Is Wood Recycled from Pallets Safe?

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Forum topic by Corec posted 02-05-2011 06:12 PM 14557 views 0 times favorited 29 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Corec's profile


6 posts in 2901 days

02-05-2011 06:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: pallet recycle safety chemical danger pesticide fungicide

Hi, all. I’m new to the forum, but I’ve been stalking this site for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been very impressed with the awesome projects that people post on here, and it’s left me itching to try my hand at woodworking.

On the downside, my woodworking experience is limited to rough framing houses while I was in college. As such, I’m hesitant to make a big investment in lumber for my first few projects that will likely fail miserably.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on this site where people are using wood recycled from old pallets for their projects, and pallets are something that I can get plenty of at work. I’ve also seen a couple of articles online that say pallets get treated with some pretty serious chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, preservatives, etc.), but I haven’t been able to find anything to substatiate those claims.

So my questions for the experts are:

1) Have any of you encountered problems with this in the past?
2) Is this an issue that I should be concerned about?
3) Are you aware of any research on the subject?
4) Is there already a post about this on the forum somehwere? (I couldn’t find one)


29 replies so far

View b2rtch's profile


4868 posts in 3282 days

#1 posted 02-05-2011 08:16 PM

I use wood from pallets but the first thing I did was to buy a metal detector.
About $20.00.
In the past I lost two fingers because of piece of metal in a piece of wood I was working with

-- Bert

View Derek Lyons's profile

Derek Lyons

584 posts in 3802 days

#2 posted 02-05-2011 08:58 PM

The answer is – maybe, maybe not.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3244 days

#3 posted 02-05-2011 09:14 PM

Depends…sometimes they are more trouble than they’re worth.

Pressure-treated wood is hard on bits and blades and it can release all sorts of nasty stuff with its dust. I tend to discard pallet wood if it looks PT.

The rest is hit and miss. Sometimes you can find nice straight wood in pallets. Sometimes it’s so badly twisted and bowed and cracked and warped that it’s not worth the effort.

And like Bert pointed out, gotta watch for hidden metal.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

6341 posts in 3428 days

#4 posted 02-05-2011 09:17 PM

I use them when I can find them…..they usually are made of good wood like oak, but like b2rtch said, get a metal detector to find the metal you CAN”T see. I recycled several old pallets, and made a couple of projects with it…turned out beautiful…..I’ve never ran into a problem where they treated, unless I jut didn’t know it..I’ve heard of no research about it, so if you can get some, go for it…..just watch for things…...

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....!!

View poopiekat's profile


4405 posts in 3968 days

#5 posted 02-05-2011 09:30 PM

You have to keep in mind that pallet manufacturers buy their loads from wholesalers and brokers, all the rippins and lower-quality boards to build pallets where appearancce is not of any importance. So when a lift is graded by the lumberman, there MAY be some nice boards in it, but they’re usually well sorted by the time they’ve been purchased by the pallet maker’s buyer. I have, however, found some nice quarter-sawn oak, mahogany, black walnut boards, but this was mostly when I was a warehouse receiver and saw dozens of pallets daily, sometimes hundreds! Remember that these boards were kiln-dried with no regard for cabinet makers’ use. Don’t waste any time thinking you can remove those spiral nails…forgetaboutit! Forget the stringers, just be happy to yield some 18”-22” slatboards, and watch out for embedded pebbles as well as nails/metal mentioned above. Avoid any pallets that are stained by unknown liquids.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View bigike's profile


4055 posts in 3522 days

#6 posted 02-05-2011 09:33 PM

some people have allergic reactions to wood in general, as far as pallet wood goes go for it and if your still nervous just wear long sleeves and a mask. I cut all the pallets at my job for my bosses fire wood for his house and campsite so I would say it’s safe. I also still see little bugs on the wood sometimes don’t know what they are but they are very small and don’t look like they can damage the wood in any way I just kill them and call it a day. Like everyone else said get a metal detector or try to get the parts of the wood with no nails in it you will be all set. You can always send it to me and I’ll make sure it’s good to use. LOL ;)

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View Corec's profile


6 posts in 2901 days

#7 posted 02-05-2011 09:53 PM

That’s a really good point with the metal detector. When I asked about safety, I hadn’t considered hangups/kickbacks due to embedded nails. I was figuring I could saw the ends off with my Skil saw and just waste the stringers and the last couple of inches of each slat.

