Furniture Out Of Pallets – What, Why, How

As homeowners are becoming increasingly frustrated with the cost of “designer” furniture that’s better than *insert Scandinavian furniture brand I won’t name,* they’re turning to a surprising source. Wood pallets are, apparently, the future of furniture, if you ask Pinterest. There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost, wood pallets are everywhere. Second, they’re cheap (if not free), and finally, they’re easy to work with. There are a lot of things going for them – so what do you need to know?

Furniture out of pallets is a modern, ecologically-friendly approach to DIY furniture that can breathe new life into what would otherwise be considered trash.

Don’t take my word for it, wait come back, it’s a figure of speech! instead, let’s look at a few ideas, as well as what you’ll need to know before attempting it yourself.

Furniture Out of Pallets – The Good and The Bad

There are a few things to keep in mind when using pallets to make furniture. Among other considerations, you’ll need to know the following.

The Good

There are some obvious benefits to reusing wooden pallets to make furniture. These include (but are not limited to):

  • It’s eco-friendly! Reusing old wooden pallets prevents them from making their way to a landfill. This is obviously a preferable solution, assuming they’re safe to use (read below for more information).
  • They’re adaptable. It’s wood – that means you can do just about anything your little heart can conjure. They can be connected, scrapped and used in pieces, and easily painted.
  • It’s got a great price – something I like to call free.50. In other words, you can often get them for either a negligible cost in comparison to “normal” lumber, if not for free. That’s a price I can get behind, but then again, I’m a cheap man at heart.
  • It actually looks good when finished! Of course, you can lean into the industrial look and leave it bare, but if you want a bit more class, it can be sanded, stained, and painted just like other wood. Though be careful with it, especially if it’s chemically treated (again, read below for more information).

These are really the best reasons you can have to use pallet furniture. One man’s garbage, another man’s chair, as they say.

The Bad

While there are a lot of good things to know about wood pallets, there’s also a few… less good things about them. These include:

  • How (if at all) the pallets were treated.
    • Chemically treated pallets may not be safe to reuse. Yes, it sucks, but some things are best not brought into the home. In the United States, pallets are treated with a pesticide, methyl bromide. This is not only bad for the environment, but bad for you and your loved ones. In fact, there was a relatively recent (2010, wow, I’m old) Tylenol recall due to the fact that it was transported on chemically treated pallets – and guess what? They used a very similar chemical.
    • Heat-treated pallets, on the other hand, are generally much safer. They’re treated by raising their core temperature to at least 56 degrees Celcius for at least 30 minutes. This kills any harmful bacteria inside and slightly strengthens the wood by making it a bit more flexible.
  • Wood pallets are susceptible to mould, rot, and vermin. This can include insects as well as rodents. You really don’t want furniture that has an infestation or slight odour of vermin urine.
  • If the pallets are chemically treated, those chemicals can leech into other surfaces, such as your yard or garden if the furniture is outside.
  • Engineered wood uses a known carcinogen, urea formaldeheyde, in its creation. Do not use engineered wood pallets for furniture.

Things to Know Before Starting

Below we’ve got a list of some important things to remember when starting a furniture project with wooden pallets. Be sure to keep them all in mind as you go.

  1. The pallets need to acclimate. The pallets were likely left either outside, or in a warehouse for lord knows how long. Be sure to let them sit in your home (or wherever the furniture will be) so it can adapt and let off some moisture before you start to work. If you don’t, you could end up with furniture shifting, shrinking, or cracking.
  2. Pallets can wear out blades more quickly than normal wood. Pallets are generally made from hardwoods such as oak. This means that it can take a lot of beating up, but it also makes it harder on your blades. Especially compared to a softwood like spruce, it’ll beat up your blades a bit more than usual.
  3. You can reuse the wood – not the nails. Again, these likely sat out for a while. Don’t risk using old nails – get some new ones and do the job right the first time. You’ll thank me if you do, and if you don’t, you may end up going right through your new chair when you sit down.
  4. You can’t just… pull them apart. Pallets are designed to stay in one piece and use spiral shank nails. That means you’ll need a hammer and prybar, saw, or specialised pallet breaker to get them apart.

Some Ideas

There’s a lot you can do with a bit of creativity, time, and a few spare wood pallets. While you can lean into their charmingly rustic look, it’s easy to paint them and get them looking a bit more modern, too. Let’s get a short list of some of the possibilities to spark some creative juices in your mind. You can make:

  • Chairs
  • Couches (you’ll need padding)
  • Tables
  • Desks
  • Planters
  • Kitchen islands
  • Storage (like they were designed for, but prettier)
  • Swings
  • Suntanning beds (make that bad boy recline!)
  • Actual beds (maybe for a well-loved pet?)
  • Shoe or coat storage
  • Bookshelves
  • The list goes on…

And don’t forget that other materials exist. You can get extra creative and work a stone worktop or glass tablespace into the pallet with the right tools and know-how. Seriously, pallets are as versatile as normal wood is, just cheaper.

Final Thoughts

Wood pallets are incredibly versatile and can be used to make all sorts of furniture. They’re cheap, easy to come by, and are as adaptable as normal wood is! Really the most important thing to keep in mind is that they were, in fact, sitting around for a while. How long? There’s really no good way of knowing. That means that factors like vermin, mould, and rot need to be taken into account. It also means that you really shouldn’t repurpose the nails in the pallet – just hammer in new ones.

The primary downside to pallets is that many of them are chemically treated, rather than heat-treated. A chemically treated pallet could have who know what in it, including carcinogens and pesticides. A heat-treated pallet, on the other hand, is both more sturdy and likely devoid of those dangerous chemicals. Add in that rodents and insects really like wood that’s left out in the open, and you run the risk of bringing them (or their waste) with the pallet. So be careful, be creative, and get building!

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.