Give Pallets More Than a Glance

Give Pallets More Than a Glance

By Lindsay Kirkland

At a glance, wood pallets are ugly, cheap wood that most people would not see any value in. Oddly, that’s really the appeal of them. They’re essentially Legos for adults because they can be turned into just about anything with minimal effort or skill. 

It’s also about upcycling and using materials that are already out there for new and creative uses. You can usually grab them for free from old warehouses and shipping areas. Since most pallets are about the same size, you can find directions online and get to building something without really knowing anything about woodworking.

Where do you find the best free wooden pallets that are safe from pesticides, chemicals, and other toxic ingredients?

Here are some of the best locations where you can get a quality supply of free wooden pallets:

Feed and Tack Supply are one the best places to get used pallets because their pallets are typically made from soft woods and carry nontoxic animal food supplies.

Residential Construction Site typically carries cement, felt paper, and joint compound – all nontoxic materials. Always be sure to ask the builder before you take from a residential construction site and avoid commercial construction sites as they may have toxic pallets in their possession.

Landscaping Companies have quality hardwood pallets that are used to support the weight of all-natural plants, shrubs, and sod. Avoid colored pallets though because they may have been used to carry fertilizers.

Newspaper Delivery and Distribution Centers usually have heavy-duty, four-way, hardwood pallets. Always ask permission.

Hardware and Lumber Store always have pallets but be wary of which ones you take. Some lumberyards and hardware stores carry toxic pallets that may have been chemically treated to prevent corrosion, or accidently sprayed with spilling chemicals when loading or transporting.

Prepping a Pallet

• Hammer, Pry Bar, and Cat’s paw and a block of wood are all you really need to break apart a pallet without damaging the surface of the wood.

• Nail Punch: Using a nail punch to drive rather than pull the nails free can be the preferred method on stubborn ring, screw, or spiral-shanked nails. 

• Oscillating Tool: By loosening up tight planks with a pry bar first, you can expose the nail shank to the cutting blade of an oscillating tool and make quick work of rusty nails.

• Drill: When the above methods won’t work and you’re stuck with a nail that won’t budge, you can always use a metal drill bit and drill to remove ancient pallet nails.

• Clean Cut: Last but not least (and if all else fails) you can quickly cut the pallet planks and leave the pallet ends and nails still attached to the stringer.

Cutting, Shaping, Sanding, and Finishing Tips

After all the hard work of finding and breaking down your pallet pieces, you’ve still got to cut, shape, sand, and finish your materials before they are ready to be assembled into something new and fantastic. The easiest way to get your pallet projects started off on the right foot is by shaping, sanding, finishing, and cutting your materials prior to assembly.

Because pallet materials are unfinished, they can be pretty rough – rough enough to cause a few painful splinters. But it’s also their rough nature that makes them so appealing, and sanding down to a smooth surface often takes away the look of a pallet’s natural state. 

When cutting and shaping pallet materials, it’s often wise to avoid making cuts near nail holes, splits, or cracks in the wood. As wood ages on pallets, it shrinks. This makes the wood more susceptible to splitting and breaking during a cut.

Always be sure to sand your pallet materials in an outdoor setting and avoid breathing any dust by using a respirator. Dust and debris from sanding a pallet may contain traces of toxic materials from shipping spills, even if the pallet was never used to ship poisonous products. 

Pallet projects can range from creating an Adirondack chair to an outdoor garden bed. There are thousands of ways to upcycle a pallet into a piece of furniture or work of art. Creating an upcycled piece of art or furniture from a pallet is the perfect way to reuse wood that would otherwise be thrown away.