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The world of pallets...

by Mainiac Matt
posted 06-20-2012 01:50 PM

36 replies so far

View Rex B's profile

Rex B

320 posts in 2126 days

#1 posted 06-20-2012 02:11 PM

Very interesting read, thanks for posting.

-- Rex

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2363 days

#2 posted 06-20-2012 02:53 PM

That’s pretty cool information ssnvet.
12 years ago when I was still a contributing and worthwhile member of society, the pallet gypsies would pay us between $6 and $9 each for a GMA pallet, depending on the wood and condition. Cheps gave us $12/ea. for their painted pallets and would come pick up an LTL if they had enough stops to make a full load. ( I use to contract those loads with multi stops to get my drivers home and give them some extra money for the pick up. Most of the drivers loked the multi stops as they got an extra $25 per stop after the first one, and the only work they had to do was toss the straps and tighten them down. Oh, and they did need to make sure they were under 13’ 6”... DOT, State Troopers, County Mounties and Local Yokels were like buzzards if a driver scraped a load of pallets off on a low bridge. they would get together and leave nothing but the bones when they were done with a driver AND the trucking company.

We also hauled ‘rebuildable’ pallets to different pallet companies. They didn’t pay much more than fuel but it did get the driver closer to home.

There was a large market for grocery pallets at that time but their was an even larger market for dunnage, (the wood they use to put pipe and engines and machinery on). I use to save it under the belly of my lowboy and sell it for close to 30¢ a board foot to the pallet companies. there were no nails, no screws and maybe an occasional bolt. It was always new wood the pallet companies could turn into useful grocery pallets for very low cost.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View PurpLev's profile


8534 posts in 3524 days

#3 posted 06-20-2012 03:03 PM

thanks for posting – great read, very interesting.

I think the ‘unwanted pallets’ are usually from small businesses that just cannot provide truck-load full of pallets to be picked up from , and there are quite a bit of those businesses around.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2726 days

#4 posted 06-20-2012 03:25 PM

Terrific background. Thank you.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#5 posted 06-20-2012 03:29 PM

My “no such thing as an unwanted pallet” comment is really meant in jest… as we kind of run the SPCA for lost pallets.

I’ll tell you what we don’t want…. a huge chunk of angle iron bolted to the deck of a pallet….

Toss that puppy in the grinder and stand by for the show! We had a $5K repair once from such an incident…. and the guy who was feeding the grinder is no longer employed here (though it took several similar incidents for the owners to see the light).


You got better rates than we’d give… but we’re in a pretty competitive region, with several players. Our drivers don’t get paid per stop, but they do log a LOT of OT and are the highest paid hourly employees at the company. But a good CDL driver (efficient and safe) is worth every penny you pay him. It takes quite the fleet of trailers to run the logistics of having one parked at every HD in a 200 mile radius. So our trailers are all purchased on the second hand market and we have our own truck repair garage and do our own inspections. Aside from the typical broken tail light or bald tire hit, the only time the DOT really gets after us is when we haul chips the day after it rains… Those open top trailers filled with soggy hard wood chips will push 100K without you really knowing it.

All this said… I’ve seen some really amazing wood in pallets…..

Hence some of my favorite cliche’s “Wood is Good” and “be it ever so humble, there’s nothing like wood”

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View Jeff in Huntersville's profile

Jeff in Huntersville

418 posts in 3070 days

#6 posted 06-20-2012 03:35 PM

Cool information. Free enterprise at work.

View Ted's profile


2838 posts in 2087 days

#7 posted 06-20-2012 03:42 PM

I see pickup trucks and small flatbed trucks packed full of pallets, taking them to a nearby pallet place (warehouse? manufacturer?) I figured they probably don’t make much. Comparable to the metal scrapers with beat-up pickup trucks so loaded they almost scrape the ground. They’s some busy beavers they are.

-- You can collect dust or you can make dust. I choose to make it.

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#8 posted 06-20-2012 03:48 PM

We call—them guys—“pallet gypsies”— Ted…..

not meant as an insult, but because it describes the way they drive around looking for free pallets…

we pay them ~$2 for a core….. So the guys with a 3/4 ton pick up towing a flat bed equipment trailer are walking out the door with ~$100. Which can’t leave them with much for their efforts after they fill their gas tanks.

