We all like to spend our money wisely when purchasing wood, and saving money buying wood means we can end up getting more wood if we spend wisely. 
One of the first kinds of woods that many people think about as being inexpensive, or free in many cases is Pallet Wood. That is wood that you can acquire from picking up free, discarded pallets, which are available pretty well everywhere worldwide.
I have extensive knowledge in acquiring pallets and breaking them down with my involvement in a business plan for commercially making and selling, inexpensive, rustic Pallet Furniture. As part of the business plan, I needed to "prove concept", which involved acquiring the wood and building some sample furniture. What you will read in this article is the information I quickly learned about working with Pallet Wood

Watch it on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/X-OZsgJ4sic

What I discovered in working with pallet wood is that just because something is free, doesn't mean it's not inexpensive to use ...  

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 Acquiring Pallet Wood
The first thing I discovered is that acquiring pallets in the first place is not as easy as it sounds. I remember driving around from time to time and "seeing pallets everywhere". Then I found that when I actually got in my truck and drove around to try and find them, they were hard to find and here's why. Often when I would find one it was already broken, or it was so old it was rotting. Many pallets were numbered or painted and these are "out of bounds" because they are sent back and re-used, and anyway, who wants pallets that are painted, just more work to get paint off. When you find pallets that are usable,  you need to ask permission to take them. This alone can take some time, finding the office and the correct person to ask. I found this part quite time to consume. 
In the end, it takes much longer than you would think just to go out and get pallets.

wood pallets

Loading and Transport
Pallets are not easy to handle. They are big awkward pieces that don't fit nicely into a truck box, which means you can't transport that many at a time without some serious tie-downs. You need to make sure you are not putting your back out lifting and stacking them. They are heavy and full of slivers so you NEED to wear good leather gloves and having help would be an asset so you don't stain or put your back out.

What You Get
After you have arrived back at your shop and start looking at your wood, you will really start seeing just what you brought home. Pallet wood is among the worst wood in the world ... because it's used for pallets and it's the cheapest wood the pallet manufacturers can find. It is the discarded, discards from the sawmill. Pallet wood can come in any thickness from about 3/8 to 3/4 inch and pretty much any wood you can name. The wood is almost always knotty, very often splits all the way through the board, edges are often uneven, chipped or shredded so bad they need to be trimmed off. Boards are warped and or twisted and EVERY end that is nailed to a cross member piece is split and needs to be cut off.  The wood will contain nails, sometimes screws and sometimes both. Most pallets will have "hidden" parts of nails somewhere in the wood so you will need a metal detector wand to carefully scan every board for metal within the wood, and if all that isn't bad enough, the worst is still to come ... gravel and rocks embedded in the wood. Remember, these things are meant to sit on the ground or parking lot, with some weight on them so there is always a certain amount of gravel, dirt, and rocks embedded in them.

Reclaimed Pallet Wood

Breaking Down the Pallets
Be prepared for some more hard work here, especially depending on what nails they used and how long the nails have been in the wood. Often manufacturers will use spiral nails or nails that are ribbed or coated to make sure they do not work their way loose during transport. This means that pulling nails from pallets is seriously hard work. In many cases nails will break or head will come off and if you are dealing with screws, the heads are worn or filled with dirt and nearly impossible to get a grip on. You will not need to go to the gym after you have broken down a few pallets. 

In more recent years other methods of breaking pallets down have emerged, like using a reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade, one pallet is not to bad to break down but by the time you get to the second you are once again into a 'work-out stage" so skip the gym here too. I have seen, but have not had the opportunity to use any of the pallet breakdown wrecking bars that are now available, but my guess is that although these will help, it will still be a bit of a work-out.

Making Boards
In the end, the whole purpose of acquiring and breaking down pallets is to end up with usable boards. Almost all pallet wood is rough so it will likely need to go through a joint and a planer. To ensure you are not destroying expensive jointer and planer knives you will need to scrub the front and the back of each board with a wire brush to get off any embedded dirt, gravel and rocks. When this is done, depending on how the wood looks, you may even want to use a paint scraper on both sides to ensure you are not going to nick or damage you machine knives. There is little point in having to replace $30 - $120 for a jointer and or planer knives on "free wood". Of course, using the joint and planer will give you nice straight flat boards but you will lose the patina of the pallet wood. 

Table saw use in terms of safety is the same as with any other wood, but now you also have to worry about damage to expensive carbide saw blades, again, who wants to destroy a $40 - $120 Table saw blade on free wood. For all cutting of pallet wood, even if you have used a metal detecting wand, I still recommend using the Freud Diablo 7-1/4", 24 tooth, circular saw blades for cutting pallet wood. they are construction quality blades and have been designed to cut nails from time to time during the cutting process, and these blades will fit in your circular saw or in your table saw and are much less expensive than 10" table saw blades.

In the end, there is a LOT of wasted wood when using pallets and LOT of sweat-equity in making usable boards. For smaller projects, and for someone who has the time and is intrigued to try using pallet wood, it can be an experience and will give you new insights into the value of lumber and the effort that can go into making usable boards from otherwise waste materials. 

 Footnote - You can check out the details of the hand cleaner I have been using here - Twinnco Products - https://www.twinncoproducts.com/

An innovative subscriber from Tunisia is providing a service of providing pallet wood in his area, check out his Facebook page which he has kindly provided ... well done Iheb

Copyright - Colin Knecht

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