DIY Pallets: Become an Expert

Want to impress your friends at your next dinner party with the handmade coffee table that looks like it was put together in the mid-19th century? Do you want your poker buddies to applaud your rustic, creative touch that nobody knew you had? Wouldn’t you love for the ladies at the book club to gossip about your chic decorating style with your new wine rack and bed frame? Well look no further than your local recycled pallet! The plethora of blogs, guides, and instructional videos coupled with the cheap or free price of broken recycled pallets gives a stylish alternative to overpriced designer furniture or decoration kits.

In this article we will take look at a few aspects of DIY pallets that will turn you into a bonafide DIY pallet expert:

Where to look for pallets

Where NOT to look for pallets

Cautions when building pallet furniture

Workarounds for these cautions

1) Where to find pallets to recycle

Industrial business parks. Most creative pallet projects call for only a few salvageable wood pieces to complete the piece of furniture, and so it should not be difficult to find a few good pallets to complete that requirement. Not all recycled pallets have boards that are fit for reuse, so it may take more than just a couple full pallets to reclaim the number of boards that are needed. Occasionally, manufacturing businesses will set pallets outside that have no value to the company but still may be useful for crafting repurposes. Some companies leave a pile of pallets outside the property with a “Free Pallets” sign, or the pallets may be left on the lawn. The most likely place to find these pallets is the back of the property where other broken or unusable pallets are piled for a recycler or an employee to take home for their campfire.

It is important to take a close look at each pallet before you take it home, because a pallet that has been sitting in a pile outside of a loading dock or at the back of a parking lot could easily collect the inhabitations of that natural environment. These inhabitants may include but are not limited to the following: bugs, rodents, pets, droppings of various kinds, etc. Pallets that have been left outside may also have possibly been in the pile for a few years. This length of time may imbue the pallets with other various and sundry substances unfriendly to the hearth and home.

Craigslist: Think from the prospective business owner or facilities manager at one of the companies mentioned above that uses pallets but does not have a consistent outlet by which to discard them — they likely do not want pallets cluttering their premises but they also do not want to pay to throw them in a dumpster and get charged with a dumpster fee because of the increased garbage volume. These companies would be more than happy to give pallets away to an enterprising pallet furniture-making artisan, and Craigslist is a natural way to market these pallets. Many business that generate pallets will want a commitment from whomever will recycle them to take every pallet, even the odd ones, and to do it on a semi-regular basis. This may or may not work for the enterprising palleteer, so be aware of this before approaching a company with the intent of recycling their unusable pallets.

2) Where NOT to find pallets to recycle

Pallet Recycling Companies: It may come as a natural thought to call a pallet recycling or pallet manufacturing company to obtain some pallets to dismantle and repurpose into the object d’art of your choice. After all, the pallet company has thousands of pallets, and they won’t miss one or two, right? That may be true, but pallet recycling companies do not run their businesses with the intent of running a retail operation out of their recycling facility. They may employ salespeople, but the salespeople are devoted to delivering wholesale amounts of pallets to pallet users and recycling truckloads of pallets from companies who generate recyclable pallets at a much larger scale.

Box retail stores: Companies like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Home Depot, etc. generate large quantities of empty pallets that sit in piles behind the store. It may seem as though these pallets are free game for anybody who would take them, but that is not the case. Many mid-sized to large retailers collect their unusable pallets and consolidate them at a regional distribution center to then sell in truckload quantities to a pallet recycler. These companies have corporate policies in place to guard against pallet entrepreneurs take a few pallets here and there for their various uses. There have even been some cases where a company called the police because a few of these pallet thieves walked onto the premises and took pallets without the company’s permission.

3) Cautions when building pallet furniture

Wood splinters: Recycled pallets have been used before, because by definition, they have been recycled. The longer that a pallet dries out, the more easily it splinters and spreads splinters everywhere.

Bugs: There are numerous government agencies that function as pallet police to keep manufacturers from putting their product on a pallet and sending it around the world with invasive species having burrowed into the wood and spreading their kind to other countries who do not have these bugs. These government agencies mandate that any pallet leaving the United States must be heat treated to kills pests that may burrow into the wood. You can watch a short informational video about that HERE. Most pallets that are on the side of the road may include bugs that have burrowed into the pallet and could crawl out at any time.

Other contamination: It is impossible to know what products a pallet has been used to transport throughout its useful life. Some industries utilize large quantities of pallets for applications that would not be friendly to a “living room” application. Some manufacturers process raw meat which spills onto a pallet before the pallet is repaired and used in a completely different application. There are also lawn and garden care companies that put chemicals on a pallet that may spill and soak into the wood, contaminating it for any future use.

4) Solutions to these cautions

Wash thoroughly: If you find a pallet on the side of the road or reach out to a company via a site like Craigslist, do a thorough job spraying down and / or washing the pallets before reassembling the pieces into the particular art fixture you aim to construct.

Purchase heat-treated lumber: Most lumber retail stores sell lumber in the same dimensions as pallet lumber. Home Depot, Menard’s, and Lowe’s have bundles of wood with an “HT” stamp on each piece that has been heat treated in order to kill any insects from making their homes in your future couch’s frame. Be sure not to purchase “Green Treated” lumber — that lumber may kill any bugs in the wood, but it also would be dangerous to resaw and recreate into furniture because of the chemicals with which it was treated that would be released into the air.