Preparing For Pallet Panel Making This Weekend

I ran out today and scavenged some pallets with my father-in-law. He knew of a good spot near his old pre-retirement job that always had lots of pallets. There weren’t a ton of good ones but enough to fill the back of my truck again. Now that I’m learning where to look I’m starting to think that craigslist might not be the best place to find pallets. It is an excellent place for finding lots of free stuff but it seems that a lot of businesses just toss them out back and hope the garbage man picks them up. There were piles like this one here and there throughout the industrial park we visited this afternoon. Just be sure to ask permission before freeing pallets.

My plan is to stay home this weekend, get caught up on a few things around the house, and knock together a few pallet panels. As I worked on the tiny free house last weekend I found that it’s best to screw 2x4s onto the open ends of pallets before putting them in place. It makes them stronger and give you more places to screw them together. To get the 2x4s I’ll just bust up odd size pallets, use the 2x4s for augmenting my good wall pallets and the slats for exterior siding. I expect to make another pallet run or two before the long weekend is over. As I build these pallet panels I’ll photograph them so you can see what I mean.

More Pallets

I’ve found I can fit about 11 pallets at a time in the back of my truck. In fact it almost seems like Honda designed the bed of a Ridgeline to hold 11 pallets perfectly. I’m also noticing that craigslist may be not such a good place for finding pallets. The main reason is quality. A lot of the free pallets on craigslist really aren’t salvageable or are people with just a small handful of good pallets. The high price of gas also has me thinking that it makes more sense to get a full load instead of a few at a time.

My wife Julia has gotten really good at spotting pallets as we drive down the highway and has noticed a lot of busiesses with piles of pallets in their warehouse yards. I think I’ll give dialing for free pallets a try tomorrow and hit up some of the local businesses. I’ll also keep my eyes open for free pallets on craigslist but focus on people with 11 or so to give away.

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.