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View cakman's profile


30 posts in 2566 days

#9 posted 06-20-2012 03:53 PM

Very cool read. I was wondering, if a thrifty woodworker was looking for an ideal location to find good hardwood pallets to haul off, any suggestion on where to look? What types of businesses might let you take some for free? Just curious, free wood is always good.


View Tokolosi's profile


678 posts in 2231 days

#10 posted 06-20-2012 04:09 PM

Thanks for posting this. Great read.

-- “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” ~ JRR Tolkien

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#11 posted 06-20-2012 04:39 PM


I’d check with small retailers like NAPPA or AutoZone…

Since they often don’t have a dock or a fork truck, we won’t pick up their pallets. Asking your drivers to hand load pallets from the curb is a recipe for an injured employee and an expensive worker’s comp claim.

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View Sarit's profile


549 posts in 3015 days

#12 posted 06-20-2012 04:46 PM

You should checkout craigslist. I always see postings for free pallets somewhere.
You can also usually find pallets at those industrial parks where there are lot of small b2b type businesses (small machining/manufacturing shops). Google maps and some phone calls really helps.

Here’s something I found on Etsy.

Link to this $400 pallet table

View Tennessee's profile


2672 posts in 2390 days

#13 posted 06-20-2012 07:04 PM

I work for a Mechanical contractor, (sales), and we are always getting in equipment with heavy duty pallets. I have taken a lot of this home, and I have a nice stash of 4X4 oak, some beautiful maple, and other strange woods that I’m not sure of. But it sure makes good wood for small projects, and I have even used the aged, gray weathered oak in some of my guitars. People love the look.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Knothead62's profile


2581 posts in 2837 days

#14 posted 06-20-2012 07:16 PM

Interesting post. Thanks. I replied to a project- a local pallet company puts out wood for firewood. Have to get the truck and load up. I met a fellow that got a pallet from SE Asia- the runners were mahogany!

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#15 posted 06-20-2012 07:20 PM

runners were mahogany!

I know a retired builder who went on a service/missions trip to Belize to help build an orphanage…. He said they were using 2×12 Mahogany planks for concrete forms :^O

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2140 days

#16 posted 06-20-2012 07:37 PM

Thanks for the insight.

When I was a teenager, we’d roll up behind a Kmart or similar place and take the pallets for bonfires on the beach. One day, the store manager came outside and told us to stop stealing their pallets b/c they were worth a lot of money. We always just assumed they were throwing them away because of how they just piled them up outside (looked like they were thrown out the back door and sorted by where they landed).

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#17 posted 06-20-2012 08:24 PM

“a lot of money” may have been stretching it…

None the less…. I recommend getting permission.

Unfortunately, they’d probably just say “no” for fear of liability, should you happen to eat the pallet and get a tummy ache…. or that you’d burn down the county and someone would sue them for giving you those dangerous pallets…. but I digress….

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2140 days

#18 posted 06-20-2012 08:30 PM

I’m sure it was just a scare tactic to keep us kids away from their pallets.

If I find some mahogany pallets, I plan on keeping them.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View knotscott's profile


7822 posts in 3251 days

#19 posted 06-20-2012 09:22 PM

Very interesting info from an inside perspective. I’ve never made furniture from pallet wood, but it sure burns well.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View AnttiN's profile


33 posts in 2091 days

#20 posted 06-20-2012 11:28 PM

Thank you for this very interesting and insightful look into your industry. You’ve answered a LOT of questions I’ve had, and many others I wasn’t even smart enough to ask. It’s always illuminating to hear from people who know this stuff from the inside. Thanks again for taking the time and effort!

I’ve used pallet wood in the past, and I will in the future too, but I HATE taking them apart. If houses were built with the wood and fasteners used in making pallets, no hurricane or tornado would have a chance against them.

View Scott Oldre's profile

Scott Oldre

980 posts in 3307 days

#21 posted 06-20-2012 11:54 PM

I drive around the LumberLiqudators lot every other day. I’ve come home with several very large oversize, yet flimsy pallets that were tied together with 6 40” x 2.5” x 2.5” squares with a small groove on one side for strapping. These have been made out of beautiful Jatoba/Brazilian Cherry, and a few other exotic woods. They make awesome and unique end grain cutting boards. Every once in awhile I’ll get a glimpse of some of the non-nailed examples used for what I’m assuming is top strapping. I prefer those, but I’ve also used the ones I’ve denailed and kept the ends with the nail holes. Makes them all the more rustic.

