Working with pallet wood is all the rage these days. It makes sense. Pallet wood is typically free, and can yield some great looking material. Couple that with the fact that you’re recycling (or upcycling) and it’s a win-win. The problem? Getting the pallets apart. We’ll help you out with that.
Tough as Nails
Think about the abuse a pallet takes. On and off trucks, handled by forklifts, dropped…. Companies that make pallets are thinking about that too, so they make pallets tough. They’re put together with long staples or spiral nails or some other fastener with crazy holding power. As a result, they’re not easy to disassemble. Working with pallet wood means figuring out how to get at the wood, without destroying it in the process.
Tools of the Trade
It takes a combination platter of tools to get a pallet apart, and it’s more art than science. We’ll show you how to use a flat bar, cat’s paw, jig saw, and metal detector, along with a specialized tool; The Extractor. If you’ve found a successful way to get pallet wood out of pallets, please let us know in the comments section of this video.
There’s a lot more than just pallet wood in the world of reclaimed wood. It can come out of old barns, warehouses, bridges… There are lots of amazing types of reclaimed wood available.
What should you build?
Now that you’ve increased your inventory of material, it’s time to decide what to build. Be sure to have a look at the huge inventory of wood working plans that WoodWorkers Guild of America offers.
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Sometimes depending on the thickness of the pallet I would use two blocks and prop them under the pallet board, then hammer the cross-board to push the desired piece off. This increases the surface area of tension while still separating the top from side
I came across this Crecent 44 in. Indexing Head Wrecking Bar. It designed for breaking pallets apart…
When I started, trying to woodwork on the cheap I used a lot of pallet wood. This video kinda gives me flashbacks of the struggle. these days I weigh the benefits and handpick my pallets. The Sawzall method is the path of least resistance for me too. Most times the 2x4s are pretty rough and unuseable anyway. but if I find a good one, I will go to the trouble of digging out the nails. You really got to want the look or need cheap wood to do this kind of thing for long. I find construction scraps or lumber yard discards a better option at times.
I have been working with wood from pallets recently, huge pallets, some as long as 12ft. It is well worth the work it takes to get them apart. I have come across some beautiful wood. I have made work benches and tool cabinets and I now am working on building a chair. I just have to work around nail holes and cracks.I end up with about 50 percent firewood, but I am ok with that.
in the past i’ve used a reciprocating saw or sawzall and cut the nails using a metal cutting blade so as not to damage my tools and the boards come right off. I then use a punch to get the nailheads out and tinted epoxy to fill the holes with some accent color.
Wast of time! Cut into main thick cross boards with saws -all cutting through the nails. Each slat will have a chunk of wood on it and nail holding it, then carefully cut through nail between both pieces of wood. Leave rest of nail and head in.
Use lumber for rustic furnishings, shelfs, fences, etc. The nail heads can be carefully be painted black or other colors. You can also drill head off nail and leave the rest in. I have worked with pallets a lot and you will work your self to death just to get nails out, make them part of your finished project. I gave in and now work around the nails! If you insist buy used ones or let new one sit for a winter, sun, snow, rain, etc…Nails will be much easier to pull out then run boards through plainer for new look. No mater how you do it you will end up with more cracked boards and sore fingers then you want…good luck
I do the same as many have mentioned using a sawzall and driving out the nail head with a punch. Depending on the project (2 walls and 2 planting tables) I re-insert the nail after the board is cleaned up, just adds a bit more character to the work seeing the rusty nail head.
If I don’t use the rails I cut in between the nails and burn them in the fire pit or fireplace.
Very few of the pallets I get have the overlap on the ends, like this one did. They are all flush with the outside rails. Most of the end wood is already split out. So, I just take my sawsall and cut the 1 1/2 inch of end off (both ends) and then pry the center rail loose as you did in the vid. I end up with 95% of the material salvaged. With the rails, I just pull nails, using pliers, nippers, pry bars, or whatever else I can find to get a bite on the remaining nail. So far, I’m about 90% successful. Lots of good material.
If you only want the top and bottom boards and not the center rails. Cut the nails off with a sawsall between the boards and center rail then just tap whats left of the nails out with a nail set.
I was breaking down a wood pallet today. I noticed all the nails holding the pallet together had a thin copper wire soldered to them about half the length of the nail. Does anyone know the purposely of the copper wire?
