Build Using Free Lumber From Pallets

Find out where to find free building supplies with this untapped source of inexpensive boards: free lumber from pallets or forklift skids, the cratelike platforms that are used in the loading of heavy freight.

| September/October 1982

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    Make use of an all but untapped source of inexpensive boards: forklift skids, or pallets, the cratelike platforms that are used in the loading of heavy freight.
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    Figure 2: Taking the skid apart.
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    Figure 1: A skid.

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When building extra items around the homestead is needed, you can obtain free lumber from pallets discarded by local businesses. (See the pallet building diagrams in the image gallery.)

Build Using Free Lumber From Pallets

If your household budget has taken the kind of battering that ours has over the past couple of years, you probably aren't often able to come up with any extra money to spend on such "frivolous" projects as building a picnic table for the back yard or a bookcase for the family room. After all, what with the price of' wood these days, it's hard enough to find the wherewithal to purchase lumber for the jobs that are essential to running a home or farm.

So what options does a frugal family have? Well, you could do as we did and make use of an all but untapped source of inexpensive boards: forklift skids, or pallets, the cratelike platforms that are used in the loading of heavy freight.

Pallets can provide a fine source of low-cost lumber, and they're often found — sometimes even discarded and free for the hauling — around rural dumps, factory or warehouse loading docks, newspaper offices, or anyplace where heavy loads are stored or moved. (Don't forget, though, to obtain permission before foraging your lumber. There may be a charge . . . or that pile you're looking at might still be in use!)

If we had to guess why pallets are thrown away, we'd venture to say it's because they're pretty darn hard to take apart for recycling . . . but hard — as all of you make-doers know — ain't necessarily impossible! And if you're a budget-conscious individual who wants to be able to add some extras around the house, you'll likely decide — as we did — that the amount of muscle flexing and patience it takes to deconstruct a skid is well worthwhile.

Although pallets are built in various sizes (to suit the load they're meant to carry), they all take basically the same form. They start with thick (1-1/2 inch to 3-1/4 inch) planks, 4 feet or so in length, called stringers . . . above and below which are nailed four or more boards (anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1-1/2 inch thick and, again, about 4 feet long) called decking (see Figure 1). The single unusual construction aspect of a typical skid — and the reason most people don't go to the trouble of taking the platforms apart — is the fact that it's fastened together with machine-driven grooved nails . . . which are designed to be pretty clanged difficult to pull out.

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Pallets are so useful for all sorts of tasks. Whether it's to load, move, and store things at a business, or to be pulled apart and used in many different projects or capacities, the idea is the same. These tools are inexpensive ways to accomplish a myriad of tasks, it's just necessary to consider the best way for you to use them.

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