From ipswichmakerspace
Jump to: navigation, search

Why pallets?

Freely available supply of wood - what's not to like? Usually people will be happy for you to remove their excess pallets, but occasionally they will want to keep them for later collection.

Which pallets

Not all pallets are created equal. Good pallets are clean, reasonably sound wood, and most importantly not strangely coloured - or stamped 'MB'. That means they've been soaked in pesticide and are dangerous to work with, or even burn. Do not collect any such pallets. The ideal pallet has nice long unsplintered planks, with clean, rust-free nails and a good sense of humour.

Very occasionally you will see hardwood pallets - which are usually darker, but very different from merely old or discoloured pine. If the wood seems unusually heavy, and solid to the touch, eg when pressing a fingernail or key into the end grain, you may have an exceptional find. The Makerspace's personal best so far was a Malaysian pallet (rescued by Steve), and made from either Teak or Mahogany.

Breaking down pallets

The first thing to ask is if you need to. Sometimes projects can be built using chunks of assembled pallets, and save lots of time and effort with a few judicious cuts and strategic reassembly! Exhibit A: Woodzilla.

Hammer and crowbars are usually a good choice, or placing a lump of wood under the slats to brace them against the ground, and thumping the strut with a lump hammer, which effectively pulls the nails out.

The ultimate method is a forked pry bar which pries the slats clean off, unfortunately the one Adam built has perished in service and another has yet to be created.

If the pallet is extra splintery and keeps splitting, sometimes it's not possible to save all of it. In this case it can be worth simply sawing the end struts off with a circular saw, and then attacking the middle with wide crowbars and sheer leverage. Use of a reciprocating saw with nailcutting blades can also be judiciously applied; shearing the nails can sometimes be an expedient method of attack.


Check nails that you've extracted, in case they broke off - pallet nails are very prone to this! Either extract the rest or keep that wood well away from anything that can't handle metal. In practice this means only the Mitre saw, assuming it has the correct blade in. When we have a metal detector wand, it must be used on all ex-pallet wood before use on anything else. Some of our hardware is very expensive and breakage due to something easily avoidable is not at all desirable! Do also bear in mind that even nail-safe machines may throw out nail fragments at great speeds, which is also undesirable.

It's worth mentioning that this applies to all recovered wood, not only pallets, and hand tools also; nails and screws will ruin chisels and planes. Look carefully at any holes in your recovered timber, especially around joints or where hinges etc. were attached to ensure that there are no nails or broken screws below the surface. Old floor joists are particularly prone to this sort of contamination and floorboard nails are very substantial obstacles to saw blades.