The Wonderful World of Pallets

Methods to take apart pallets

A post by Orchard Husband

I love the versatility of pallets. I looked around to see if there was a guru on making almost anything from pallet wood; and while there are hundreds of sites that have “80-100 uses for pallets” I didn’t find any site dedicated solely to making fine products using free pallet wood.

A week or so ago my wife asked me about upgrading out kitchen. One of the upgrades was building a sort of wall using reclaimed pallet wood. Sort of like this. So, the first thing you have to figure out is where to get your pallets. Pallets can be had for free at most places, try your local hardware stores, the one where we live has a designated area where they stack pallets and anyone is welcome to grab what they need.

Once you have a nice stack* of pallets (*do or/don’t go overboard, there is a lot of wood to be had if you grab some good pallets with plenty of boards on them, you can always use the pallets for other projects). you need to separate the deck boards from the stringer or blocks (depending on the design of the pallet) as the pallet wall will consist entirely of deck board. Now, there are a lot of ways to do this, some with varying degrees of difficulty.

Pry bar method:

I did this back when we lived in Japan, as I provided the firewood for a couple bonfires at the beach we went to. I could only fit two good size intact pallets in my station wagon, but if I broke them down into the individual deck boards and stringers I could usually get around seven to eight pallets worth of wood in the same space. Since I was using this at the beach I had to remove the nails, so this method is a pain. You can find 100s of videos on you tube, and if you are going to use pallet wood for a wall I would not recommend this method as I splits about 99.9% of the wood.

Leverage with 2x4s:

I saw a video where some guy was using a couple of 2x4s, placing them adjacent to the deck board they wanted to pry up on each side and using it to lift the wood out safely and without breaking any of the wood. I had moderate success and moderate failure with this, for a couple reasons.

How can you be successful with this method? You need to have a pallet with good spacing where you can even get a 2×4 or whatever size wood you are using to pry the deck boards off with. The deck boards have to be in pretty decent condition. And the extra boards you need to make your fulcrum have to be pretty long or they’ll just slide and cause problems.

How can you fail miserably with this method? Use a pallet with weathered deck board, or boards with minute cracks and the they’ll just shatter when you try to lift them up. if the deck boards are too narrow to put your levers in, it won’t work. The wider the prying tool the better. I tried to use a couple tamping bars and they just shattered the wood.

So, if the pallets are in decent shape and have enough spacing you can recover the deck boards pretty easily with little to no damage. You’ll just have to hammer out all the nails.

Pallet break down tool:

I didn’t actually use this method, I just saw a couple videos on youtube, and it’s basically the same principle as the leverage method. but you weld some metal bars together along with your handle (the longer the better), place the slots in between the boards and pull up, and the board come out.  I think this method would work pretty well, and if you were going to be doing lots of pallet projects I’d invest in building one of those tools.

Cutting with a reciprocating saw:

I ended up doing this method on 98% of the boards we ended up using. Lots of youtube videos showing you how to do this method. but a few takeaways I have. Invest in a 10-12 inch all purpose blade. there are going to be pieces of wood and widths where it’ll save you a lot of time and effort. Also, to leave the nails in or not. Some people say it gives the deck boards character, and if you want to leave them, be my guest, but some of them are a little loose and it’s best to just remove them. One youtube video I watched talked about using a nail punch to remove them. I just used a nail and I’d tamp out the bits and pull them out with a claw hammer.

It is also nice to have some sort of tool to separate the wood a bit for the deck board pieces that don’t have any gaps to put the saw blade in between. It should take a couple seconds to go through each board if you are hitting the nail only. If it takes any longer than that, you are sawing through wood and I’ve heard of people that have killed their reciprocating saw breaking down pallets.


After you have your wood just sand and stain, but I’ll leave that post to my wife to explain.


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