood with bleach and soapy water. Rinse well, and allow to completely dry. Remember, wood is porous, so there’s a chance the bacteria is embedded. Don’t use pallet wood for food-related items, children’s toys, or children’s play furniture. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Suitability: Is It A Good Match For Your Project?

The key to working with pallets is strategy. Having wood pallet project ideas will guide your assessment. The first question is, does this pallet merit a second glance or should I move on? If it looks promising, you’ll want to ascertain the following.

• Is it safe?
• Are there any especially appealing boards (due to species, interesting character, or useful dimensions)?
• How much usable material does it contain?
• How easy will it be to disassemble? For example, softwood runners are easier to get nails out of than hardwood ones. With a little practice, you’ll be able to see the difference at a glance.

The answers to these questions, in aggregate, will determine which pallets are worth your time and effort. Sometimes I will only take one board from a pallet, as I don’t have infinite time and energy to spend on tasks that only offer a marginal yield. Is this the optimal level of upcycling? Maybe not, but I don’t try to take on the responsibility of reusing every piece of material in all of the world’s pallets; once you view the situation through this lens, it is easy to see that even partial reuse is certainly better than none at all. In other cases, I can use the whole thing.

When it comes to pallet disassembly, a methodical approach pays off. Take a minute to decide which parts of the pallet are the most important to you. You may not have a premium use for all of the wood, due to damaged pieces, odd sizes, or the presence of way too many nails in a given spot.

Pallet sizing

Wood pallets come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on where you live, you will encounter pallets of many different dimensions. In North America, for example, some common pallet sizes include 48" x 48" (about 1200 x 1200mm), 48" x 20" (about 1200 x 500mm), and 36" x 36" (about 900 x 900mm). In Europe, common sizes include 1200 x 1000mm (about 48" x 40"), 800 x 1200mm (about 30" x 48"), and 600 x 400mm (about 20" x 15"). The great thing about pallets, however, is it doesn’t matter what shape or size they come in, as long as you can harvest wood of the dimensions you need from them. All the others can be made from wood harvested from pallets and cut to size.

Dealing with nails

Pallets are usually built with nails, because it is a low-tech but strong approach. If you take a close look, you’ll see that many of the nails are spiral-shaped; this is because their unique shape helps them resist backing out and allowing the boards to loosen over time. Spiral nails are good for constructing pallets, but can create a challenge for someone who is actually trying to remove the nails to get at usable lumber. My standard approach is to pull the nails using a crowbar or similar tool if it isn’t too time-consuming, and to leave them in when removal isn’t feasible. This latter approach usually means cutting around the nail-infested areas and harvesting shorter, but still useful, lengths.Rotary Tool

Occasionally, I’ll have nails that refuse to budge from a piece of wood that I still really want to use: in cases like this, I cut the nails back as far as possible using a hand-held rotary grinder, angle grinder, or pliers. I then use a belt sander to ensure the nail heads are flush to the surface. This approach is neat because the polished nail heads gleam nicely and recall the wood’s origins as a humble pallet.

Learn to recognize the inherent limits of some pallets. Occasionally, I’ll come across a pallet that features really pretty wood, but the nails are just torture to remove. In this case, cutting out the largest nail-free sections of wood possible is the best decision. It may mean settling for shorter lengths of wood than you’d ideally like, but it will allow you to work safely with the material. If you need larger pieces, find a pallet that will allow you to harvest them more easily, and save the short pieces for another day. You’ll eventually find a project that they’re better suited for. It is also worth noting that changing your design and/or construction techniques might allow you to use the shorter pieces right away, too.

Sometimes the nails themselves aren’t the only problem: boards are sometimes prone to splitting in the areas where nails have been inserted, especially if the nails are close to the end of the board. In this case, I usually just cut off the cracked portion so I have a clean end to start with. If cutting off the end isn’t an option — i.e., you really need the extra length for a given project — you might be able to force glue into the crack and clamp it shut. While this method isn’t guaranteed to work, it can be worth a try, and it doesn’t take very long, so you’re not out a lot of time and energy if the crack reopens.

The good thing about nails in pallets is that they are placed fairly predictably: you won’t generally find random nails occurring in random places. Manufacturers have no incentive to place nails at irregular intervals. So, if you got all of the nails out of the obvious places, you can generally feel fine about sending a board through a planer, jointer, or table saw.