All the pallets I have worked with, the boards do not stick over the outside edge. I cut the boards close to both outside rails then twist the board back and fourth to loosed it from the nails on the center rail. This gives you a board that is only a little shorter than the complete board would be. Often times the very outside edge has to be cut off anyway due to cracking where the nails are put in lose to the edge.This works well for me and it does not take very long to completely take a pallet apart.
I use a lot of pallets for small projects and I use a recipicating saw to separate the slates. Once the slates are removed I use a punch to remove the nail heads. For the cross members I generally use them for legs on projects and leave the remaining nail in the wood. When I come across a project that I need to remove them I will share.
How do you remove a nail broken off below the surface when taking apart a pallet?
Hi Michael. You can either:
– use a nail punch to push it through the other side- use a chisel or other tool to remove enough wood around the nail to get a vice grip or pliers on it and pull it out- leave it in. if you do this, be careful to not run it through a planer.
I have been doing pallet furniture for a year now and find a sawsall works best for the side removals and then a crowbar and hammer for the center. Then take an centerpunch to remove the heads, Much fast for me.
sawzall between top board and center board with a metal cutting blade, cut through the nail itself.when all nails are cut, turn the board over. tap the nail to expose nail head on top of board and pull nail. of course center board is full of headless nails. if you need to use center board then you have much work ahead of you.
Disassembling pallets: Learned from another website to use length of 2×4 placed between the rails, stand on pallet, and long end of 2×4, then push down on long end of board with your weight. It doesn’t save them all, but the percentage is much higher of getting them loose.
Hi, good way but hard work! I use a lot of pallet for my projects. I use a peck , a tool uesed for digging roads. You some time get all the bits, othres you dont. Its best if you can dry them out. I saw this idea on You Tube. Hope this will be of help.
I pop the boards until the nail heads are high enough to cut off or grind off. I’ve found that this method does the least amount of damage to the deck boards. Nail shanks can then be pulled from the 2 bys.
I use a 5/32 Grit hole saw or wood plug cutter. You cut around the nails. And cleaning up the riser becomes easier. A machinist told me there is a plug cutter or bit that can be used as a plug cutter that is smaller than 5/32. If I could find that then removing boards would be easier.
The sawsall approach is what is favorite with my family & friends. Also the style choice may depend on the pallet being worked on. Some of the pallets I get a hold of have regular nails (no spiral) and even staples on inner slats (deck boards). My usual hand tools are the claw hammer, a 5lb hammer, flat bar, crowbar, and a large screw driver.
Why not suspend the pallet upside down between two sawhorses and knock the board off the rails from the other side?
Doing this will most often crack the boards
Use a reciprocating saw to cut the nails between the boards. Either leave the nails in or use a punch to drive the nails out. This a great if you just want the top and bottom pallet boards. The 2x lumber unfortunately will have the nails left.
I would use a reciprocal saw between the board and the 2 x 4 and just cut the nails off under the board. Might make some indentation in the board that you were looking for but it would speed up the process.
I have found if you get the pallet wet say after a rain the boards are easier too take apart.
I use locking pliers to hold on the nail head. Then, use the flat bar or cats paw to pry up on the tip of the pliers. Also, when using only the pliers, put a piece of wood under the plier to help pull the nail.
I go to my son’s job where they have large pallets. They have a large pry bar that goes under the slats and rest on the beam of the pallet. Which will disassemble them quickly. I take the 4×3’s normally 10 feet long. I don’t normally care if their straight I cut them to my length. I always cut them at 22 inches. Then plane them for my cutting boards that I make. I made a large piece for my son for a antique cart that he brought me. It turned out very slick and I made the wood to match the cart which had a lot of patina and abuse. Pallets are made from two types of wood which is oak or poplar. Which is fine with me because I make my boards out of both of them.
I been working on a wedding project from slabs of logs with the bark on them. I was using a milling bit in my drill press. I didn’t like how slow the progress was. So I went to a half inch bit and speeded the drill up two speeds. Bad mistake !!!! I went to push the slab I to the bit which got kicked out and which drove my finger into the bit. Which shredded my finger thirty stitches later I went and bought a hand planer (electric). That saved me tons of time in two hours I done six of them. Needless to say my wife wasn’t impressed with me when she seen my finger.
