Pallets are a common sight on store loading docks and in storage rooms, but these wooden wonders are increasingly showing up as furniture. Social media is awash in benches, beds, and more, all made from pallet wood, offering a rustic vibe that is often upcycled.
Pallet wood can be used to create beautiful additions to your home, from bookcases to benches, feature walls to furnishings. These beautiful creations have tempted many would-be DIY-ers to try their own hand at homemade pallet items or to purchase them ready-made if they aren’t handy. Before you get started, take into consideration a few tips from creators who have already done the work. You might be surprised by some of the particulars of pallet wood.
1. New vs. used
The first thing you need is the wood. Used pallets are often available for sale or sometimes free from a number of neighborhood sites, but maybe not when you are ready to start the project. What you might not know is that you can head over to your local home improvement store and pick up new pallet boards any time. If you are doing a big project and live near a sawmill, you might be able to buy in bulk and get a deal to boot. Not all mills do this, but it is worth a try if you are going to build something big.
2. Get the right size
When Bree Tetz’s daughter had her heart set on a pallet platform bed, they got busy right away, creating a new foundation in one day from start to finish. “This bed was a great statement piece,” Tetz says. “It was created and constructed by my teen daughter, who loved it.” They had a positive experience creating the piece, with a nugget to share with other first-timers: “Make sure you get the right size pallets,” says Tetz, who lives in Canada. The top three available pallet sizes are 48” by 40”, 48” by 48” and 42” by 42”. So if you are planning to put a mattress on top, be sure to measure the mattress and keep size in mind when searching. If your pallets are too small, support will be a problem. Too big, you risk smacking your shins often.
3. Buy a little extra
This is a pro tip for most creative projects, no matter who is doing the creating. Charlotte Cole commissioned a beautiful patio set for their home in Wiltshire, United Kingdom. Even so, it took them some trial and error to get the project perfectly planned. “Although we didn’t make it ourselves, the pitfall we faced was getting the measurements exactly right for the space, which meant a few extra pallets,” Cole says. And she cautions that taking care with your measuring is key for another reason. “Once the piece is put together, it is a lot of work to change it if you don’t like it!”
4. Invisible additives
If you are using wood that has already been used to make a pallet, beware. You might get more than you bargained for. Jason and Robyn Dean had a small food service business, but when stores, restaurants, and workplaces were forced to close temporarily in 2020, they took their renovation hobby and turned it into a business, making furniture and home decor from pallet wood. Their first pallet project was, like Tetz had done, a pallet bed for their daughter. They went with new wood because they saw some things when they had their food business. “I didn’t want my daughter sleeping on pallets,” Jason says. “All kinds of chemicals and meat juices seep into pallets and that’s not great to sleep on. So we use new lumber.” And the couple, who now run the Ohio-based Pallet Wood by Robyn, warns that even if you wash the used wood well, it is a porous, natural material and you will never get every bit of any kind of gunk completely out.
5. Think about comfort
If you are doing a platform bed, you will obviously have a mattress on top. But what about comfort for pieces like benches and chairs? No worries! “It’s actually relatively comfortable, but we use outdoor cushions for guests,” Cottage says about their patio set. Craftsmanship is key in making any type of pallet furniture, says Jason Dean. “Material is secondary to design. If someone had a good design it can be just as comfortable as anything else.”
6. Watch out for moisture
Remember: Pallets are wood. And wood absorbs moisture if left out unprotected. If you are storing pallets to use later, don’t leave them out in the rain. “We didn’t cover it in the bad weather, thinking it would survive, and it has now weathered quite noticeably,” Cole says. Moisture will also cause warping and shrinkage down the line. The Deans recommend using a moisture meter to measure the percentage before you start work. “I prefer a pin meter that you stick directly in the wood to get the best reading,” Jason Dean says. “You want a level less than 10 percent.” Already created pallets will have dried pretty well before you get them, but new wood will probably still have some water inside. Give it time to dry out.
7. Uninvited guests
Leaving pallets out in the elements has another downside: pests. “Stacking them in the backyard attracts gnats and rodents,” the Deans say. “ It’s a great place for them to live.” Another great reason to keep the pallets covered well before you get going. The Deans use a kiln to dry out their wood and said that process kills any unwanted visitors.
8. Maintenance required
Pallet pieces are really items you can put together and then forget. “I would recommend covering pallet seating in bad weather/storing them away,” Cole says. “ Also, reseal them and stain them regularly. They are quite high maintenance if you want them to look new all the time!”
9. Color us surprised
When you have your project stained just the way you want it, make sure you are using the right product to seal it. If you use regular wood sealant, the piece will turn an amber-yellow color over time. To let the shade you chose shine through, pick a clear coat,” says Robyn Dean. Some sealants are for indoors and others are for outdoors, so keep that in mind when shopping. And if you are making a kitchen island or something that will come into contact with food, be sure you use a polycrylic product, not one with polyurethane, which isn’t something you want to touch your dinner.