There are many paths we walk multiple times a day around the farm to get to the barns, coops, and gardens. Many of these paths are on the north side of the buildings, and during the winter the shade causes them to become a slippery, dangerous mess. When we first started building our homestead, we quickly realized that these paths needed to be more than just dirt. They needed to be something that could be easily shoveled and kept clear, and not track too much mess into our house as we were going in and out. We also wanted them to look nice and add to the rustic atmosphere of our farm.
We tried gravel — too messy and hard to shovel. Then we considered cement or cement pavers — too pricey. Ultimately, we ended up building a walkway out of pallet wood. We spent very little money on it and five years later ,it is still serving us well. It was quick and easy to build, is easy to shovel snow off of and keep clear through the winter, and it decreases the mess tracked into the house on our boots.
Photo by Unsplash/jonmoore
Supplies and Tools:
- Hardwood pallets for decking and supports
- Pressure treated lumber for supports (optional)
- Bricks or edging
- Gravel and/or Weed Fabric (optional)
- Sawzall with long metal cutting blade
- Circular saw
- Power drill with drill bit and driver bit
Many people are familiar with pallet wood and places to get pallets. But for this project it is important that you use specifically pallets made of hard wood (oak, ash, poplar, etc). If you use soft wood pallets (pine, fir, etc.), then the walkway will not hold up and will not last as long as the hard wood will. To tell the difference between hard wood pallets and soft wood pallets look for heavier pallets with a tight, dense grain. You will be using all parts of the pallets, both the main slats, and the pieces in between that hold the slats together.
If you live in a very wet climate, or the walkway will be built through a very wet area, you might consider using pressure-treated lumber for the supports under the walkway so that they will last longer and not rot. We live in a dry climate and have not had any trouble with using the wood from the center of the pallet (the pieces that the main slats are attached to) as our supports.
To hook your path together you will need to use 1.5 to 2-inch screws that have an all-weather coating on them.
Bricks or Edging
As you can see in the photos, we used red cement edging bricks. Having something to edge the walkway makes building it go quicker and easier and gives it a more finished look. You can try doing it without the edging, but you will need to be more careful and purposeful that your walkway edges line up and end where you want them to.
Gravel and/or Weed Fabric
Depending on where you are building your walkway, you might want to use weed fabric underneath it to prevent grasses and weeds from trying to grow up in between your decking. We used weed fabric in several places under our walkway. If you are putting the walkway in a very wet area, you should consider prepping the area with gravel for drainage and using pressure treated lumber for the supports as discussed above.
How to Build the Walkway
Prepare the area. Start by deciding exactly where you want your walkway to go, and how wide you want it. I recommend not going any wider than the width of your pallets for the majority of your walkway as this will reduce your waste and the labor involved.
Prepare the ground by making it level and smooth. If you are going to use gravel, dress and prepare the area for good drainage. If you are using weed fabric, lay that out, being sure it goes underneath your edging as well. Get your edging set firmly where you want it along both sides of the path.
Disassemble pallets. There are many ways to take apart pallets. In order to get the most length out of your slats, and thus have less seams, you should cut the pallet apart with a Sawzall. Use a metal cutting blade - longer is better. Cut through the nails holding the slats to the interior wood of the pallet by putting your blade between the slats and the interior wood. Keep all wood pieces as you will be using the interior pieces as the supports under your walkway.
Separate the slats into piles based on their width so that if you need to use more than one to span the width of your walkway, you have them matched up by their widths.
Lay the supports. The pieces of wood under the walkway give it support and lift it off the ground, as well as giving you a place to attach the pallet slats that are the decking. Lay the supports out along the length of the pathway. You should have a support 1-3 inches from each edge, and as many more as are necessary to be sure there isn’t a span of greater than 12 inches between them. This will ensure that your decking wood will be supported and feel solid as you walk.
In this photo you can see that we only needed 3 rows of supports for the width of this section of our walkway.
Supports for under the walkway
Then the walkway got wider where it split, and in that section we switched to 4 supports. The supports can line up with each other, or they can overlap a bit next to each other like you see in the transition from 3 to 4.
Cut and attach the decking slats. The pallet slats will be attached laying the opposite direction as the supports. First, lay the slat you want to use across the path. Use a pencil to mark where the cuts need to be made.
Slats marked for cutting
Using a circular saw, cut the slats where you marked them. Set the slat down in place and make sure you are please with the fit.
Slat set in place
This is a rustic-looking walkway, and thus you don’t need to be too particular about it all being perfect.
Once it is in place where you want it, screw it to the supports in two places at each support. If you find that the wood is splitting, you need to pre-drill the holes before placing the screws.
Continue in this way, a piece at a time, down the walkway. Be sure to keep your slats at the same angle to the walkway edges. If you find that the whole walkway is beginning to skew a bit due to inconsistencies in the slat width, just leave a bit of a larger gap as needed to keep them lined up how you like them.
How to Place Two Slats for a Wider Walkway
Most of our walkway was a good width to use one slat at a time. But in areas where it changed direction, it got wider and one slat wasn’t long enough. If you need to use two slats to you’re your path, pick two that are very similar widths. Lay the first slat out and cut the end to fit the edging.
First piece set in place
Then set it in place and draw a line to cut it where it falls halfway across one of the supports.
Cutting first piece
Next, lay your other piece on the other side and cut it to fit the edging.
Placing second piece
Lay it in place and then lay the first piece you cut in place over top of it.
Cutting second piece
Mark the line where the other piece ends on top of it.
Close up of cut line
Cut the second board on that line and put each in place. They should line up nicely and fit snugly.
Finishing the Pallet Wood Walkway
Once you have all your decking in place, it is time to apply finish to the walkway. Decide if you like the look of the wood as-is, or if you would like to sand it down. If you want to sand it, use a square floor sander (12x18 inch) with 36-grit sand paper.
Whether you sand it or not, you need to clean it off thoroughly before applying the finish. Also, be sure the weather is good for finishing. It needs to be warm and dry, with no wind, for at least 6 hours.
Apply an oil-based finish, such as Penofin, Cabot, or a similar product. It takes at least 24 hours to dry, so be sure not to walk on it until it is fully dry.
You now have a beautiful walkway made of pallet wood that cost you next to nothing and will last for many years.
Kat Ludlam is a wife, homeschooling mother, and homesteader living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. She and her husband own and operate Willow Creek Fiber Mill. You can read about their adventures homesteading at high altitude on her blog Willow Creek Farm and read all of Kat’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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