A saws all will cut all the nails on the underside. Using the 2X4 cross pieces would require digging out the rest of the nail.
Often you can use the smallest hole saw you can find to cut around the nail. You end up with a 1/2″ hole around the nail. Depends what you can live with and the nature of your project????
Thank You George! I’m not sure how you felt about making this particular video, but I found it very useful. I used some of the techniques this week to demolish an old wooden barrier that was built like a pallet. I’ve taken a couple of pallets apart before this and wasn’t sure about how I was splitting so much of it. I can see now that this is fairly normal. Thanks Again!
Two other options; someone makes a pallet buster tool or my favorite is the saw zaw(sp?). Using a metal cutting blade between the 2×4 and the board your after, cut the nails off in between the two boards on the outsides first. Then you can either pry up the middle (much easier) or I use a longer metal blade to reach the nails better. This leaves nails in the board for the rustic look or you can remove the nails easy with a nail punch. This method yields the whole board, but sometimes you have shaved the board, with the blade, between the 2×4 and the plank. This method assumes your not as interested in the 2×4 being used in the next project or the bottom of the plank. Which is usually not going to be used or seen.
I’m another one who uses a sawall w/ a long metal cutting blade. Works for mw.
I use pallet wood and I find that wooden wedges are probably the best way to remove the boards as they apply even pressure to the underside of the board I use long tapered wedges
I used a drill with a plug bit big enough to fit over the nail head and just drilled holes where all the nails were. It will leave some holes in the board where the nails were. The boards are otherwise fully intact.
Having just made a headboard out of rustic pallet wood, I started much like your video with the same hit or miss success. I ended up using a reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade to saw behind the pallet wood. It leaves the nails in the rails but if you are not using or cutting the rails, it was far more successful in getting the boards off the pallet in one piece. Use amish hand made iron nails to decorate where ever a nail hole exists. I used rough iron and amish lanterns to finish off the headboard. My daughter loved it. I wish I could post a picture.
The pallets may contain chemicals that should not be handled, at least without sealing/finishing, or used for food utensils. Most commonly these are from overseas to kill bugs. Most of the pallets I’ve come in contact with have nails that are strung with a small wire that imbeds into the wood. For those without a metal detector, do not run any pallet board through a planer. A drum sander works well, and watch for sparks. The small wires are usually visible, and can be worked out with any sharp pointed tool. If a person is real lucky, they can get industrial pallets with boards over one inch thick that make nice rustic coffee tables. Contrasting wood plugs bring out the nature of the wood, and puts a nice smooth surface on the project.
I’ve made five, or six items from pallet wood, but the biggest was using the 2X4’s from maple pallets to make the top for my work bench. It took a great many pallets to come up with enough wood to surface and glue together. The Walnut plugs make it an interesting top.
I’m with Roy. A Sawzall is the way to go. After you cut through the nails you just puch the heads out through from the bottom of the board.
Hello George. Using your method saw the bottom pallet boards off, then with a short length of 2×4 along side the support board and butted against the upper boards apply your large portable hand held impact device (hammer). This has the advantage of less splitting of boards. Another trick is once the upper board is far enough from the support rail cut the nail with a carbide recip saw blade, making the removal length of the nail much shorter.
If you turn the pallet over and use your jigsaw to take off the bottom boards, you will now have access to the top boards from below. If you leave the pallet upside down and then put a board (I use a 2 x 4) on either side of the board you want to remove. Now get a short piece of 2 x 4 or other appropriate dimension lumber to match the width of the boards you are trying to salvage. Stand it up on its end grain on the board next to the rail and use a hammer on the other end to pound the board off the rail and toward the floor. Some boards will still split, but I have been able to get better than 50% of them without them splitting.
I find that work best. After removing nails I drill out the nail hole a use a plug cutter on the end of the board to plug the drilled holes with the same wood.
Just thought I should say that “The Extractor” is also available from Lee Valley and at the same price but if you are in Canada, it is cheaper to get it there than from Rockler.
Remember if you are using pallet wood to make furniture, keep in mind that most pallets are treated with pesticides and are not suitable for table use unless the chemical issue is addressed.
