Many, many years ago I worked next door to a business that sold ceramic tiles that they imported from all over the world. Of course, these tiles came in on pallets, and sometimes there were some exotic and gorgeous woods that they used. Yes, it was still not very good wood, but some of it was salvageable.
Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/EJhxFfQ0DQ8
Today, unless there is something extraordinary wood in a pallet, I leave them where they are, but I get tons of questions about using pallet wood which is what triggered this video.
The pallet I am using in this video was found out on an old logging road and has been laying on the side of the road exposed to rain and sun for a few years. Long enough that the wood has turned a beautiful barn-wood grey, and of all the wood around my area, this wood is probably the hardest to find, which is why the pallet ended up in the back of my truck.
Like most pallets, the wood is terrible, chipped, cracked and what is worse, many of the boards are twisted wood. This is wood where the grain starts at one side of the board then flows across to the other in a diagonal angle. This is the worst wood you can get because it splits horizontally.
Some of the biggest problems with pallet wood is that pallets by their very nature a laid on the ground and moved around with forklifts. This means they almost always have little rocks and grit embedded in the wood. These little rocks will ruin your jointer and planer knives in no time. At the very least they will put etching marks in the knives, at the worst you will hit something that gouges the blade beyond re-sharpening. Then you have ruined a $40 - $50 $80 ?? blade for some "free" wood. If you happen to hit nails, or other bits of metal that can be hidden inside some of these pallets, you may be ruining a table saw or miter saw blade. This is when a metal detector can pay for it'self (see below).
I learned long ago that if you want to preserver as much as the wood as you can, and make it easier to disassemble the pallet, the best way is to cut off the edge and leave the edge nails in place. Prying up the boards often damages the boards even more, and in the end, the boards will all be so badly split on the ends they need to be trimmed anyway, so why not do that in the beginning.
Once the ends are cut, to release the boards they need to be either pried or cut from the center cross member. The easiest way, that does the least damage to the boards is to use a reciprocating saw with a blade that has carbide teeth, they are a bit more expensive but are well worth the price because they outlast the cheaper blades by many times their value.
If you are going to do any amount of work with used and reclaimed wood, it will important to have some sort of a metal detector. This is one of the smaller ones, it takes a bit more time to scan the wood but for infrequent use, it might be all you need.
Here is a sampling of the wood that managed to salvage from that pallet. The pieces on the right are all scrap of barely usable wood.
The wood I salvaged was Fir, that is 5/8" or slightly less. After figuring out the board feet and what the market value is for fir, I appeared that I had about $8.00 worth of wood, but bear in mind if I bought that same wood from the hardware store, it would have been MUCH better quality, kiln-dried and no nails or rock embedded in it. I could also have purchased some "green" lumber direct from a local mill which would have cost me about $6.00 of the same amount of wood.
So for all that work, that's the amount of "free" wood I got.
These are the kinds of defects you often don't see when you first pick a pallet, chips out of the side. But worst is the twisted grain in the lower board. See how that grain in only 14" or so flows from side to side of the board, If you cut the board it will fall apart. Twisted wood is the worst, it doesn't even make good firewood.
And there is my mini wall of salvage Barn-Wood ...
Most pallets will be salvaged from somewhere outside and depending on the weather, they will almost always need to be dried. If you don't have a moisture meter, this is one crucial tool that every woodworker needs. This Wagner meter is an excellent choice for the money.
This image links to the Amazon Store for more details on the Wagner Moisture Meter 950
Pallet wood is one way of getting lumber, but it's not free like we all think, even just going out to try and find pallets can eat up a lot of gas and by the time you get home, the amount of usable lumber can be surprisingly low, especially if you are a bit selective in what you pick, still, there are some pallets out there that can give you some decent wood, with a bit of sweat equity and time to let them dry properly.
Copyright Colin Knecht