Upcycling Pallets

I’ve been reading a lot lately about clever people turning wood pallets into creative projects. It makes sense; many pallets are not reused, but destined for the landfill; might as well use that wood for something. It makes good sense especially here on this island. Locally made rocks, we have (c’mon, it’s a volcanic island!) but 2 x 4s, not so much. All of our milled wood for construction projects has to come by barge, so repurposing pallets into something usable has a certain appeal.

I picked up three pallets the other day, with several projects in mind and enlisted the help of my 15-year-old to dismantle the pallets. While some people are doing this with pallets:

This upcycled potting bench made from a pallet is available at Chicweed.

This is what I got:

pallet, upcycling, garden, reuse

Cracked and broken pallet plank

Taking pallets apart is not as easy as one might think. Someone in the pallet manufacturing industry decided that pallets should be built with a strange hybrid of a nail and a screw. You can’t pull ’em out with a claw foot hammer because of the threads, and there’s no backing them out with a screwdriver or drill because the head is flat like a nail.

After fighting to remove the boards without cracking them for an hour, we gave up, got out the circular saw, and just cut off short lengths.

12" lengths of board salvaged from pallets

So, the bad news is, I won’t be making a potting bench or Adirondack chair out of pallets anytime soon. The good news? I have a plan for those short lengths. Stay tuned!

Have you successfully reused the wood from pallets? Do you have any pointers for me? Is there an easier way to get them apart?

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  • We’ve had the same experience trying to dismantle pallets. I’m curious to see what you come up with for your short lengths!

  • I have broken up pallets in the past for fuel for the wood stove, but that probably doesn’t count. Will be interested to read the uses your readers come up with.

  • That potting bench is SO COOL. Sorry it wasn’t so easy. Maybe firewood is the way to go with these pallets. But I say try again!!

  • That potting bench is cool. But I’d probably be using the pallet for firewood too!

  • Toni Hiner ,

    What about using a “sawz-all” type saw to cut the nail/screws?

  • My DH picks up piles of them (advertised on craig’s list) for free all the time, but we most often use them as supplemental firewood … so I’m not sure he cares if they don’t come apart well. I’d have to ask.

  • I just doubled checked with MR DIY around here, and he said that these “ringed nails” are designed NOT to come apart easily. He added that your solution of cutting the boards and just using the middle is what he would do too.

  • sarah henry ,

    I’ll be curious to see what you wind up making with the short boards. Good on you for creative recycling.

    • joy ,

      Short wood is great for bird houses, feeders, wall shelving, wall plaques, etc. 

  • merr ,

    I’m a huge fan of turning recyclables into art or something functional. There are opportunities all around for this – sometimes I have to stop myself….we don’t have enough room!

  • Ulyn ,

    If the nails are actually threaded like a screw, here’s a suggestion: Using a Dremel or something similar, with basic blade that will cut into metal, just cut a slot in the top of the the nail and turn it into a flat-head screw. Coincidentally, this works great on stripped screws as well. I had to do this to remove a storm door recently, which had been mounted using nail/screws similar to what you’re talking about.
    But if they’re Ringed Shank Nails, even this wont really work, as a true ring shank has completely circular wedges instead of spirals.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Wow, that’s a brilliant idea! Thanks!

  • gareth ,

    I have a Cargo Cycles pallet dismantling bar, and there really isn’t an easier way to manually strip wood pallets other than using one of these bars…. see their video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipQLy-0Pfag

    You can contact them at cargo-cycles@live.co.uk

  • aimee ,

    Here is a link to a video demonstrating how to take apart a pallet.  i haven’t tried it yet, but it helps to see the process.  looks like a lot of hammering and a lot of patience.


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