Unpalatable

I hate throwing out perfectly good lumber, and rarely do. But for me, pallet lumber doesn’t fall into the “good” category.

A lot of people make a lot of things out of pallet lumber, and more power to them. I can’t remember what magazine I saw it in, but a couple of years ago one of them ran a photo of a massive workbench made entirely with the stuff, and it was beautiful. If you’ve got the time to make it work for you, that’s great.

But I don’t like repurposing pallet lumber for a number of reasons. For one, it’s filled with nail holes. Typically the longest piece you can get without nail holes is about a foot. Sure, that’s enough for some small projects, but only some.

And then there’s the issue of condition. Pallets, by their very nature, are designed to be abused. Gashes, breakage and splitting occur normally in their use, and that doesn’t include the splitting that just nailing the things together often causes. The effort it takes to glean useable material just doesn’t seem worth it.

And then there’s the wood itself. It has to be strong enough to carry the loads dumped on top of it, but beyond that there’s not much that can be said for it – and “attractive” surely isn’t among the things you’d ever say. Yeah, I know that pallets that originate overseas sometimes have some exotic hardwood species in their construction, but most of the ones you run across just don’t have much in the way of desirable wood.

But when I get a pallet that’s part of a shipment I do put it to good use, although not always in a woodworking sense. I’ve had a couple that I tossed into my shed a year ago and finally got rid of them last weekend – broken down and cut into manageable lengths, they’ll make great firewood for my next Civil War reenactment or living history event.

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Danny H. wrote:

    I’m with you on this one ! Pallet wood may be free but it takes alot more time and effort to work the stuff, which often results in broken or dull blades. My time is just plain worth more than that!

  2. Wallace wrote:

    Don’t forget that some of the pallet lumber might have been exposed to toxic chemicals during its service life.

    If some of those toxic chemicals were colorless and/or odorless you never know what you may be handling or breathing into your respiratory system.

  3. Rob wrote:

    If I can’t use pallets to ship, they are firewood. The only exceptions to that were a delivery of lumber from South America in the early 90′s that came on a crate made mostly of unknown rosewood and a boat that came from Taiwan in 1980 that was on a solid teak cradle
    Don’t think I’ll see those again

  4. Charley wrote:

    There’s one more good reason not to use pallets. Many are used to haul toxic chemicals and these chemicals may have leaked out of their packages and into the wood. There is no way to know which pallets are safe and which aren’t.

    Carley

  5. Mark Koons wrote:

    The worst drawback to reworking low-grade salvage like pallets is the toll on your tooling.

    When I was starting out in this trade I was brimming with enthusiasm for “alternatives”. There were elements arrogance and ignorance in my attitude. In retrospect I gave too little credit to the knowledge, imaginations, and social or environmental consciences of those who went before.

    Now all that I’m willing to do with damaged or oddball pallets is put an already-ruined blade on an old, bent-out-of-shape skilsaw and break them down for the wood stove.

  6. Fred Friar wrote:

    contraire my friend domestic Sycamore is looked upon as junk wood and only good for a pallet; however, find some that is quarter sawn and presto you have West Virginia Lace wood. Much more lacy then that expensive stuff from down under and it is free. The lowly pallet starts it’s life as green wood and not deliberately abused these days they are not cheap and many carry a deposit to encourage re-cycling so they can be used again.

  7. Ed wrote:

    Actually, I have used pallet lumber many times. It is great for projects that require distressed appearance, such as picture & mirror frames and all sorts of items now used as decorative accents. The more nail holes and splits, the better. Designers love it!

  8. Stuart Simmons wrote:

    As a professional woodworker I understand and agree with your assessment of the value of pallet lumber. Time is money.
    The value to me of using recycled/reclaimed material is in marketing thru my galleries. Recycled/reclaimed material has “added value”. This is especially effective at shows.

  9. Lee Gordon wrote:

    A few years ago, when I had a new roof put on my house, I fished all the pallets the shingles had come on, out of the dumpster. Upon closer inspection, they all found their way back into the dumpster.

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