My favorite example

So ya’ll stay clear of the Columbia, SC Lumber Liquidators….it’s My Claim ;)

Oh, and the top boards usually are 3/8 to 1/2” of other exotic wood and that goes in a shipping box to my Dad who makes crosses by the hundreds to give away.

Nothing wrong with a little pallet wood at all.

-- Scott, Irmo SC

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


703 posts in 3149 days

#22 posted 06-21-2012 02:22 AM

Hey “Nuclear Submarine Veteran”, (Betyou had a nice woodshop in one of those babies! LOL)

Nice article. I appreciate the insight and the time it took you to post it. The information is rather interesting. I used to work at both Home Depot and Lowes and can verify that you are correct there in dealing with their pallets. Also correct aout the “blue pallets”.

The one concern I’ve always had in dealing with non-food grade pallets is that I understand that some pallets may have been sprayed with insecticides, etc., depending on the product that was loaded. And of course, there are always those pallets that have had some unknown liquid product leak all over them.

Hence, if the pallet doesn’t appear new to me, and the lumber of fairly decent quality (relative term there), I’m not interested in it.

Thanks again for a fine posting. Well done!


-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 2440 days

#23 posted 06-21-2012 03:34 AM

I work in a store where we have tons of pallets that we set in the yard behind the store and it just never seems to get too big! Thanks for the info as I’m not going to look at a pallet the same way again

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

View Bernie's profile


422 posts in 2713 days

#24 posted 06-21-2012 04:43 AM

Every time I see a post on “Pallets”, I end up being the stick in the mud because my life experience steers me in that direction. Before sticking that stick in the mud, let me say that everything ssnvet is saying is true… there is $ in used pallets and I know the blue and red ones he’s talking about. Beyond that, I have seen lots of great projects using “pallet” wood including a whole kitchen with great, beautiful cabinets made of pallet wood.

Now for the stick in the mud! I’m a retired Teamster and I’ve spent a lifetime in the trucking business. I know what the experienced pallet posters are saying and can’t refute their statements. But I want to add additional, cautionary, information they are unaware of.

My CDL license was loaded with endorsements, including HM (hazardous materials). To get that endorsement, I had to pass a test that questioned my knowledge about what to do when loading combinations such as flammables and corrosives. Add to the mix radio active materials and “specials” like “flammables when wet”. There are all kinds of rules governing the loading methods and segregation of these HM materials and the rules include the handling of these materials, what kinds of containers are acceptable and not for transporting these materials. Rules get extremely specific when dealing with poison gases. The rules also specify what actions and procedures need to be implemented in the event of HM spills. Empty containers used in future transportation need to list the chemicals last shipped in that container.

But no rules or regulations exists governing “pallets” used in the spills. For the most part, pallets used in transporting HM that get spillt materials on them get tossed into piles for “drying” out. Be it sulfuric acid or poisons, once they are dry, they get re-used. It’s cost effective and no rules are being broken by the practice.

My point here is that you should use “used” pallet wood with caution. Be suspicious of spill stains. Use breathing protection when working with pallet wood. Also be mindful of the final products, like don’t use used pallet wood for kid’s toys or food cutting boards.

I apologize if I’ve scared anybody from using pallet wood. Like I said, my post is a stick in the mud. Lots of great things can be made from pallet wood, including kitchen cabinets. Just simply proceed with caution!

-- Bernie: It never gets hot or cold in New Hampshire, just seasonal!

View EmeraldDragon's profile


146 posts in 2045 days

#25 posted 06-21-2012 04:55 AM


-- There are countless woodworking plans but have you checked out God's plan? Jeremiah 29:11

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#26 posted 06-21-2012 01:01 PM

pallets that have had some unknown liquid product leak all over them

But no rules or regulations exists governing “pallets” used in the spills.

These are excellent points. And with the second hand pallet market, there is no way of knowing where the pallets have been. If not abused, these pallets can be in service for years and years…. and many of the pallets we repair, have obviously been through repair lines and returned to service previously.

If those pallets could talk … the stories they might tell. :^)

I personally, would not use pallet lumber for a cutting board or crib, etc…

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View ChuckC's profile


826 posts in 2811 days

#27 posted 06-21-2012 01:14 PM

Wow, I never knew so much thought went into pallets! Thanks for the great information! I just pulled a pallet apart that I picked up outside of a store. I assumed they were tossing them but now I’m wondering if I stole it??

