Finding and Using Pallets

You could spend hours on Pinterest looking at all the pallet projects that are out there.  There is no end to the ideas that you could come up with when it comes to this free and easy-to-find resource.  But before you start loading up the vehicle with these wooden wonders, there are a few things you should know.

Where You Can Find Them:  We have had success at finding pallets at WalMart, behind malls (where the deliveries are made), supermarkets and at auto parts stores. Most stores that get large shipments get pallets.  But the bigger stores (supermarkets, WalMart, etc.) will have more at one time for you to choose from.

Look for this logo when gathering pallets for projects.
Look for this logo when gathering pallets for projects. The first two letters are the country code, the numbers will be the registration number given by the Transport Authority. The last letters are the letters you are looking for.

Not All Are Safe:  Some pallets have been chemically treated.  Some have been used to transport toxic or hazardous materials. And some pallets will have started their life cycle in another country, perhaps one that does not have the same standards as we do.  You do not want these pallets.  Look for pallets that have the IPPC logo (International Plant Protection Convention) and stamped letters HT (stands for heat treated), KD (for kiln-dried) or a combo of these two.  DH (dielectric heating) is also fine.  You DON’T want MB (Methyl Bromide) because that’s a chemical treatment instead of being heat treated.  Nor do you want one that has DB (debarked) alone.  If it doesn’t have anything on it, don’t take it.  It might be fine, but you can’t know that.  Pallets marked with EUR alone are not good to use but ones stamped with EPAL with or without EUR is fine.

Not All Projects are Pallet-Friendly:  Unless you are a trained carpenter, pallet wood never really looks…well, finished.  Even when sanded and stained, it will always look distressed and worn. Which is why people love it.  But if you are hoping to renovate on the cheap, just keep in mind, that if “rustic” isn’t your theme, then pallet wood is not the best choice. And don’t use pallets for anything you might eat off of.

They Are Not As Easy As You Think to Disassemble:  Using a hammer and crowbar is painfully slow and not very effective.  You will end up with lots of broken and shattered pallet boards.  It is extremely time consuming and awkward as well.  The most efficient way is to use a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade to cut through the nails where the top and bottom slats and the supports are joined. You need to remove all the remaining nails if they are not flush with the wood and that takes more time. The pieces of wood that all the slats are attached too sometimes have curves cut out of them in order for the forklifts and hand dollies to pick them up.  They are usually hard wood and difficult to work with.  With patience, you can use a jigsaw and level them into a 2×2 piece. One way of getting smaller pieces of pallet wood, is by using a jigsaw and cutting the cross slats on either side of the support struts. Basically, you’re just cutting out the “middle” of the top and bottom slats.  You don’t have to worry about nails and the size makes them very practical for smaller projects.  But if you’re doing something big, you’ll need a lot of them.  Anyway you look at it, it will take a long time.  But it’s free.  And it really does have an great rustic, old-timey, romantic look to it.

They Need to be Sanded:  Pallets are made from compressed or unfinished wood and their sole purpose it to carry loads.  The wood is not sanded.  Wear gloves and safety glasses when handling pallet wood and when considering a project, take into account the time needed to sand the whole thing.

They Are Not Always Free:  If you find somewhere that seems to have loads of pallets, don’t just assume you can have them.  Speak with the management first, explain why you want them and they will most likely allow you to take them off their hands for free.  Some pallets are reused by companies and taking them without asking would be stealing.  For example, we spoke with the manager at our local WalMart and he said we could take the plain ones anytime but the blue ones were the ones they reused.  Other places that have pallets might ask for a fee and they have the right to do that since they own the pallets.

Now that you know what you are looking for and what to expect, go forth and politely scavenge!

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