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What type of wood are most pallets made from? Are they worth the trouble - removing boards, removing nails, etc?

  • Some are oak and worth salvaging, assuming you are planning to use pretty rough lumber. It is difficult to dismantle them. It would take a shop planer to make decent dimensional lumber, and with the boards being so short it just isn't worth it... – Jimmy Fix-it Oct 27 at 3:30
  • Check how they are treated also, "HT" is Heat Treated so no pesticides. – Polypipe Wrangler Oct 27 at 3:36
  • Check out the Woodworking sister site for a number of Q&As about working with pallet wood. After disassembly, there's still a high chance for encountering nails which can damage expensive blades - use caution!! – FreeMan Oct 27 at 11:04
  • ...and even if there aren't nails there are nailholes which can't easily be filled and even if filled would be stressraisers hence weak points. – Mark Morgan Lloyd Oct 27 at 11:39
  • Several decades ago I had a friend who happily took packing material used to ship expensive items from Japan. Turns out it was rainforest hardwood, and he used it with great skill to make some wonderful furniture. Not normal pallet material these days... – Jon Custer Oct 27 at 15:28

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It depends what "worth it" means, because I would say it's much like other hobbies or activities that one can do. Is it worth it making your own candles? Your own quilts? Your own tri-level deck out back? That's something a stranger can't easily quantify.

Economically, unless your time is really cheap (eg. you're young/old), it's not worth it from a materials standpoint. You can expect to spend 10 mins on a board in aggregate, after pulling nails, hand-sanding, sorting, and dimensioning. That's if you have basic tools. A planer would cut that down, but that's an expensive piece of gear, and pallet wood "surprises" can drive up the consumables cost of planer operation, negating some of the savings.

Locally, I can buy a new 1x4 that's a couple pallets long for $4. So the labor cost of one hour of work (6 finished boards) would be $12 if you replace lumber. The lumber would be in much better shape though, so consider that. If you want crude and cheap, a 1x3x96 "furring strip" is only $2; or $6/hour for comparable quality.

Money aside, it can be a fun limitation for advanced woodworkers, a cheap/free source of material for hobbyists or crafters, or the only source for those with limited means. The resulting creations are a class of their own; a pallet-wood ____. It does generate some "bragging rights" if you have something really nice that you got "for free" or "upcycled" or "rescued", depending on the type of bragging you need.

I would say that if you want the challenge, go for it, but if you just want cheap wood and don't mind "character", use furring strips.

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    Another value metric is waste; if you care a lot about avoiding waste, then buying new wood when you have pallets around would go against that value. Same thing for if you enjoy re-purposing things for style or other intrinsic reasons. Pallets and pallet wood can easily be re-purposed into rough fence posts or into 'rustic' table furniture, e.g. a TV stand, coffee table, etc. – TylerH Oct 27 at 13:41
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    @TylerH I'd disagree in many cases, as long as the pallet is in good condition (which you'd want if you were trying to recover the wood for reuse) and is a standard size (or at least close to a standard size). Pallets are something that are routinely reused. There's also a market for used pallets. If the pallet is in decent condition, it would be far better to reuse it as a pallet, rather than someone having to purchase a new pallet where a used one would work. – Makyen Oct 27 at 14:06
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    @Makyen the scope here of course is personal use/waste. This is all under the assumption that you are not in the pallet buying/selling business, but just a homeowner who had, say, a pallet of pavers or 1x4s delivered for a patio or fence project, respectively. Even if the pallet is in fine condition... what are you gonna need a pallet for again? Unless you own a forklift (which most people don't), the answer is "nothing". Not to mention if OP needed to use the pallet again as a pallet, they wouldn't be asking this question in the first place. – TylerH Oct 27 at 14:52
  • "a fun limitation for advanced woodworkers" ? Was that a typo? – UuDdLrLrSs Oct 27 at 15:10
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    Yes, there will be times when reuse as a pallet just isn't an option, although I've definitely had times when I wish I'd used even a pallet in poor condition under stuff I'd put in storage, as doing so would have saved the items from being destroyed by water seeping into the area. I'm not trying to say that one should never breakdown pallets and use the wood, just that reusing the pallet as a pallet should be strongly considered. Selling it as a pallet may even net you enough money to buy wood which is more useful for what you desire to use it for. – Makyen Oct 27 at 15:16
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Recovering the wood itself is likely "not worth it". However, wooden pallets are already processed into a usable structure. Why destroy it?