View AndyDuframe's profile


48 posts in 3466 days

#28 posted 06-21-2012 01:35 PM

It’s kind of a shame…pallet furniture seems like such a great idea (and a great look, too), but the hidden hazards that could be lurking in that wood (pesticides, chemical spills) sends me running as far away as I can get from using pallets in wood projects. Am I being overly cautious?


View RussellAP's profile


3103 posts in 2162 days

#29 posted 06-21-2012 02:39 PM

I went around collecting pallets of hard wood a couple months ago. I leaned a couple against my house on the south side where I have a couple of jasmine vines and they made a pretty good trellis. One of them is red!

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View bandit571's profile


18941 posts in 2559 days

#30 posted 06-21-2012 02:48 PM

There is another kind of “pallet” out there… go past any local Glass shop. Look at all those crates the glass panels come in. Take a look, also, at the ones their window assemblies come in.

Being overly cautious…...maybe. The more you run away from good wood in a pallet, the more there is for me to use, Keep running!

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#31 posted 06-21-2012 02:56 PM

Being overly cautious……

the way I look at it… life is a continual exercise in risk management…. weighing the pros and cons and filtering it all through your personal ethics, priorities and available options.

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View DamnYankee's profile


3301 posts in 2438 days

#32 posted 06-21-2012 03:00 PM

Very interesting reading.

If I understand correctly most pallets are hardwood?

-- Shameless - Winner of two Stumpy Nubs Awards

View bandit571's profile


18941 posts in 2559 days

#33 posted 06-21-2012 04:25 PM

I have seen ( and used) hardwood pallets, softwood pallets, and even some with OSB . I missed out on some crate lumber one year. Seems the machines to blow mold gas tanks for Honda were sent to a new factory in Marion, Ohio. I helped buld the factory. Seems they came in on flatbed trucks, with 12” square timbers under them. And those were the smaller ones!. Millwrights got first dibs on the wood, and one could here the chainsaws all week long. Some of those big beams were over 50’ long, and were 12” x 18”. Firewood??? What a sheer waste….

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#34 posted 06-21-2012 04:43 PM

If I understand correctly most pallets are hardwood?

yes…. for two reasons….

1. the strength in bending of hard hardwoods (EDH) is upwards of 50-60% greater than pine
2. the resistance to pull out for the nails is much higher in hardwood… hence the deck boards are less likely to pop off when a fork truck pulls on them.

The most common repair needed on a pallet is to replace the lead deck board at either end, as fork trucks lifting with the tines at an angle will rip them off…. that’s why you’ll see wider boards at the ends, so you can get more fasteners on that board without splitting it.

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

View JohnEinNJ's profile


94 posts in 2223 days

#35 posted 06-21-2012 05:49 PM

Thanks, ssnvet, for some really interesting information. I read someplace that pallets from Asia are treated with chemicals to kill pests, and should be avoided – can’t remember where I saw it – any comment on that?

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

7565 posts in 2204 days

#36 posted 06-21-2012 07:15 PM

pallets from Asia are treated with chemicals to kill pests, and should be avoided

No comment about Asia specific, but as mentioned in my OP, Pinewood Nematode (PWN) has been a hot topic for the past ten years or so… and about 7 years ago the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) published their International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM rule #15) to deal with it and finally, most all countries have signed on and there are no longer a myriad of different rules for different countries.

Basically ISPM 15 says that you can certify your wood packaging assemblies as being free of PWN is usually done by private contractors with operations adjacent to major shipping ports.

Before ISPM 15, some countries did not accept HT and insisted on fumigation (Australia and New Zealand always seemed to be the toughest ones to please).

The company I work for has a “pallet sterilization chamber” (commonly, but incorrectly referred to as a kiln) for heat treatment and doesn’t do fumigation, so I don’t know much about it…. My only experience with fumigation was to help a customer coordinate it once long ago…. but it sounded like pretty nasty stuff.

Note that pressure treated lumber does not meet the requirements to kill PWN ….. not unless the wood was heat treated to the ISPM 15 standard prior to the PT that is.

All “manufactured wood products” like plywood, OSB, particle board and MDF are considered to be purged of the PWN via. their production process. Only solid wood components require the HT of fumigation.

That said… the Chinese can’t even keep melamine out of their own baby formula (or our dog food) so you have to think twice about how much you trust them to adhere to any kind of environmental or safety standards.

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

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