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Wood Pallet Project Tips

Updated on September 16, 2017
mgeorge1050 profile image

Alan is a veteran of the US Air Force, a master electrician, and a long-time hobby farmer.

Stack of Pallets

Nice stack of pallets, prime for harvest.
Nice stack of pallets, prime for harvest.

Harvesting Pallet Wood

In the recent past, it was easy to find all the free pallets you wanted. With the rise in popularity of pallet wood d├ęcor, and pallet recycling projects, free pallets have become very elusive. While it takes a little more work these days, free pallets can still be found if you look in the right places.

Although it can be a bit of challenge, obtaining pallets is really the easy part. Now, how do you turn those dirty pallets into usable project lumber? It only takes a minute or so to realize that pulling the planks off of a pallet is extremely difficult. Most pallet makers use ring shank nails, which are specially designed to stay firmly in the wood. This is great for extending the life of a pallet, but not so great for us pallet wood project builders.

If you don't require very long planks, then the best option is to cut the "good wood" out of the pallets. Using your saw of choice, simply cut out the sections of planks between the nails. A circular saw or reciprocating saw should do the trick. On most pallets you can get several planks up to sixteen inches long. These work great for smaller projects like shelves or wall sconces.

If your project requires longer planks, there are a couple of options. A reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade works pretty well. You will have to cut the nails that are holding the planks in place. Take a pry bar and lift the plank just enough to get the saw blade in between the boards. The longer your pry bar, the easier this will be. Once you can get the saw blade under the plank, just cut all of the nails.

Another method is to clamp the pallet to a workbench and use an over sized pry bar to pull the planks loose. An over sized pry bar can be rigged up by sliding a long sturdy pipe over a regular pry bar. This added handle length should make it easier to pull the planks off. If you are still having trouble, use some small blocks of wood under the pry bar to gain more leverage. I always seem to break more planks using this method.

Cut Out the Good Wood

Cutting out sections of pallet planks.
Cutting out sections of pallet planks.

Small Pallet Wood Shelf

Pallet wood shelf made with distressed planks.
Pallet wood shelf made with distressed planks.

Pallet Wood Crate Shelf

Pallet wood crate that doubles as a shelf.
Pallet wood crate that doubles as a shelf.

Size, Shape, and Knot Holes

Now that you have your planks harvested, you need to size them up. Pallets are made from several different species of wood depending on their intended uses. You may also have planks of different thicknesses and widths. Depending on your project, you may wish to sort your pallet planks based on these differences.

Different species of wood will react to the aging process in different ways. By sorting planks into the same species, it will make the aging process a little easier. Wood species can usually be identified by the grain and general appearance. Most of the time, planks from the same pallet are the same species of wood. This is not a rule, however, so use the grain and appearance as well.

You may also want to identify certain planks that may have some extra character. Often times a well placed knot hole can bring a piece to life. Use the natural variances in the wood planks to your advantage whenever possible.

Aging Fresh Cuts on Pallet Wood

As you cut the planks for your new project, you will notice that the fresh cut ends really stand out. Not to worry, this is easy to fix. Just mix up some aging tonic by placing a steel wool pad into two cups of white vinegar. Allow this concoction to sit overnight before using on your pallet wood planks. Once you make all of your cuts, coat all of the parts with your vinegar mixture before assembly. A cheap paint brush works great for this step. Make sure you cover the entire piece of wood, not just the cut ends. This method should provide a more even look when it is dry. You should experiment on scrap pieces of pallet wood first. Try mixing in some natural additives from the table below and see what you think. Your next masterpiece is only a free pallet away from completion!

Pallet Wood Aging Tonic

Base Tonic
Light Finish Additives
Dark Finish Additives
2 cups white vinegar
black tea
1 steel wool pad
green tea
black berry jam
let sit for 12 hours
mix 1-5 tablespoons with base tonic and use immediately
mix 1-5 tablespoons with base tonic and use immediately

Aging Fresh Cuts

Have you ever tried aging fresh cuts on pallet wood planks?

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    • mgeorge1050 profile image

      Alan 3 years ago from West Georgia

      Hi Ann, thanks for your comments. I love pallet projects, but it is getting tougher and tougher to find free pallets around my area. I still manage to round up a few now and then.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      This makes me want to go out and find some wood pallets! Thanks for all the great suggestions. Well done and interesting.