We recently discovered a fantastic new source of wood for building products: pallets. We saw a mountain of these at the landfill. Apparently it is easier or cheaper to discard pallets than to reuse or recycle. We were surprised at the huge amount. It is no wonder we pay so much for goods. Pallets cannot be low cost to purchase (I saw some online starting at $28 each). It will be great to divert some away from landfills and create unique items.

A mountain of pallets at the landfill
Pallets at the landfill

The first step is finding pallets, if you cannot remove some from your local landfill. A quick search on Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji will unveil loads of free pallets local businesses are willing to part with. We found three places near us and at the first one, we loaded up 20 pallets. It was definitely enough to start exploring working with pallets.

You will discover with using free pallets there is a limited selection of the types of wood used and the shape these are in. For a more rustic look, older pallets will usually have a grey finish and often have cracks and/or live edges. This is preferable to some projects. You will also find a mix of soft and hard wood. Just remember if these are free, you cannot be too fussy.

Next, we had to learn the best way to disassemble each pallet. This is unnecessary if you are using the pallets whole for some projects. We wanted each board separated to provide us the most versatility in what we chose to build. We researched different methods of taking pallets apart online. Some were quick and easy, others were more labor intensive. Again, depending on how you use the wood will determine which is the preferable method to use.

An old pallet
An old pallet

For a quick way to tear the pallets down, you can use a reciprocating saw. This powerful tool will cut through the fasteners and separate the boards swiftly. You will probably dull your blade after doing this on four or five pallets, because of the metal fasteners. Once the boards are separated, keep in mind that the fasteners are still in the wood. Do not use these boards on any of your power tools. The metal fasteners embedded in the wood will ruin blades, drill bits and sandpaper. You can remove the fasteners manually, but after cutting these with a reciprocating saw, these are very difficult to remove.

An alternative method is to separate the boards with a pry bar. Although much more laborious, this will leave the fasteners intact and you can use a nail puller or other device depending on what type of fastener is used (usually staples, and sometimes screws). I learnt two important things using this method through trial and error. Be very careful when prying the boards apart. The wood is very dry and brittle and it will crack easily. Also, be sure to check the wood carefully afterwards. If the pallet was recycled, it is often separated using a reciprocating saw, and there still may be fasteners in the wood. You can usually see the stubs visually. You can also use a magnet to identify hidden metal objects in the wood.

Pallet wood ready for projects
Pallet wood ready for projects

Pallets often have identifiers stamped or painted on for various reasons. For crafting, there are two important identifiers to look for. The first is the letters HT. This is put on pallets to inform the user that the wood has been “Heat Treated” to ensure the wood does not contain any bug or bacterial infestation. Pallets cannot be used for international shipments without this identifier. It means the wood will be safe for use in a project. This does not remove the possibility of the wood containing mold. Look the wood over for white spots or other unusual appearances. Do not use if there is mold. Do not store it with other wood, as the mold can spread.

The other identifier is MB, which stands for “Methyl Bromide”. This indicates the wood has been chemically treated to remove insects and disease instead of heat treated. Methyl bromide is hazardous to the environment (it was banned for use in the European Union). Avoid using pallets marked MB. This type of pallet is being used less and less, as shipping companies switch to pallets made of other materials not requiring chemical or heat treatments.

You will often see the identifier DB too. This means the wood has been debarked. There are no risks associated with this identifier.

The skies the limit on what you can do with pallets. Search pallets on Pinterest or Google along with words like crafts, furniture, or décor. You will be amazed at some of the ideas people have come up with.

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