Wooden Pallets: The Ultimate Guide To Safely Upcycling
30 Sep 2019
Just because a wooden pallet has reached the end of its life transporting goods all around the world doesn’t mean it’s become useless.
Far from it in fact.
Over the last few years pallets have become a bit of a star in the interior decorating and upcycling space.
People have used old wooden pallets to create fantastic furniture and structures.
It’s a great way of getting extra use out of something which has reached the end of its commercial life.
With a little bit of knowledge, some tools and the right skills you can transform a used wooden pallet into something fantastic.
Carry on reading to find out how you can get started upcycling old wooden pallets!
Chapter One: The Different Styles Of Pallets
The very first thing you need to be aware of when pursuing wooden pallets as a DIY material is that there are many different styles.
Different styles of wooden pallet will lend themselves to different types of DIY projects.
There are nine basic types of wooden pallets.
These are laid out in the graphic below.
Make sure you have a firm idea of the sort of thing you wish to create from the pallet.
By analysing the different types available you may be able to see if one type or another may make the job easier than others.
Chapter Two: Choosing A Safe Pallet
However it’s not just enough to select the right style of wooden pallet.
Perhaps most importantly you have to be 100% sure it’s safe to use!
As wooden pallets can be treated with harmful chemicals or become contaminated it’s vital that you understand how you can select a pallet which is safe to use.
You want to remove all risk of coming into contact with poisonous chemicals such as methyl bromide or pallets that are contaminated with E. Coli or listeria.
In the following chapter we will teach you what the different stamps and markings on a wooden pallet mean.
We’ll also take a look at how to identify if a pallet has been treated.
2.1: Understanding Pallet Stamps & Markings
Here are some of the more common treatment codes you may encounter when looking for pallets for a craft project.
Now let’s go through these one by one and learn what they mean.
DB stands for debarked. This simply means that the pallet has been manufactured from debarked wood. All this means is that the bark from the wood used had been fully removed. Nowadays most pallets are made from debarked wood. This ensures that heat treatments can be applied efficiently to the wood.
HT stands for heat treated. A pallet with this stamp has been heated to a minimum temperature of 56 degrees Celsius (60 degrees celsius for hardwoods) for at least 30 minutes. This is done to destroy parasites and insects which may inhabit the wood. For more information on heat treatment you can read our guide on ISPM 15 here.
KD stands for Kiln Dried. A pallet with this stamp has been heated in a kiln to kill off any wood pests. Kiln drying is also beneficial in avoiding warping and fungal growth. It’s now quite common for lumber mills to dry their wood at higher temperatures so it can be marked both KD and HT.
MB stands for Methyl Bromide. A pallet with this stamp has been treated with the very toxic pesticide methyl bromide. Whilst methyl bromide pallets have been out-lawed since 2010 in the UK due to health risks there still may be some around. So be very careful in avoiding any pallets marked MB. They should never be used in craft or upcycling projects.
Other pallet markings can include the code of the country they were made in and other identifiers.
These may not give you specific information about their safety, but some countries are known to produce safer pallets than others.
Newer British, Canadian and American pallets, for example, are largely safe as most are heat- or pressure-treated rather than being fumigated with chemicals.
Pallets must now have the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) logo and are typically marked with a country code, unique number and either HT or MB.
Chapter Three: Essential Tools For Working With Wooden Pallets
Before you start working on your next wooden pallet project you should ensure you have all the essential tools for the different jobs you may do.
This will not only make the job easier, but safer too.
Having the right set of tools for a job will ultimately make it a more enjoyable experience and one you’re more likely to repeat.
Here are the 10 tools we recommend having for a wooden pallet craft project.
- Saw / Jigsaw
- Tape Measure
- Screws and nails
- Safety goggles
- Safety gloves
- Crowbar / pry bar / cat’s paw
- Angle grinder
- C Clamps
- Hot air gun
Chapter Four: How To Prepare Wooden Pallets For Reuse
Washing Your Pallets
The first thing that you need to do is put on a thick pair of gloves, and then you can inspect the wood for stains, code stamps or nails that stick out.
Carefully remove any nails or splinters that you find, and take the time to really look at the markings.
As pallets are used multiple times to transport a wide variety of materials, it is important to make sure that you properly wash the pallet before you use it – and if you can see clear spill marks, it is best to avoid using the pallet completely.
If you suspect that the pallet is damaged in any other way, you will also need to dispose of it and replace it with a cleaner pallet.
Once you have found a stain-free pallet, check for stamps or code marks on the side. If there are no symbols, words or numbers stamped, the pallet is good to go.
If there are stamps, that probably means that the pallet has been shipped internationally, so it will need a thorough clean.
Start by hosing the pallets down, and then you can start cleaning the wooden pallets with a brush and soapy water twice, taking the time to properly rinse it off between cleans.
Next you will need to leave the pallets to dry properly, and then you can start sanding wooden pallets.
This will make them smooth enough for retreating, and it will also help to remove any leftover toxins.
Once you have finished cleaning wooden pallets, you can treat the wood with your preferred treatment.
5.2: How To Dismantle A Wooden Pallet
The Tools of the Trade
A reciprocating saw is by far the best tool for taking used wooden pallets apart in record time.
A longer 12” blade is best for giving you better access for hard-to-reach places between the slats.
A hammer and pry bar are also needed and can be used alone if you don’t own a saw.
However, these will need a little more effort on your part, and also more care needs to be taken. In both cases, gloves and eye protection are essential.
