If you’re like everyone else, you’ve seen what’s capable when a handy person gets their hands on a pallet, and you’ve been dying to create some of your own DIY pallet furniture.
The first step to making these budget-friendly pieces is to take apart the pallet though, and it’s a step that overwhelms many.
Pallets come already built, so learning how to disassemble a pallet is all part of using this unique material source.
How do you take apart a pallet, though?
The steps for disassembling a pallet are basically working in reverse to how it was built. Armed with the right power tools, you’ll need to cut through the nails so they weaken, pull the wood planks apart, and then remove the leftover nails from them.
With the remaining planks, you might need to sand and clean them, to prepare them for building.
Although it can take some work to disassemble a pallet, it’s essential for DIY projects, and what makes this such an affordable and readily available material to work with.
We’ll show you how to take apart a pallet from the very first step of sourcing quality wood, so you’re left with the goods to make your DIY dreams come true.
- 1 Tips for Sourcing A Quality Pallet
- 2 The Best Tools for the Job
- 3 The Steps to Take Apart a Pallet
- 4 Things to Be Mindful of With Pallets
- 5 Related Questions
Tips for Sourcing A Quality Pallet
Before you can start to rip into a pallet, you’ll need to make sure you have the right one.
Pallets are used in shipping and warehousing and they come in many varieties, including the type of wood they’re made of and what products they were used to house, so not all of them are going to be suitable for building furniture.
- If you don’t already have a pallet, check with local businesses that sell and ship dry goods and ask them if they have any available for purchase. You’ll want to avoid pallets that have been used for food, as they’re usually treated with chemicals that make them dangerous to use as furniture.
- Don’t expect the wood to look perfect or like something you’d find in a furniture store. The appeal of pallet wood is that it’s rustic and budget-friendly, and this means it could be discolored and slightly damaged.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a range of pallets to choose from, think first about the type of project you’re working on. Choose a wood that best suits the design and will blend in with the rest of the décor, whether it’s inside or out, and find one with the least amount of damage.
- The best size of pallet for making furniture is 48 x 35 inches and this is standard. With this size, you’ll have enough wood planks to make most projects, with some room spare for errors.
- Check the pallet for stamps that indicate whether they’re been treated with chemicals. Choose pallets with an “HT” stamp as this means it’s heat-treated, and avoid those with an “MB” stamp which indicates it’s been fumigated with Methyl Bromide and is dangerous for human use.
The Best Tools for the Job
With the perfect pallet in hand, it’s time to arm yourself with the right tools for the job.
To make the process easier, you’ll want a combination of power tools and hand tools, as each will come in handy for this job. Gather up your equipment before you begin so that you’re not searching halfway through for what you need:
- Reciprocating saw (corded or cordless)
- 12” blade for the saw
- Pry bar
- Nail set
Safety is of major importance when you’re building any type of furniture, but especially working with pallets and having to take them apart. You’ll need durable gloves, protective eyewear, thick boots, and a dusk mask to keep the wood particles and dust away when you start up the power tools.
Can You Take Apart a Pallet Without Tools?
The easiest and fastest way to disassemble a pallet is by using power tools, but if they’re not readily available to you, there are other options. There are two methods you can use without a reciprocating saw that will still get your pallet apart and ready for use in your DIY project.
Wooden Wedge and Hammer
If you’re without many tools but happen to have some spare wood wedges laying around, you can use these as leverage just as you would with a pry bar.
Wedge the wood in between the planks of your pallet and hammer it in hard until it creates a space and can be pulled off. This prevents the hammer from doing too much damage when you hit the pallet directly, and is better for older or damaged wood.
Pry Bar and Rubber Mallet
A pry bar and rubber mallet can be used in conjunction with the reciprocating saw, but if you’d rather no power tools were involved, they can do the job on their own.
Insert the pry bar in between the planks and use the rubber mallet to hit the end until it wedges in and gives you the leverage to need to separate them.
The Steps to Take Apart a Pallet
For those who’d rather work with the ease and efficiency of a power tool, the process of taking apart a pallet is simple. Follow these steps to turn your unused pallet into a source of quality wood, ready for whatever DIY project you have in mind.
- Position the pallet so it’s standing on its end and the nails are parallel to the ground. Start the reciprocating saw and start at the top of the pallet, cutting through the nails positioned in the side supports of the wood slats.
- Work your way down slowly to the bottom of the side supports, cutting through the nails as you go. You should be able to tell the difference between cutting through a nail and when the resistance changes if you start cutting through wood. If you sense wood, stop cutting immediately.
- Check the saw blade’s teeth to see that they’re still sharp before moving onto the next part.
- Turn the pallet over and start again on the other side. This will prevent the blade from touching the ground when you reach the bottom and make it easier for you to cut.
- With both sides cut, you can now pull apart the 2 x 4 support planks. This should be easy enough to do by hand but you can use your pry bar if needed.
- Finish off by cutting the center support plank that’s still in place, using your reciprocating saw. Pull the remaining planks off when the nails have been cut. If the wood feels weak or it’s not coming apart easily, use the hammer and pry bar to gently remove the planks from each other.
- With all boards lying flat, work through each one to remove the nails from them. This can be done with a nail set and hammer, banging the broken end of the nail through the plank of wood. Once the nail head has come through, use the claw end of your hammer to pull it through and dispose of it safely.
- Prepare the wood as needed. You might choose to plane or sand it, paint it, or coat it with a lacquer finish. Allow it to dry thoroughly before building your next project with it.
Things to Be Mindful of With Pallets
Taking apart a pallet is easy enough, but any time you’re working with an unknown material or using power tools, there are always risks involved. Consider these things if you plan on using pallets to make furniture for your home.
- Pallet wood may not be as durable as other types of wood as it’s already been used and is made of cheaper materials. Work gently with it to prevent damaging it, including when you take it apart.
- If you’re unsure about the safety or structural integrity of a pallet you’ve found, avoid using it.
- Make a rough draft piece of furniture with pallets to get an idea of their strength and how much they’re capable of before creating something for use in the home.
- Check the country of origin when looking for a plank and stick with local planks that have been assessed here in the USA to guarantee their quality.
Pallet furniture is a fun and practical way to get good quality furniture without spending big. There’s a lot to know about how to prepare the pallet wood before you start the job though, so don’t rush into it blindly.
We’ve answered some FAQs about pallets and their assembly to give you an idea of what’s involved, and to give you a push in the right direction.
Can You Use a Jigsaw to Take Apart a Pallet?
If you’re limited on power tools you might look to something like a jigsaw to help you take apart a pallet.
However, a jigsaw is better left for jobs like curve cutting or cutting from the inside of a piece of wood, which makes it better for use once the pallet has been taken apart with a reciprocating saw.
Is Pallet Wood Dangerous?
Some people avoid using pallet wood to create furniture as they believe it’s dangerous for human use once it’s left the warehouse.
While some types harbor harmful bacteria or have been treated with toxic chemicals, it’s easy enough to find safe pallet wood by doing your research and asking the important questions before you take a pallet home.
How to Tell If a Pallet is Treated?
Sometimes, the wood used to make a pallet is treated, which prevents it from things like fungus or pest infestations.
To tell whether your chosen pallet has been treated, wear gloves to inspect it thoroughly and look for a stamp. These are usually letters enclosed in a square or oval shape, made with black ink, and they mean various things in regards to what it’s been treated with.