Breaking Down a Pallet

Every few weeks, Brad very lovingly asks me to clean out the garage.  And here is why:
The garage... please don't judge me.
There was once a time, very very long ago, that our garage had nothing in it.  It was quite the accomplishment.  I even remember posting in my facebook status that we were able to park BOTH cars in the garage and that I thought it was pretty awesome.  But, that was a time before I discovered power tools and had about 16 projects going on at one time.  (Like the 99% finished media center sitting in the middle of the floor for my friend Judy that I just can't bring myself to do the last coat of poly on.) At this time, I also feel it is important to add that the garage is my "man space".  Brad has his "man space", which is his home office, and I get the garage.  I feel that is fair.  I try not to complain when his office is a complete mess (other than when people are coming over and going to walk through it), and he really does try not to complain about the garage.  Except when it looks like this.  Which is pretty much all the time. One of the many things I have going on in the garage is my stack of pallets.  The problem is that I've always had about a million things I've wanted to do with them, but I have never settled on an idea.  So, they've sat in the garage for probably about 9 months collecting dust.
Piper is helping to investigate.
I think I realized just how long they had been sitting there when I started going through the pallets and realized there were spider webs on them.  I guess this was a bit past due, huh?

So, I decided to be proactive and clear out a super tiny corner of the garage by breaking down and prepping the pallets for their new projects.

The first thing to know about pallets, is there are different ways in which they are treated that differentiates them between being harmless and full of nasty chemicals.  Any pallet made before 2005 was treated with methyl bromide, which is super dangerous.  Those pallets should really just be thrown away as it's not even recommended that people touch them with their bare hands.  The way to know is that the pallet will have a stamp on it with the letters "MB".  The harmless pallets are heat treated and have the stamp "HT".  These are perfectly safe to use in any capacity including food and planting.  Luckily, mine are both safe and begging to become a new building masterpiece.

Getting started, I whipped out the jigsaw and started cutting the boards that were in good shape in between the 2x4s, careful not to cut into a nail.

As I went through, some of the boards were really bad and splitting.  I just skipped over those as there was nothing I could do to fix them.

I never keep the 2x4s as they are just too full of nails and usually are in really bad shape.  While I hate to be wasteful, I always throw that part away along with the bad pieces of wood.

The dead pallet skeletons
Once I was done cutting all of the pieces of wood out of the pallet carcass, I was left with this beautiful sight:
The spoils
From there, I used what I believe to be the most underrated power tool in the history of woodworking: the planer.
My Hero
Yes, it is completely huge, bulky and difficult to move around, but it's pretty amazing.  I consider it to be my "vanity" tool.  It's not something that you necessarily need, but it really helps out in situations like this with rough lumber.  For outdoor projects, I always buy rough cedar and plane it at home rather than buying the expensive stuff.  The thing has paid for itself in lumber costs.  You can also get a small hand planer that's a lot cheaper, but it's a lot more difficult and time consuming to hand plane rather than just feeding your lumber through the awesome bench top planer.  (Which literally feeds itself once you put the end of the board in there.  Genius!)

Planing is sort of like exfoliating for your wood.  It takes off the top layer of all of the gunk that's been built up and beat up.  I'll still need to sand it down once I get my project together, but this does a lot of the work for you.
Pallet board pre-planing
Pallet board post planing. Ooh... pretty.
Once the planing was finished, I used my miter saw to even out both ends of each board.  Since I was definitely not precise with the jigsaw when I was removing the boards from its skeleton, I had some seriously weird edges that needed to be removed.

Once the last board was cut, I had several very nice stacks of pallet wood just begging me to be used.

And, sadly, just as important, I now have a very small hole in the garage that I can use to fill up with other stuff.  It's still a disastrous mess, but I feel it's an improvement.

I'm not 100% sure exactly what I'm going to do with the wood yet.  Lots of ideas are being tossed around, most prominently are my ideas regarding this structure that I found on Pinterest a few months ago by Deesawat:

via Deesawat
That might totally have to happen.  Just saying.  Vegetable garden, anyone? Also, on a completely different tangent - does anyone else build in their slippers?  This is a terrible habit I've gotten into due to comfort and/or laziness.  It's kinda safe, right?  They count as closed toe shoes...?

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13 Replies to “Breaking Down a Pallet”

  1. You are amazing!!!! I’m getting really interested in palette projects!!! Thanks for the info on which ones are good and which ones are bad…I didn’t even know LOL!!


  2. I like your writing style. Very friendly, breezy. You make it sound like an easy task to clean up the pallets. You also made me want to get a planer. thanks

  3. That’s an awesome planter/bookshelf gibber pictured. Would like to see your finished “pallet” project. By the way, your garage is not cluttered just a few things out of place. lol

  4. Hi Shane,

    I found your site via the amazing Ana White. OPD is a great resource in its own right. Thank you for all your efforts :).

    Question: Do you run all your construction grade lumber (2×4’s, 2×6’s, etc) for furniture projects (like the Madison Dresser for instance) through your planer to clean them up or do you just sand them before painting?


    1. Thanks, Mark! Ana certainly updates more frequently than I do ;-).

      I do run quite a bit through my planer. For outdoor projects, I purchase rough cedar and plane it myself to save money. Sometimes the pine 2x4s that I purchase are also a bit rough so I run them through as well. For the most part, the 1x boards that I get from my local lumber yard are perfect as-is. It really just depends on the quality of wood when I get it.

      Good luck with your future projects!

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