Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pallet wood
Pallet wood is one of my all time favourite things to work with! But some risks come with it. So… is pallet wood safe to use?
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pallet wood is inside this post, including what to look for, what to avoid, how to prep, etc.
What I’ve made with pallet wood
Enhanced pallet wood tool shelf for a workshop
Pallet wood hammer organizer
pallet TV stand with soda crate drawers on floor
pallet wood walkway – boards are deeper than most pallet wood
Pallet wood sawhorse blog office desk
the 2 full pallet chair – easy to make!
Where I store my reclaimed wood (workshop tour)
As you can see, I love building with pallet wood! And of course, the price is always right.
Although the use of pallet wood is becoming extremely popular, using pallet wood for home projects also comes with some controversy. Is pallet wood safe? Or not?
Pallet wood is originally used to tote around possibly toxic stuff. And being that wood is porous, how can we tell if pallet wood is safe or should be avoided?
The good news is, there are some ways to lessen the chances of picking up bad wood or at the very least, choosing appropriate things to make with the wood you do find.
Here are some tips and safety information you should be armed with before carrying pallet wood home for your own DIY projects:
Let’s make sure the pallet wood you bring home IS safe!
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Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pallet wood
Consider what it carried
I am fortunate to have worked with 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 firetruck parts because of their odd sizes. Which means a lot of the wood is in new condition, and has been only used for this shipment.
So is pallet wood safe? There’s really no guarantee. But pallet wood carrying dry goods is far safer than something that was pesticide infused.Avoid: Pesticide carriers (green houses, etc) Contaminants (gas, grease, etc)
How to dismantle
While some projects can utilize the pallet as a whole, if you ever wish to harvest the pallet wood planks on their own, be prepared to break out into a sweat. Pallets are NASTY to dismantle without a doubt. Especially those with twisted nails.
I personally come across lots of loose wood as seen above from those that open crates.
But not everyone is as fortunate. There are some devices that can help you get the job done, but no matter which route you go, it will require effort:
How to dismantel a pallet:
- Jigsaw or sawzall / saw just shy of the nails to harvest shorter pieces
- Crowbar and hammer. Someone strong will be needed.
- Make THIS tool out of woods craps! A farmer showed me how and it works amazing!
Remove the nails
Now that you’ve dismantled the pallets, make sure you remove each and every nail.
Leaving nails in boards is an accident waiting to happen. Do not store with nails intact.
I search for boards with straight or very few nails, or ones I can saw off easily.
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.
Cut the wood right off the pallet just shy of the nails if you can use the planks for shorter pieced projects. So much easier!
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, they may be safe, but there’s also a strong chance it’s been chemically treated, which makes them dangerous.
Give it a pass if:
- the wood smells
- it has an oily appearance
- shows unexplained stains
- appears extra heavy in weight
- too many twisted nails (not worth 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 when handling pallet wood and choose wisely.
Beware of Bacteria
Chemicals are one thing, but bacteria is another.
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 is 100% safe.
Never use pallet wood for:
- food related projects
- NO veggie garden fencing or near a garden compost
- children’s toys
- avoid indoor use where possible
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.
Metal rack dumpster find HERE / Workshop reveal HERE
So are all pallets free? Or is it true some have to pay for them?
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, this could also be viewed as theft.
Always ask for permission before helping yourself.
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The warnings in this post Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pallet wood may come across a little like a medical commercial…”Buy me because I’m awesome but you may die in the process…”
But if you heed the advice suggested in this post, you won’t have to worry about using pallet wood in your projects… as long as you select appropriate wood for appropriate projects of course.
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!
For additional inspiration, visit:
Please use pallet wood at your own risk.
How to take apart pallet wood with this easy tool you can make!
226 thoughts on “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pallet wood”
Ha I love it! Yes I have pounded out the nails and it does take a lot of work. Your a genius when it comes to pallets.
U. R. Amazing. I’ve always eyed pallets because I love wood, but wasn’t sure what I would do with them. Now, I can hardly wait to find my own stash! U. R. also inspiring! Thanks for all the great tips and ideas.
we where able to get some pallets a month ago now and hubby has made an adorondaic chair, a planter for a grapevine, a three tiered vegetable garden. i have made a sign using palets and tiles. and we still have plenty left. i am loving all of your ideas.
Well after looking for months, all of sudden palettes are coming my way too. But always to complete kinds, so I have to do the dismantling myself. I wonder if your palettes are the same as ours Your wood seems to be sturdier and the newer kinds here don’t have cross beams anymore but rather pressed wood blocks.