Some quick Googling reveals many projects people have made out of wooden pallets themselves. That's likely the best use of them rather than thinking of them as sources of recovered lumber.

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TLDR: In addition to the time to dismantle the pallet, consider the possible chemical treatment of the wood and possible contamination from previous use.

Wood pallets can be chemically treated to make them more durable. Several online sources provide information about how to determine what kind of treatment the pallet has undergone. Here's a nice summary of how to read the markings with pictures. Here's another one. Or in text:

Markings to look out for include MB, which indicates that the wood has undergone treatment with the toxic chemical methyl bromide. A pallet may also be unsafe if it has the letters EUR but not EPAL as well. This is because it is an older code, meaning that you can’t be sure what it has been treated with, and it is on occasion when a safe marking (EPAL) overrides a potentially unsafe EUR marking. Associated Pallets UK

The lifespan of a shipping pallet is 3-5 years. This means that if you are recycling a pallet, it has seen many many uses prior to arriving with you. I was unable to ascertain whether pallets mainly stay in the same industry or whether they can be used by different industries in their lifespan, but even if you think the pallet comes from a "safe" industry, there may be contamination risks. For example, E. Coli in food industry pallets.

Finally, in addition to sourcing your pallets carefully, think about how the pallet wood will be used. Avoiding direct skin contact, food contact, and other high risk uses can go a long way to mitigate risk.

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    Methyl Bromide is a gas at room temperature, and has a boiling point of 40F. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromomethane That means there shouldn't be any of the stuff in the wood. E-Coli isn't going to survive on dry surfaces very long, and there's almost certainly more of it on your kitchen table than there is on a pallet. It's also perfectly safe unless you somehow put food on something freshly contaminated with e-coli, and don't cook it. Which you're unlikely to do with a pallet, and any e-coli are likely long dead anyway. – Steve Sether Oct 27 at 15:18
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  • Yes, and it's perfectly fine unless you got the pallet from an industrial waste supplier. – Steve Sether Oct 27 at 15:24
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    @SteveSether I am only repeating recommendations that I have seen elsewhere. Good to know that they might be exaggerated. I did a google about the concentration of Methyl Bromide to look for more evidence and found very little about any risks. In terms of the E.Coli, the study linked found E. Coli present in 10% of pallets tested (out of 70, so a small sample). That said, I don't think E.Coli is a major worry. I site it as demonstration of unknown-unknowns when working with pallets that saw industrial use. – Cecilia Oct 27 at 15:36
  • Indeed, it's only certain strains of e-coli that are unsafe. E-coli exists in pretty much all mammals guts all the time. With live in a fear culture where risks are exaggerated by the media so they can sell our eyeballs to the higher bidder. – Steve Sether Oct 28 at 1:59
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TL;DR

What's stopping you from dismantling one? You will quickly formulate an opinion of whether it's worth it or not.


Pallets are usually held together with nails that have a barbed shank or rings which provide impressive holding power. Getting even a single board off is an impressive feat.

You can save yourself considerable headache if you just run a circular saw along the outer joist to avoid nail pulling and then you'd just be left with the center joist.

enter image description here

If you insist on pulling the nails from the outer edges then you'll run the risk of splitting or breaking the wood; lots of risk for minimum reward. Besides, the ends are usually first in line to be damaged before you ever get your hands on the pallet.

It's really nothing more than a Pinterest fad that should subside as the wood itself is fairly worthless. I also have suspicions that the fad was started by planer companies looking to sell more blades.

I've seen plenty of "DIY Pallet Project" videos in which the person uses dimensional lumber so naivety is preyed upon as well.

If you have time on your hands, a good system for pulling off the boards, and plan to use the lumber as-is (rough) then you'll certainly save money assuming you don't value your time or can sell the product for enough profit.

If you plan to plane it, sand it, and finish it then at least make sure the pallet is oak and not pine because you'll want something nice to come from your labor of love.

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    A fad designed to sell planer blades. Wow... I love the cynicism! And wouldn't be in the least bit shocked to find out you are correct. ;) – FreeMan Oct 27 at 15:45
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I'll also mention that pallet wood can be chemically treated to prevent rot, so it may not be suitable for all applications. You'd never want to use chemically treated wood for any projects that will touch food, like a cutting board or a raised garden bed. Some pallets will have a stamp on them that gives information about where the pallet came from and how it was treated. Pallets marked with "HT" are heat treated and don't have these harmful chemicals, but you'll want to steer clear of pallets marked "MB", which are treated with methyl bromide. There's also the issue of what was originally shipped on the pallet, which could contaminate the pallet with unknown chemicals or bacteria.

