Puzzling Over Pallets

I’ve begun collecting pallets and breaking them up into usable pieces of lumber. A few people have commented here on the challenges I’d face using pallet wood like dismantling them. I’ve had a little experience with pallets so I knew what I was in for… and truthfully that’s part of the fun of a project like this… finding ways of overcoming the challenges.

Pallets are very hard to pull apart because they use staples or nails that are extremely hard to pull out. They tend to have textured surfaces (like spiral groves) and having been assembled when the wood was wet often have a very tight grip on the wood. With hammer and crow bar in hand I started into my first pallet just to get an idea of what I was in for.

After about 30 minutes (go ahead and laugh) of hammering and prying in 100 degree heat I went inside, got a big glass of water and started looking on Google for better ways of busting up pallets. I found many people who prefer the tried and true hammer and pry bar technique I was using. Some reported 30 minutes per pallet to do it right. I found a few people who swore by hack sawing through the nails. Then I looked up ‘commercial pallet dismantling’ and found this video of two guys running pallets across a special band saw that cuts through the nails. Speedy!

After processing all this I decided the best way to do dismantle pallets for my tiny free house is to saw the slats as close to the 2×4 rails as possible. This way I only have to pull or cut the nails on the center 2×4. I loose about 3 inches of material on each end of the slats but the ends tend to be damaged anyway so no big loss. Then I’ll cut through the remaining nails on the 2x4s with a reciprocating saw. This technique seems to get the job done quickly, with limited waste, and gives me what I need to build.

The 2×4 will still have embedded cut nails but that will be fine; I’ll just need to drill carefully when I’m ready to run pipe and wire. The slat boards end up fairly clean with freshly cut ends and only a couple of nail holes in the middle. The whole process is fairly quick too.

The 2x4s will become the framing and the slate boards will become the exterior and interior surfaces. I’m planning on using the slat boards for every surface, the floors, walls (interior and exterior), ceiling, and roof. To keep things as air tight as possible I’m considering using a router or saw to tongue and groove the boards. I know that sounds extreme but I’m going to give it whirl. With a little construction adhesive and a few good screws this should make a tight shell. I’m still noodling over how to handle finishing surfaces in the wet areas and floor. The pallet wood will be the base but I may still use some kind of water proof material in the bathroom.

The framing is still a bit of a concern. The 2x4s are about 36 to 42 inches long which requires framing differently than normal. Since the wood is free I don’t mind using more except the tiny free house has to be light enough to be build on a reasonably sized trailer.

5 thoughts on “Puzzling Over Pallets

  1. Wayneburg thanks! Excellent link. Ironically the other great info on building with pallets also came from shed builders in the UK. Seems what might be a novel here may be old hat there. Cool.

  2. Here’s one more link.


    Looks like they aren’t disassembling the pallets. I guess they are putting them up and then putting plastic sheeting inside them. Thought you might find it interesting.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Did you find anyplace near you that has the special band saw? It looks like a pretty costly tool. I wonder how much they charge to dismantle the pallets.


  4. I did find some commercial pallet recyclers in the Sacramento area but I’ll probably just use circular and reciprocating saws. It will take a little more time than you see in the video but it will still be much quicker than breaking them apart with a hammer and crowbar.

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