Dismantle Wood Pallets Easily
If using the saw, stand the pallet upright and support it between two drums or blocks.
Begin cutting through the nails, slowly, from the top and continue down one side before starting on the other side of the same 2×4.
For the bottom slat, you should flip the pallet over to avoid sawing into the floor and dulling the blade. However, once it’s flipped, just move to the other side of the 2×4 and keep sawing.
If you saw the slats off one by one, the pallet won’t be stable enough to keep sawing accurately, so once the first 2×4 support is free, move on to the next and work through in the same fashion.
After the second 2×4 is free, you can begin on the centre support and saw through the nails here too.
Using the Hand Tools
The same results as above can be achieved with the hammer and pry bar.
You might also find the saw struggles to find a gap large enough to pry its way in to cut the nail – in which case, the pry bar will be needed.
Although using hand tools is more time-consuming, many swear the results are better.
And even if you did use the saw, you will now need the hammer to pop the old nail ends out.
Use the claw to prise out the heads, and tap a fresh nail in to remove the spikes.
Once this is done, all you need to do is sand down the reclaimed wood from your used wooden pallets thoroughly. Now stop and admire your pile of top-quality wood.
Chapter Five: What Can You Make Out Of Wooden Pallets?
- Wooden Pallet Benches
This is a good initial project when you are first trying out your carpentry skills. An ordinary wooden pallet can be quickly transformed into a stunning rustic bench. Use the pallet deck boards for the seat and the back of the bench. You can even use some of the spare deck boards as arms to finish off the look.
- Wooden Sun Lounger
You will need to supplement your pallets with some 2×4 timber from a builder’s or reclamation yard. The stringer (large) timber sections of the pallet can be fixed close together to form a firm base which is placed on the 2x4s. Cover with an attractive padded cushion and you have the best DIY summer garden pallet ideas in the neighbourhood.
- Pallet Tables
Pallets are perfect for making dining tables and coffee tables for al fresco entertaining. You can choose your own unique design and then finish them off with a pine stain for extra durability and class. It’s simple, quick and requires no expensive materials.
- Swing Chair
A swing chair is a fun and functional centrepiece for any garden. Customise the seat using the stringers as the frame and the deck boards for the seat. Then fix on some chains to attach the seat to the frame. For extra flair, you can paint it in bright colours and complete with a bright waterproof cushion.
- Outdoor Bar
An outdoor bar shows that you are serious about entertaining! For smaller gardens, a wine bar with a couple of shelves and a fold-down serving surface (supported by chains) can be constructed from deck boards. Or you can put together a larger bar using stringers as uprights and coat it with a generous lick of white paint for a beach vibe.
- Kids’ Playhouse
Use whole pallets as the walls and deck boards for the roof. Complete with a waterproof covering and fit some doors. The kids will be kept amused for hours.
- Garden Plant Pots
Simple square or rectangular plant pots made from the deck boards make a great addition to any garden. They can be stained for a classic style or painted in bright colours.
- Recycling Bins
Recycling is all about reusing materials, so start by constructing a recycling bin from pallets. It’s basically a rectangular box with separate bins constructed from plyboard inside.
- Pallet Signs
Pallet deck boards can be used to make a stunning background for any sign. Use any type of paints, sprays or coatings – the only limit is your imagination.
- Pallet Lights
Pallet timber can be used to make attractive light pendants for outdoors. Upcycling is all the rage, and pallet light shades are the very latest in DIY summer garden pallet ideas.
- Plants and Herbs
Vertical plant growing is increasingly fashionable and takes up much less space than traditional pot plants. A pallet can be used to make a herb grower that you can either hang small pots from or you can build up soiled compartments in the rear to allow herbs and plants to grow through the slats. Functional, great-looking and a brilliant kitchen space saver.
A sofa is a surprisingly easy option for wooden pallet ideas. Not only does it look great, but it’s seriously practical too. For a corner sofa you’ll need six pallets stacked into twos with four along one wall and the other two at right angles. Nail together and paint in a colour of your choice – white looks great. Then buy foam cut to size and cover with throws or custom fit cushion covers. Use the space between the pallets to store books and other paraphernalia, making it a perfect spot for storage as well as chilling out.
- Jewellery Holder
Some pallets are beyond repair, but individual panels of wood can be removed and still prove useful. Pick up some vintage door knobs from a charity shop and affix along a single plant – the perfect place to hang bracelets and necklaces.
- Coffee Table
When you make a wooden pallet coffee table, you have the option to build it around the space you have and not the other way around. So if space is limited you can make a tiny coffee table, but incorporate plenty of storage space underneath by building up sections of old wooden pallets.
- Bathroom Storage
If your flat is tiny, you’ll need compact bathroom storage that sits as flush to the wall as possible. You can use an old wooden pallet to make some slim bathroom shelves and even incorporate a towel rail underneath.
These are just a few of the thousands of wooden pallet ideas out there. Use sites such as Pinterest and Instagram to find more great space-saving solutions with used wooden pallets that also add rustic-industrial chic charm to your home.
Chapter Six: Conclusion
So there you have it.
Everything you need to know to get started on that wooden pallet craft project.
Take time to identify the most suitable used wooden pallets for your project. Paying extra attention to their stamps and markings to ensure they’re safe to use.
If you’re unsure then err on the side of caution and look for a pallet you’re 100% sure is safe to use.
You then need to make sure you have the right tools for the job at hand.
You’re then ready to prepare the pallet by cleaning and dismantling.