Working With Pallet Wood

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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.

Reclaimed Wood

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.

You may also be interested in:

Working with Reclaimed Wood

Build a Tool Chest in Reclaimed Wood

Discussion
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68 Responses to “Working With Pallet Wood”
  1. Richard

    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.

    Reply
  2. Vincenzo Smorto

    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.

    Reply
  3. DJ

    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.

    Reply
    • Bradley Robertson

      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

      Reply
  4. roy

    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.

    Reply
    • Corky Rowe

      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.

      Reply
    • Stan Wiggins

      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.

      Reply
    • Brandon

      This is what I do as well. It works really well and you can knock a pallet out really fast.

      Reply
  5. William

    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.

    Reply
  6. mscullin

    Look for plans for the Pallet Pal. Build it yourself. Fastest way I know.

    Reply
  7. Steve Frings

    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

    Reply
    • tomlaber

      Hi Steve,
      That is a nice story, well done.
      I think I will pay more attention to recycling

      Reply
  8. Mike

    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.

    Reply
    • CanCorky Rowe

      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.

      Reply
  9. Allen

    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.

    Reply
  10. Ron Bahm

    I suspect they also use green wood when they put pallets together which further adheres the nails to the wood.

    Reply
  11. Dale Alsop

    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.

    Reply
  12. joe alexander

    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.

    Reply
  13. clutions

    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!

    Reply
  14. edh

    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.

    Reply
  15. Al Warner

    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.

    Reply
  16. jim

    Eizzy Bar Pro is a very good to break down pallets. Heck of a lot better then anything the video offered.

    Reply
  17. Adrian

    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.

    Reply
  18. Ken

    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.

    Reply
  19. James

    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..

    Reply
  20. Randall Elrngham

    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.

    Reply
  21. Dale Bowlin

    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.

    Reply
  22. Ron

    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..

    Reply
  23. John Foy

    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.

    Reply
  24. Patrick

    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.

    Reply
  25. jverreault

    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.

    Reply
  26. Vince Granacher

    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.

    Reply
  27. charliex

    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.

    Reply
  28. Joel

    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.

    Reply
  29. Mike Sherwin

    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.

    Reply
  30. Randy

    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.

    Reply
  31. John

    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.

    Reply
  32. Colin Perriman New Zealand

    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

    Reply
  33. joematot

    I’m another one who uses a sawall w/ a long metal cutting blade. Works for mw.

    Reply
  34. Chuck Collins

    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.

    Reply
  35. Christine

    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!

    Reply
  36. Doug Woodward

    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.

    Reply
    • Guy Groulx

      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????

      Reply
  37. Mark

    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.

    Reply
    • Mark

      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.

      Reply
  38. Sam

    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.

    Reply
  39. Jeff Reicks

    I have found if you get the pallet wet say after a rain the boards are easier too take apart.

    Reply
  40. Guy Groulx

    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.

    Reply
  41. Kevin Umphrey

    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.

    Reply
  42. rogert

    Why not suspend the pallet upside down between two sawhorses and knock the board off the rails from the other side?

    Reply
  43. Warren

    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.

    Reply
  44. Seth Melendez

    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.

    Reply
  45. dgdewsnap

    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.

    Reply
  46. ron

    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.

    Reply
  47. Thomas Hayes

    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.

    Reply
  48. BENJAMIN BROWN

    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.

    Reply
  49. Michael

    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.

    Reply
  50. Michael

    How do you remove a nail broken off below the surface when taking apart a pallet?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      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.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
  51. Dan

    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.

    Reply
  52. Michael

    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.

    Reply
  53. Jeffery Moss

    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?

    Reply

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