As far as the treatment, I specifically had read that when goods are shipped overseas, they are sprayed at customs with chemicals to stop the spread of invasive plant/insect/animal species. I also read that pallets tend be contaminated with food bourne bacteria like E-Coli after shipping food products, and then they get reused by other industries. If these things are true, it would lead to me believe that pallets could be potentially dangerous if you breathe the sawdust or maybe even if you have too much skin-to-pallet contact (even though I’ve been tossing pallets around for years and haven’t died yet).

I saw these statements in a couple of blogs on other sites, but I couldn’t find anything to support them from a credible source like the USDA, Forestry Service or Customs websites.

View PurpLev's profile


8548 posts in 3882 days

#8 posted 02-05-2011 09:58 PM

‘wood from pallets’ is a very general description and the answer is – either yes, or no – but why take the chance?

I use it for different things, mostly for things that require lumber that can withstand the weather (outdoor stuff) and jigs but I wouldn’t use it for anything food related (cutting boards, etc)

and yes, a metal detector is a must – I already missed a couple of nails that tore apart my planer blades.

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

View poopiekat's profile


4405 posts in 3968 days

#9 posted 02-05-2011 10:03 PM

@corec: Nowadays, most countries exporting to or from the US or Canada must have the letters “HT” stenciled or branded onto the pallets. That lets Customs know that the pallets were ‘heat treated’ and therefore unlikely to be harboring insect pests. I don’t know of any requirement for liquid bug management for Customs purposes.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View kayakdude's profile


97 posts in 3010 days

#10 posted 02-05-2011 10:05 PM

you have a good question , i have used palet wood its goos for fires and i have used with my scroll saw for small projects and you can plan it down to 3/8 to make draws and the side parts of the palet are in most cases are 3’’ x 3’’ and that my frend is good for wood turners ,the next thing to remember is that palets are made from oak, birch,ash, maple, and pine a goos sorce for glue ups . first on all you need a good metal detector that will cost about 40.00 dollars and next is a serface planer and a thickness gaige . do not get palets from meat werehouses that put chichen, and meats on the palets . free wood can be found behide bissness park dompters like places that use wood to make there stuff . it never herts to take a drive
untill then make sume dust

-- kayakdude

View chpmkr's profile


1 post in 2901 days

#11 posted 02-05-2011 10:32 PM

You have had some great replies on this unusual topic. I purchased pallets for a large food and chemical company. Most were Oak but we required them to be treated for mold and bacteria because we did not want to introduce a contaminant into the warehouse or production area. I have seen some beautiful woods come in from foreign countries where they made pallets out of “common” woods but rare to the U.S. It is very tempting to use them for projects. DO NOT!
I am now a woodturner and as soon as I start making dust I wear a lot of protection. With Pallets you just don’t know what the wood has been treated with or what the pallet carried. It is just not worth the risk to your equipment let alone you to be exposed to something that could hurt you or your family.
In Turning we have a saying that “Life is too short to turn crappy wood”
Good luck and enjoy your projects but be safe!

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

540 posts in 3715 days

#12 posted 02-05-2011 10:43 PM

I’m just going to reiterate what most everyone has said. It’s hit of miss with the quality of pallet wood. Some times you can get a nice hunk of red or white oak, some times it’s just poplar or some other less expensive wood. Along with looking out for metal, they tend to be pretty dirty too, so that can be rough on blades and bits as well so that’s something to think about as well. That being said, I’ve made a few projects out of reclaimed pallet wood and they turned out great.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2688 posts in 3155 days

#13 posted 02-06-2011 12:39 AM

I worked for a sheet metal contractor and they get their sheet steel on 10’ long pallets made of 4”x4”s . I scored lots of oak, mahogony, gum, and pine. Burned all I could use and milled just as much. They were happy to have me haul this wood off.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View bandit571's profile


21968 posts in 2917 days

#14 posted 02-06-2011 01:19 AM

I have used pallet wood for years. Oak,ash, poplar, and even cottonwood. Along with the issue of nails, one other item seems to cause problems…staples. Not the big,easy to see kind, it’s those little ones people tack paperwork, tags, and other labels on with. While I use the “slats” for some items, I tend to use the runners for most woodworking.

Getting those screwnails out can be a PITA, but can be done. A GOOD pair of Visegrips comes in very handy. Also, when nails are used to make a pallet, those collated nails will leave little bits of metal in the wood around the nails. As for what can be made:

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

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18422 posts in 3909 days

#15 posted 02-06-2011 09:18 AM

There was a local company that posted free pallets on Craigs List several times. since they were 1 1/2 miles from the house, i drove past to see what they had. I intended to use most of them for fire wood. They were coated with some type of chemical. I emailed the ad asking what was on them, but there was no response. I am sure they were long for some fool to haul their haz-mat away. Beware!! Lots of good wood out there too.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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