But I see some palette wood projects in my future. If I only had your speed, they will take me forever.
i’ve got to show my husband this post – he has a hugh pile of wood just like yours. recently he made me an art cupboard out of old facade boards that he found on the side of the road – with all the different paints flaking off – it is a work of art. isn’t junk such fun – the possiblities -i need to go junking again soon!
Question…..Do your neighbors love you as much as we do?
Our son is now claiming the pallets at work for his momma, and I couldn’t be happier. And for the pieces that are too wonky for use, we burn in our wood furnace.
Wow Donna it sure helps to work where you do AND to have a truck. Pretty lucky! I am a sight trying to stuff a crate one day into my Hyundai…. didn’t fit and had to leave it there…
I think the safety of the wood is major! I made a pallet table and I was thinking about the dust (after I was finished) and that I should have really used a mask! Who knows what was in that dirty, old, dusty pallet. Thanks for the great story!
Love pallet wood! Now that winter is over maybe I will get more. We are hoping to build a treehouse next. Oh, and wood is just as dangerous at the big lumber stores. I got bit by a spider at one going thru their wood and had to go get antibiotics. Yuk! So be careful in ALL wood, no matter where you are at!
I thought we had the market cornered on it actually, as we routinely hit up the big box home improvement stores for pallets to use in our storage barn.
I’m certainly looking at pallet wood in a new light today!
I am so glad you did this post on being smart about pallet wood. Many are also treated with pesticides that can be dangerous and can outgas inside the home if brought inside but have no real odor you can detect. I love pallet wood but it needs to be used with caution.
Perhaps this is an odd question, but I’ll ask anyway because I don’t know the answer: would puttig a finish or several coats of paint make pallets safer to use as a table in doors?
Hey Victoria, any protective coating would most certainly make them safer, especially around food and potential of splinters. I use pallet wood indoors myself and don’t go to all that trouble.
The pallets would probably really suck up the paint, so a primer would really help, unless of course the shabbie chic look is what you’re looking for. I personally love that look. Rustic is my favourite. Most importantly, just have fun!
I spied some pallets sit out on the curb the other day and yes I called hubby and pleaded with him to stop on his way home and grab them for me. Boy am I glad he didn’t see this post 🙂 He spent the better part of a Saturday dismantling these pallets. I’ll claim it’s b/c he wanted to!
He will be building my potting table for the backyard. I’ve almost convinced him that I need a cute little garden shed. So for us this pallet wood will remain outside, but it is really good to know what to look for with treated wood.
Congratulations…great haul! You have made some incredible items! I just saw two large sheds made from pallets! Who knew?
Good for you, way to recycle and reuse.I love everything you make.You could also sell some and make some $$$$~Cheers Kim
Thanks for the tips! I’ve seen several projects like this and have wanted to make use of pallet wood. I’m still trying to convince the hubby that it’s worth it. He’s more of a “let’s go to Lowe’s and get what we need” kind of guy. However, the money isn’t always there to do that. We have two pallet companies not too far from us that we buy their cant(sp?) ends from in the winter time to burn in our wood stove. Maybe we can find some broken pallets for building also. Maybe I’ll show the hubby this post and he will see what wonders can be made out of pallet wood. Thanks again!
Hi Donna! I read your spread in Romantic Homes! Very,Very COOL!But of all your projects that desk is still my favorite, oh and I still cant forget those stairs! I have a little stash of wood in my building, my hubby works in the commercial HVAC field and he is at construction sites and brings me home stuff that they dont want or use any more.I cant wait to see what you do with your stash Donna!
Hah! I’d have picked the oak up first, but that’s just me! You have inspired me to use pallets, and I intend making raised vegetable beds this year from the. Thanks for the info re whaat they might be treated with, I was thinking of putting some housewrap or something between the wood and the soil, now I will make sure to do so!
This is an awesome post, because I have five pallets sitting in my front yard thanks to our current patio project. I told the BF that he has to save the pallets (he likes to use for firewood) cause I have a few projects in mind. He works at a lumber yard, so has no idea why I want to save these “ugly” pieces of wood. Not to mention the uneven grains, stains, and holes (the more “ugly” the better!). Good tips for the nails though, thanks!
AH, this was a much needed read for me. My husband gets tons of pallets for his products and I always stand and ponder “how does Donna manange to make that wood look so awesome???” Now I feel more educated and hopefully I can come up with something cool to make with pallets now that I am not as afraid(not AS AFRAID,lol). Thanks for the tips and excellent post Donna!
great find. outstanding tips. I see pallet wood all the time and I never thought about it being contaminated. Thanks for sharing
My hubby gets lots of pallets, but won’t let me touch them! He’s such a snob! I love what you have done with them though. Your projects are inspiring. I may just have to sneak some home. I wonder when he is going out of town again….