Whether pallet wood is worth using or not is a personal decision, but there may be some risks due to how the wood was treated and what it might have come in contact with. These risks can be mitigated by learning more about the origin of the pallet wood, and using the wood in appropriate (non-food, outdoor, no-touch) applications.

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enter image description here

This is an alternative POV

Pallets are for shipping and bonfires.

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  • Not really an answer, but you just made my day! – Jeffrey Oct 29 at 15:52
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I'd say no. One Halloween we were going all out and making a lot of decorations. My wife brought home some pallets. "Look what I got - free wood", she said. Well, sometimes free is a high price to pay. We decide to build a mock up of an electric chair. What a giant pain in the you-know-what to pry those pallets apart. Like one poster said, the have spiral-shank or ring-shank nails into usually oak wood. I'll never make anything out of a pallet again.

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It's certainly possible. Famously, Bob Taylor made top-grade guitars from pallet wood. In his case, as the link says, the point wasn't to prove that the wood was any good - it was for bragging rights to prove that he was just that good at making guitars.

Does that mean the resulting instruments were better than one built with proper tonewoods? Not so much. Those guitars are collector's items, but only because of the story behind them, not because they're the best playing instruments ever.

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Pallets will end up costing you quite a bit of money in the damage to your tools. They’re loaded down with dirt from being loaded and dragged across the ground, both inside warehouses and outside. There’s nothing that dulls a blade faster than dirt and grit, not even metal when you accidentally forget to pull out one of the nails. Dull tools are extremely dangerous, so I would never recommend repurposing pallet wood.

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It depends on the pallet.

Some pallets are made from absolute garbage wood, junk from day one, then are used and reused for many shipments. They have been cracked up by tons of cargo, bumpy rides on trains and trucks, abuse from pallet jacks and fork lifts, and are destined to be ground up for mulch pretty soon. Those are not going to be good for much.

On the other hand I've seen literally tons of pallets salvaged. Lots of times it's just a convenient source of scrap for nailing cleats, improvised shelves, etc. But some pallets are made to be used one time to ship very expensive cargo, made from great wood. I have seen hunting blinds and even sheds made almost entirely from wood salvaged from big pallets.

I have even seen some pallets from imported industrial equipment that were made from some exotic wood that looked really nice and was very durable stuff, but had a strong odd smell. The person that tried to salvage it got a rash on his forearms after cutting and handling it. Maybe there are poison ivy trees used for pallets somewhere in Asia.

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Never one to refuse something for free I collected the pallets the local printing shop stacked outside. I sorted through the pallets looking for the cleanest wood slats. I found (2) species of wood used mainly in pallet construction: poplar and oak (not sure red or white), both hard wood species and used in furniture shops. Most of the top slats were approximately 5/8"T x 4"W x 48"L. To dismember the pieces and remove the fasteners I found a reciprocating (sawzall) saw with a 18TPI blade made short work cutting through the nails. Usually 6 nails per slat. Saving several pallets and reaping 4-5 boards per pallet I quickly stocked-piled enough wood for many projects (owl boxes). Cutting-up a pallet is quick (15-20 minutes). Removing embedded nail heads with a nail set is easy, but a bit tedious (about 5 minutes per 48" board). Most boards need to be sanded 60 through 120 grit depending on your project. You'll find some boards more mangled than others depending on where they were located; the bottom slats are rasped along the ground when pushed by a forklift while the top boards are more likely to be in better shape. I actually enjoyed the complete process of 'harvesting' pallet wood. My time invested was never a factor as I believed I was turning wood destined for the landfill into something useful. Just a heads up: many companies have to return their empty pallets to get the cash deposit back from the merchant that shipped whatever goods on them. They are usually marked with a green or blue etc. color. Have fun!

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Pallet wood is often treated with harsh chemicals for preservation and longevity. I would not recommend using them for furniture or anything you will be in close contact with. Definitely not garden beds, even burning them releases toxic fumes and the ash is toxic too!

However with that being said, it IS decent free wood that can still serve many purposes, from fences to siding, or outdoor decor. You would have to spend the time to clean them up a bit. Removing the nails is a breeze with a reciprocating saw and metal blade.

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