I use a reciprocating saw to saw the nails off between the top board and the runners. I then use a punch to push the nail out of the wood. Sometimes the blade does minimal damage if the board are not very tight against the runners. Normally I discard the runners because of the cut of nails imbedded in them.
I’ve done your method before for and it’s a real pain and time consuming , But if you have a saws all bring your boards up a little like this video shows but then take a metal cutting blade on your saw slip it under board cut the nails, then flip the board over and drive the nails back through the hole with an all or punch / nail set, Nail set has a indent to keep the nail in the center so it does slip off..
Pallet Pal by Izzy Swan takes about 2 1/2 min to tear down a Pallet. Than remove nails, which takes longer. You can build it pretty easily. Check You tube for video. Low loss on boards. Works great.
I pull the nails up far enough to cut the head off with a hacksaw. Then I pull the nails with pliers. If I don’t need the rails in the middle I just run a hacksaw under the woo and cut the nails off then punch the nail heads out of the wood.
I use a bar especially made for lifting boards, But often find the nails have a strip of copper wire around the twist in the nail, which when removing the nails the copper wire is left in each hole hense setting the metal detector off. I always straight edge each board thenput the boards through the Thicnkness/Planer to get brand new looking timber, and fill the nail holes in with filler. Making planters which look brand new. A lot of work and hard on the Planer blades. Is it worth all the trouble ? well I’m not sure..
I’m with both Steve Frings & Roy…a recip saw with a demo blade (it’ll cut through near anything) between the boards and the runners. Then tap the leftover nail bits out from the backside with a nail set. The other advantage to this method is that there is allot less chance of splitting/cracking the boards and you get the full length. I took a half dozen or so pallets apart this way and used the wood for some rustic planter boxes.
I agree with the comments below related to working with the wood when wet – the nails are released earlier. Also I have used a scissor jack to start the release of nails. Very often I use a 1 inch metal bar and lever between the pallet slats to release the nails. Obviously only works where there are adjacent slats but by far the fastest at the expense of greater risk of damage.
Eizzy Bar Pro is a very good to break down pallets. Heck of a lot better then anything the video offered.
just found the inventor’s video – this thing rocks!
there are more than one video on making a pallet pry bar that works better than anything you have demonstrated or if you aren’t handy enough to build one you can purchase a Bullbar by crescent tool company.
I do take apart any pallets that wind up in my shop. Last one was the pallet that my Rubbermade shed arrived on. I used the wood to make a frame inside the shed to hang garden power tools on. I have all the tools used in the video. I have found that the nails come out easier if the pallet has sat out in the sun for a few weeks.
Thanks Steve & Roy … I’ve been doing it the hard way. Didn’t even think about my sawsall. I’ve been using a hacksaw blade with tape wrapped around one end. Duh!
I take a sawzall with a metal cutting blade and run it between the rails and top boards. Then take a nail set and punch out the nail heads. It saves a lot of time and there is a lot less damage to the board. If you pry up the board slightly before sawing the nails. you can leave enough nail to clamp the extractor or vice grip if you plan on using the rails. I made a beautiful pie safe from 100% popular pallets. The nail holes made it look antique.
I’ve found the fastest and cleanest way to disassemble a pallet is insert 2 boards on top of each other between the top and bottom deck boards Have them similar length to the stringers. The height of the 2 boards together should be about half an inch less than the gap between the top and bottom deck boards. Butt up against one of the outside stringers. Put your prybar between the 2 boards and simply lever apart. Once lifted, slide the 2 boards to the middle stringer and repeat, and then the remaining stringer. Having the 2 boards the same length as the stringer spreads the force evenly along the deck boards reducing chance of splitting. If the bottom deck boards start to come off first, chuck a couple of screws in to secure them.
This method usually gets me the full length of the deck boards intact and then I tap the nails out.
I suspect they also use green wood when they put pallets together which further adheres the nails to the wood.
I used the pry bar just like you did. Went a little slower and pulled the nails with the wood, then turned the board over and pounded the nails back through. Takes some time but found that I didn’t crack as many boards.
Use a drill and drill the heads off the nails.
Can’t imagine how one would keep the drill on the head of the nail until it got a bite. By that time the head should be gone. The metal cutting blade in the sawzall is far and away the easiest way to extract this wood.