Don’t be afraid to move things around when you’re working with pallets: use the floor, a workbench, or whatever else works. Finer tasks like pulling nails are often most easily accomplished on a bench, whereas larger-scale tasks like tearing apart pallets will probably occur with the pallet on the ground. Jump right in, and you’ll get a feel for it in about five minutes.

Wood Pallet Project Ideas

Easily Movable Table

Movable Table

It doesn’t get much simpler than this, but the result is still utterly charming. Bolt a set of large casters (they look to be about 4" [102mm] in diameter to me) to the bottom of a pallet, and you’ve got an instant, low-to-the ground, easily movable table. The rough, weathered quality of the wood on this pallet makes it ideally suited for outdoor use. It could be a perfect way to transport garden or yard tools around the backyard as you do some mulching or pruning.

Wood Pallet Wall

Wood Pallet Wall

An enterprising Mom took some pallets home from work and used them to create an accent wall in her living room. It took about twenty-five pallets to cover the wall. She used construction adhesive and a nail gun to attach the pallets, and then anchored the TV to a stud. The wood pallet wall is completely unfinished, without stain or polyurethane.

Outdoor Loveseat

Outdoor Loveseat

This outdoor loveseat is the perfect mix of fun and fashionable, with a funky back pattern and cushions and pillows in refined colors.

Pallet Porch Swing

Porch Swing

A simple pallet design adds charm to this porch. You could also suspend the pallet porch swing from a tree, or even an indoor ceiling.

Wood Pallet Coffee Table

Wood Pallet Coffee Table

Paint and stack a few pallets and you have a new wood pallet coffee table for your family room. Use a paint or finish that will match the décor and style of your home. If you redecorate, simply sand the pallet down and start again. For every ton of wood in a forest of young, growing trees, a ton of oxygen is produced and just as much carbon dioxide is absorbed.

Pallet Project Photos By: (in order) Eren {sea+prairie}, Mom and Her Drill, Laura Distin, Sheryl Salisbury Photogaphy and Joanna Billigmeier.


Reprinted with permission from Wood Pallet Projects by Chris Gleason and published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Wood Pallet Projects.





Post a comment below.

 

Daniel Ira
12/17/2013 9:34:27 AM
So far, I only knew about wooden pallets as a bad thing, and this was mainly due to their unhygienic issues in transportation. However, this article has changed my ideas. Do you want to know about who I am? Well, I am working with a company that supplies http://www.plainpallets.com.au/custom-pallets/.

QberryFarm
11/28/2013 1:09:49 PM
I am gradually removing pallet fencing tied together with bailing twine; using most of it for fire wood. The hard wood pallets have held up the best over the years and make the best fire. Dealing with screw nails I have found if I do not plan to use the 2x4 I cut them between the boards grind the heads off then bend the 2x4 sideways to put the pry under then the nails pull from the board. Use a magnet on the ashes after burning to remove the nails. JawSaw works great on pallets when the boards are spaced far enough apart.

tallenpei
11/28/2013 5:43:21 AM
Pallets are great; we made a deck, garden beds, bookcase etc. from free pallets http://simplifyandsave.weebly.com/1/category/pallet/1.html

jimmywomble
11/27/2013 9:33:18 PM
I use pallet timber for making worm farms, compost bins, chook sheds, pet enclosures and around the garden. The main thing is to make sure they are clean before touching them. There are usually plenty to choose from so be careful!

MicheleinCO
11/27/2013 7:24:52 PM
My first compost bins for our homemade composting toilet were made with pallets. Our outdoor shower floor is made up of a pallet with some leftover plastic garage floor tiles covering it… Out where our property is, many folks use pallets as snow fencing. They are very useful items. I do like the chair in the cover picture….

Jeremiah
11/10/2013 8:44:44 AM
Don't forget one of the best uses of pallets for gardeners is to turn them on edge, set them edge to edge to form as large a rectangle as desired and use the enclosure as a compost bin, they're very effective. I have a renter who ask that I bring pallets over for her to stand on edge and wire together for a fence.

ALEXM
10/24/2013 10:47:21 AM
Another word of warning: many pallets have been used for shipping toxic chemicals on. This is fine, as long as you don't sand, cut, or touch them with bare skin. The stains aren't always visible, so if the dust from a pallet seems to irritate your skin, GET RID OF IT.

kendra
10/18/2013 9:12:39 AM
I love this article I never realized that so many things could be done with a pallet





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