Tips for Safely and Easily Upcycling Shipping Pallets (For the Skeptics and Haters)

It seems like there are two opposing sides when it comes to crafting with discarded shipping pallets … the fans and, well, the haters. DIYers who love pallets are very vocal about their fondness for repurposing this free source of wood, while those who are not so keen tend to be awfully quiet about their preference. That’s too bad, because if they were more forthcoming, pallet naysayers might find that their doubts and questions are not so serious after all. In fact, they could easily be converted to the pallet-loving camp. Here we answer three common objections to working with pallets.

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Image credit: vintagechica via Flickr

1. Not Wanting to Hassle

One reason many DIYers, especially relative newbies, don’t care for pallets is that they are known as being difficult to take apart. But imagine if you could build a useful, attractive item from a pallet or two without the hassle of dismantling them!

How about one of these easy-peasy pallet projects, for example?

  • Bike rack – Put two pallets together and create a breathtakingly simple solution to declutter your porch or garage.
  • Tabletop — All you need to do is attach legs to the pallet top, sand, and stain. Add some casters, like in the image above, and you’ve got a moveable coffee table!
  • Family message board — Sand the wood smooth before hanging the pallet up as a handy bulletin board. Pushpins are easy to use on a pallet backing
  • Headboard – Anchor your pallet to the wall and decorate with paint or decals.
  • Wall art — Adhere a poster or child’s drawing to a pallet, which serves as a rustic frame. Alternatively, paint or stencil directly onto the pallet wood.
  • Compost bin – Construct a neat and tidy compost bin from pesticide-free pallets.

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Image credit: tobin via Flickr

2. Not Having the Right Tools 

If you’d like to get a little more adventurous with your pallet carpentry skills, here are some suggested tools that will simplify the struggle of Man (or Woman) vs. Pallet:

A purpose-built pallet buster, contrary to its name, takes pallets apart neatly and quickly.

A reciprocating saw fitted with a 12″ construction blade is tough enough to slice right through the pallet wood, nails and all.

An orbital sander smooths down splinters and rough edges, yet is easier to grapple with than the larger, heavier belt sander.

A brad nailer makes it fast and simple to insert nails into tough pallets without splitting or otherwise damaging the wood, recommends Stacey of Addison Meadows Lane, proud owner of the pallet fireplace pictured.

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Image credit: Addison Meadows Lane via Networx

3. Not Being Sure They Are Safe to Use

You may have heard the rumors warning DIYers away from pallet wood due to pesticide or other dangers. It is true that some pallets might be hazardous to your health, but not necessarily all. Follow these simple pallet wood safety tips to avoid risks.

  • Handle pallets or any salvaged wood with care. Whether you’re going off on a roadside scavenger hunt or working with reclaimed wood you’ve already brought home, protect your hands with heavy work gloves. Watch out for splinters and protruding nails … particularly rusty ones.
  • If your gut reaction is “Eww, yuck!” leave that pallet alone. Grease marks, suspicious looking stains, mildew, or unpleasant smells all are nature’s way of telling you to beware. There are plenty of other pallets out there; this one’s not for you.
  • Look out for critters. Pallets that were used to transport food are particularly vulnerable to infestation by pests such as cockroaches or even poisonous spiders
  • Keep safe from dangerous chemicals. Check for the two stamps, which show that the pallet you’ve got your eye on hasn’t been treated with toxic pesticides: first, IPPC (International Plant Protection Convention), and second, HT (heat-treated). DIYready recommends avoiding any pallets that say MB, which suggests the wood was treated with harsh chemicals. No stamp at all indicates a pallet that was used domestically only and is probably safe … emphasis on probably.
  • Take a tip from professional carpenters: Use a breathing mask when you cut or sand any type of wood to avoid inhaling tiny particles or pollutants.
  • Unless you’re absolutely sure the pallet you’re working with is clean and safe, reserve it for outdoor projects only and keep it away from your veggie garden or compost pile.

By Laura Firszt, Networx.

54 comments

Jennifer F
Jennifer F2 years ago

Cool ideas here! We also used to use them for kindling in our wood burner.

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Rose Becke
Rose B2 years ago

Great ideas

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sonia Minwer Barakat Requ

Thanks for sharing

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Erika Acosta
Erika Acosta3 years ago

Thanks

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Cela V.
Cela V3 years ago

tyfs

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mrs m.
Linda M3 years ago

Thanks, but I don't think I'd use them for anything without worrying where they'd been.

I did create a beach plank design on one wall in my hallway--and it looks great. I added some beach frames, etc., I'd had stored for years. Not recycled wood, though.

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H M.
H M3 years ago

Everything sounds great, but I'd only use that bike rack if I stored bicycles in the basement or another locked building. Thieves could take the bikes otherwise.

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