If you are into re purposing you know there is great satisfaction in taking something cheap or even free, saving it from going to the landfill or the woodpile and then making something beautiful or useful. Never is that more true than with a good pallet wood project. Over the years we have made some really fun things. Before you get started here are 5 important things to know.
- Choosing your pallets. Just because something is free does not mean it is a good deal. Early on we hauled many a pallet home only to realize the wood was so twisted and split that by the time we dissembled it we had nothing but firewood. The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” applies to pallets for sure.
Many newer soft wood pallets have little character and are not worth the time to pull apart. We look for hardwood pallets with aged darker wood that look as though they could tell a story. Saw marks and other imperfections give the wood that character that will be passed on to your project.
2. Where to find pallets. Depending on where you live this may or may not be easy. I know I see free pallets on Craigslist almost every week here in the Phoenix area. I have also seen them listed for sale very cheap. Note that some pallet companies, like Chep, paint and stamp their pallets and they are considered the property of that company. Making the right contact is key and you will find one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
3. Getting your pallet apart. The pound and pry method work but can be very frustrating. Using a hammer and pry bar means going very slow and with great care so as to not split the wood. After wrestling with a pallet for 30 minutes you want to have more than kindling left to work with. We prefer using a reciprocating saw with a long metal blade. You will need gloves and eye protection but will be amazed how quickly you can break down a pallet. We can have a full pallet totally apart every 2 minutes using this method. Every 4-5 pallets you will want to change your blade to keep things moving along as the nails tear them up pretty fast.
4. Don’t over mill your wood. There are two reasons to make projects from pallet wood. One is the cheap or even free price of the product. The other, as I mentioned above, is the character in the wood. Some people will spend a good part of the day salvaging pallets and tearing them apart only to then cut out all the nail holes, sand the daylights out the slats or even run them through a planer. If you want beautiful smooth wood with no blemishes just go to Home Depot and buy 1×4’s and save yourself the trouble.
5. Knowing the limits. We have made some really fun things over the years with pallet wood but we know our limitations. Tables and stools and other furniture are great but our favorites have to be trays, troughs, crates and at Christmas, snowflakes. Just because you saw an amazing hutch or wall unit on Pinterest made from pallet wood does not mean it is worth the time and effort. Pallet wood is difficult to work with and your time is worth something. My point is don’t expect to build a piano or china cabinet only to be disappointed. Start off with something simple and go from there.