Upcycling pallets is probably one of the most ‘in’ things just now. Sometimes you can tell things started life as a pallet, but often they are just used for their wood. A bit like scaffolding planks they are very versatile. Easier to maneuver, but not as strong, they require more work to prepare. You can buy dismantled pallet boards, but this post aims to help with some of the basics of pallet preparation.
The first thing to bear in mind is the dizzying array of options. Free pallets may sound good, but if you have a mixture of age, type and quality, sometimes it can be hard to build something coherent. I aim for the Eurolight (EPAL) pallet as the utility pallet I use to pull apart and build things. I can source from Oxford Wood Recycling good quality pallets for £2. The cost is insignificant when you consider the quality and quantity of wood for projects they provide. My foundation pallet for structures, such as compost heaps are Euro (EPAL) pallets. Much hardier, I would not waste my time trying to take apart these beasts. They are solid things and you can buy for £3. You need to watch out for pallets that might have carried chemicals or be treated with such. I always avoid the blue ones.
While I typically source and buy decent pallets for specific projects, I jump at any chance to scrounge, and delivery drivers often seem delighted to leave them. They can on occasion be useful. If not, I use them for firewood – except for the blue ones.
Below from the left; EPAL Europallet (strong and great for structures), unknown pallet (I avoid using), blue treated pallet (I avoid using), EPAL Eurolight pallet (great for pulling apart for timber), stamp on the Eurolight pallet and finally stamp on the Euro pallet.
There as an art form to pulling apart a Eurolight (EPAL) pallet. This will save time, blisters, splinters and ensure planks do not crack. The first tip is to accept you cannot get all the wood you would like to get out of the pallet. When you work to what the pallet provides, it is easier. For projects like planters they are built using both the maximum long, medium and short cuts from a pallet. While my bin store is built around the planks I could remove and those I could not remove. I was going through a stage of not wanting to remove any more nails, so the bin store was entirely built around the pallet.
First, the tools. You can buy a pallet removing tool. I use a crowbar. I started with a hand saw but have also used a circular saw, and recently acquired a Bosch nano saw which I use all over the garden. Finally, a hammer, pliers, and of course some gloves.
I start by lying the pallet flat with the side with the most planks on top. The four easy to remove central planks are then popped off with the crowbar. This will leave the middle and two end planks on one side. It will be the same on the opposite. If you try to crowbar off these planks they will most likely split. I therefore use a hand or power saw to cut as close as possible to the blocks and create twelve small planks. I do the same for the remaining three cross planks.
Sadly, it means you only get four long planks. But I use the twelve medium planks and six short planks for small planters, bird houses and other things. It also minimises wastage with split planks and the number of nails you need to remove.
Finally, the worst job is removing the nails from the four long planks. I have tried cutting the nails, or even straightening, to reuse on the piece of wood. Both are lazy options, and you are best removing with a hammer, pliers and gloves. The leftover nine blocks can be used to prop stuff off the ground to keep dry, or I use them in the log burner. The entire pallet has a use and is upcycled — except for some nails. I have looked at what I could do with these nails, but I am yet to figure anything out! All ready for your next cool upcycled project?!
You can watch a video below from my YouTube channel on which pallet to use (part 1) and how to get the most wood out of your pallet (part 2).