What You Need to Know to Safely Build With Pallets

ECOS 02/12/2016

If you’re interested in DIY projects, then you've surely seen projects made out of old wood pallets. The single best reason to build things out of  wood pallets is that it's a free resource for decent wood. They can be found near factories, industrial centers, grocery stores, and anywhere else that handles a lot of shipping. Often you can pull into a parking lot and there's a sign pointing to a stack. (If you're interested, make a note of it and grab some before it's gone!). Wood pallets are a free load of lumber waiting for you to haul away and make into something amazing, but there are a few things you need to know to safely build with pallets. Here are 5 simple facts to help you create something for free (mostly) that you can feel good about upcycling into your home!

Wood Pallets Are Not Always Safe

Pallets are used to haul anything and everything, so they could have some nasty toxic chemicals on them. Ask questions about what they've been used for. Skip them if they seem questionable. They're also manufactured in different ways, and not all of them are safe to reuse so check out this guide from 1001 Pallets. Most that we've seen are fine for building, but we know we have a lot of chemically sensitive readers, so we always err on the side of caution.

They're Surprisingly Well Built

Why does this matter? Because you have to pull them apart without breaking all the lumber. This is probably the thing that people are most surprised about when they do their first pallet project! It can take as long to get them apart as it does to build something. Using a hammer and pry bar will work, but a reciprocating saw (also known as a sawzall), is the quickest way to cut through the nails. Always wear safety goggles and follow all safety precautions of the tools you're using! If you're planning on making a lot of projects out of pallets, we recommend you buy one.

Pallet Lumber is Very Rough

Most furniture made from this material has a rustic look to it and that's a part of the charm of it. We appreciate that look, but if it's something you're going to sit on, touch regularly, or have kids around – it will need to be smoothed out (no one likes splinters). So, here’s the second hardest thing about building with this lumber – you need to sand and sand and sand. We recommend using an electric orbital or belt sander to cut down on sanding time. Remember while you're sanding – you got the wood for free so it’s worth putting a little extra time into to getting it smooth. (Always wear a mask and safety goggles!)

Start Simple

You may need a new platform bed, and you’re itching to get started on that project. But before you pick up ten pallets and fill up the garage, think about doing something a little easier first. Just to test the waters. A coat rack, a simple bookshelf, or something that holds tools in the garage are all good first-time projects. Conquer something small and then go big.

How to Finish

After you've built your piece, you can finish it however you like. Any of the ECOS Paints’ stains and varnishes or paints would be excellent finishes because they're incredibly durable, zero-VOC*, and no odor**. Since pallets are made out of many different kinds of wood, you might not be able to predict how it'll take stain, so test it in a few different areas. If you choose to paint, we would recommend priming first, but it all depends on the finish you want to achieve. If you want it to have more of a worn, rustic look, then you might want to skip the primer.

*Conforms to CDPH 01350 (VOC emissions test taken at 11, 12, & 14 days for classroom and office use). Learn more about VOCs and our commitment to healthier paints here. **No traditional paint (polyurethane) odor, which can cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory issues.

Wood pallets are an amazing, eco-friendly, affordable resource that can be adapted into an infinite amount of projects. We see more and more wood pallet inspiration every day.  We see the appeal environmentally and aesthetically, just please use our tips to safely build with pallets. 

And, please let us know what questions you might have in the comments below. We'd be happy to help find an answer!

CATEGORIES wood pallet furniture|wood pallet ideas|wood pallet projects