Pallet wood is one of my all time favourite things to work with. I love creating things out of it and have done quite a number of projects to date.
Although the use of pallet wood is becoming extremely hot property latey, it also comes with some controversy. Before diving into the wonderful world of working with pallet wood, please educate yourself on the dangers as well.
Here are some tips and safety information you should be armed with before carrying pallet wood home for your own DIY projects.
~ Consider what it carried ~
I am fortunate to work at a firetruck manufacturer that always has stacks of pallet wood on hand.
Many of the pallets have been built for the very purpose of shipping the firetruck cartons because of their odd size. Which means alot of the wood is in new condition and has been only used for this shipment.
While that’s no guarantee that the wood is chemically or bacterial safe, it’s far safer knowing it wasn’t carrying pesticides.
~ How to dismantle pallets ~
Pallets are NASTY to dismantle without a doubt.
Pallet crates have to be ripped open to retrieve the contents so I come across a lot of loose boards.
But no fear. Even if you don’t land loose boards, remember you can always saw the boards off the whole pallet if you can work with shorter pieces.
I also look for pallets with straight nails vs twisted. They pound out much easier.
There are special tools you can use to dismantle pallets (google it!) but I use a good crowbar and hammer to get the job done myself. And lots of muscle.
I also cheat and look for loose boards. There’s a bin at a workplace I frequent and when they tear apart crates, they stack them in a box.
This is what I call the magic bin. When I arrived today, it looked like this.
And when I was leaving after my day of work, it looked like this!
~ Remove the nails ASAP ~
The nails on pallet boards are very dangerous. Most are of the spiral variety that makes taking the pallets apart nearly impossible.
So I look for boards with straight or very few nails, or ones I can saw off easily.
But you WILL have to endure removing some nails eventually. It’s possible, but be prepared to work VERY hard for that wood.
Pound and pry. I flip the board upside down and attempt to bang the nail out as much as I can, then flip it back over and pry out the rest.
~ How is it treated? ~
Newer regulations require pallet manufacturers in Canada and the US to treat the wood before shipping. This can be by chemicals or by heat.
The HT on the above board means it’s been heat treated, or kiln dried. This is the safer kind.
If the boards are unmarked, it may be safe but there’s also a strong chance it’s been chemically treated, which makes them dangerous.
Give it a pass if:
- it smells
- looks oily
- is stained
- is extra heavy
- too many twisted nails (not worth it!)
- it looks suspect period
I’ve also been emailed with a story where someone got a nasty sliver which infected them to the point of requiring hospitalization. So, just be picky. Always wear gloves and choose wisely.
~ Beware of bacteria ~
Always be safe and scrub the wood down with bleach and soapy water. Rinse well, and allow to completely dry.
But do remember, wood is porous, so there’s a chance the bacteria is embedded. Just go into this knowing NO pallet wood should be used for food related items, children’s toys nor children’s play furniture. It just isn’t worth the risk.
~ Work safe with it ~
Pallet wood requires LOTS of work, so be safe:
- wear gloves to avoid nail punctures and splinters
- wear safety glasses and a dust mask when sanding or sawing
- store it without the nails. (dangerous!) Pry them out ASAP.
~ Always ask ~
Many places of business that utilize pallet wood actually recycle them. They may use them over again or they get picked up and reimbursed for their return. So before you help yourself to what you think may be free could also be viewed as theft. Ask for permission before helping yourself.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This post must come across like one of those new medication commercials. “Buy me because I’m awesome but you may die if you take me.” You will have no need to worry about using pallet wood if you simply heed the cautions and use it for appropriate projects.
If in doubt, pass on it and head to the lumber store instead. Spending a few bucks on new wood is far smarter than bringing contaminated wood home for free.
I LOVE PALLET WOOD!
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This post was rewritten and updated Oct 2012 and will now be present with every pallet wood creation I make. Please spread the word on working safely with pallet wood and feel free to link to this post.