If you search for ideas on wood making, you’ll come across many that tell you how to replicate the “old” wood effect from new wood. And this makes me inwardly smile because I spend my time making old wood look new. Well maybe not new but at least trying to change it from something that looks fit for the bonfire into something worth keeping. That’s because I mostly use pallets. This isn’t intended as a “how to” guide, there’s enough of those already. Instead I just want to share a few things I’ve learnt over the last couple of years.
Building from pallets isn’t an easy option. For quite a humble looking object they are:
1. Surprisingly well built – they get lugged about, left out in all weathers and get loaded with heavy things so they have to be. This means there’s effort involved in taking them apart. I acquired some from someone at the tip who was throwing them because they had given up on trying to use them.
2. Very variable – in terms of thicknesses, quality, even size considering they’re supposedly standardised. This complicates projects.
3. Often quite heavy and always unwieldy to move about.
So why bother? I have lots of motivations. I can’t stand waste, most I get come off skips where they will end up being chipped and burnt. There’s a lot of perfectly good wood to be harvested. I like hunting them down, it’s much more satisfying than finding imaginary electronic things! (Pallet hunting is a thing I do with my daughter – she reckons I can decide whether there’s something worth finding before she’s seen the skip! She also does an amazing impression of the voice over from the TV programme Salvage Hunters).
They’re also free which is very handy when you’re learning wood working skills and inevitably make mistakes.
It removes an element of stress to your making. Pallets are one of those things that until you look for them they’re invisible. The second you start looking they’re everywhere. There’s also something very satisfying about sanding a dirty looking piece of wood that reveals beautiful grain. Or if you’re really lucky it’ll be a wood like oak which I found once and have stashed for a special occasion.
So what will you need if you’re tackling a pallet? Crow bars don’t work by themselves. You’ll either break the wood or break yourself! Some people swear by pallet breaking tools, others by reciprocating saws. I use both. The easiest way is to saw off both ends then there’s only the middle nails that need removing. Look on You Tube and there’s lots of methods, all of them work depending on the pallet. You will definitely need an electric sander – these are relatively cheap, just make sure the sanding sheets or belts are readily available as you’ll go through a lot.
Pallet wise there are different types. If they’re painted (usually blue) they are hired and in theory shouldn’t be available (but they are). They’re also really heavy and hard to take apart!! Similarly, if you come across one marked “EUR” and “EPAL” they’re going to be hard work. Usually the ones that come across the easiest are the messy, dirty ones. New looking ones seem to be brittle.
So having read the collected thoughts of a pallet obsessive maybe you’ll be inspired to have a go. Maybe you’ll look at an unpromising material in a different way. At the very least hopefully you’ll appreciate the effort that goes into making something old looking useful again. Which is the ultimate point of reuse, upcycling or whatever you prefer to call it.