A reciprocating saw run along between the horizontal and vertical board. If you tap the back side of the pallet wood and get separation, you can tap the nail out from the backside. If you spend more than a couple minutes, the pallet wood becomes too expensive to salvage.
I did an entire ceiling of a cabin with 5/4 pine off of skids – We ended up cutting off the nail holes and planning down to 7/8 ” or so and tongue and grooving the edges. We removed the boards by using a sawsall with a wood and metal blade and cutting between the back of the board and the skid rail. It did leave the nails in the rail but if they were not being saved it was ok. We probably have 1500 boards that we scavenged to make up ceiling and wainscoting in our cabin – It did take a long time but really looks sharp. We also did salvage some of the rails which were about 2 1/2″ thick. We cut off the area with the nails on a table saw. Came up with 2 pieces about 6 inches wide Biscuit jointed two pieces together ran the pieces through the planer to get down to about 1 15/16″ thick and used them for stair treads – Awesome looking
That is a nice story, well done.
I think I will pay more attention to recycling
Very cool! My wife just asked me yesterday if we can do one of our room’s walls in pallet wood!
Look for plans for the Pallet Pal. Build it yourself. Fastest way I know.
For pulling the nails, I use a Vise Grip to clamp the nail and a prybar to lift it. I agree with and do everything else you have done.
I take a sawall with a metal blade and go between the 1x and the 2x , then cut the nails off. Once the 1x is free of the pallet, I take a nail set and knock the nails out.
Now here’s a guy who knows what he’s doing
That’s what I do. I just discard the 2x because of the nails.
Good for you Roy. I was just getting ready to post pretty much the same thing. This method works for taking doorjambs out of walls when prepping to install a new pre-hung door, and for dislodging the tops of old oak 2×4’s in old houses, when you’re opening up an area by removing a wall. No reason why it wouldn’t work for the disassembly of skids.
Also, I’m sure any of you that have done any number of these things know this. Very few of the skids used in the factories located near my home an shop use skids that are in anywhere near as good a condition as the one in this video. You really, really do need to protect your hands from splinters, some of them can be monsters coming off the skid boards. Enjoy.
I was going to suggest the same thing, but with the Dremmel, Rockler or other similar device and their metal cutting blade to do the same thing. Once you cut he nails from either outer edge, it is fairly easy to get at least the first two nails (where there may be 3 on the larger boards), allowing more freedom to access the last nail. Do that to each board in line, and the pallet is stripped in a very short time, with minimal damage to the wood.
This is exactly what I was going to recommend.
This is what I do as well. It works really well and you can knock a pallet out really fast.
I found that a car jack works really well. Just start by putting the jack between the top and bottom boards against the inside edge of the first rail. Jack the wood appart then move to the inside rail and repete. Once the board is free of the first 2 rails it easly pries off the 3rd rail when you pull it back. When you jack the wood apart the wood pulls the nails from the rails and doesn’t split as easily. You can jack the boards compleatly free, (I find this easier) or just enough to loosen the nails and pull them free with a hamer or flat bar. After that the nails are easy to remove from the board. This has 2 downsides. One is that not all the boards have an opposite board. The second is that it only works on one of the boards when there are 2 opposite boards. After you get all the boards you can clamp all 3 rails of a pallet to another pallet or strong surface. Make sure the boards are up and not under the clamps. Once it’s secured use the jack the same way as before. If needed flip the pallet over and clamp it down again to get any remaining boards.
Great idea, I found once you remove the bottom three boards screw a sheet of plywood to the bottom then you will have an opposite force applied to the car jack going up and this is a fast and energy saving way to dismantle your pallets
That’s genius! Thank you for sharing!
You have to wash pallets with water for a bit of time so the wood will be drenched and wet wood fibers are less strong to withhold nails: it is easier to extract nails with prybars, pincer and hammer and you have less risk to split and to chip pallet boards, So you obtain two purpose: to clean wood and to preserve boards.
I have been dismantling pallets for a few months and found home depot has a large two headed pry bar that really helps take the boards off the larger supports with little effort. Its a Home Depot and is $49.00. Model # AGP6004-201THD. Its called the wrecking claw.
I am building outdoor side tables, dining tables and general purpose two shelf wheeled carts from 2×4’s and pallet wood. Check YouTube for ideas.