The world of pallets...

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Forum topic by Mainiac Matt posted 06-20-2012 01:50 PM 4729 views 2 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mainiac Matt

8046 posts in 2328 days

06-20-2012 01:50 PM

Topic tags/keywords: pallets

My hat is off to you guys who put the time and energy into reclaiming pallet lumber.

Since there seems to be a lot of interest in pallets on the boards and I work for a company that has both a new pallet manufacturing and a pallet recycling operation, I thought I’d share a few tidbits that the crew may find interesting.

There is an entire market for recycled pallets. But because transportation is one of the major costs, this market moves in truck load quantities. Big logistics outfits (like CHEP or INEFCO) bid the national HD, Lowes, Ace and Walmart contracts to dispose of their pallets, and then sub out the regional servicing of the contract to companies like the one I work for. These regional players park an empty tractor trailer at the big box stores, where the pallets are collected, and when the store manager calls in that the trailer is full, we’re required to perform a “drop and hook” (deliver an empty trailer and back haul the full one) within a contractual time period (usually 24 to 48 hours). The load of pallets comes back to the processing facility and is segregated into three groups:

1. “Marketable” pallets are those built to the Grocery Store Manufactures Association (GMA) standard geometry of 48”x40” (this is 80-90% of the pallet world). These are referred to as cores and are stacked in queue for repair, which involves replacing broken deck an bottom boards, and repair of cracked stringers with either metal gusset plates or “companion stringers” (short blocks of wood sistered up along the inside and nailed in place).

2. Pallets that are not marketable, but can be used for repair lumber go down a conveyor line where they are disassembled. This is done with a specialized horizontal band saw with a bi-metal blade. The pallet rides on a guide so that the blade is wedged in between the deck boards and stringers and cuts only the nails. The deck boards are then cut to 40” and the stringers are cut down to make “companion stringers”

3. Softwood pallets, block pallets, and pallets too small to get useful lumber from go into the grind pile. We grind “pallet mountain” daily and during our busy season, fill 8 to 10 open top trailers a week. Nails are removed via. a magnetic head on the conveyor and sold for scrap metal. The grinder screen size is set up to produce chip sizes per customer requirements and the chips are sold to bio-mass plants to generate electricity (where they love the dry, high BTU hardwood pallet chips), or to wood pellet manufactures or on occasion to bark mulch outfits.

The CHEP contract will stipulate a fixed charge for transportation, an amount credited for each marketable core, and a disposal charge for non-marketable“ pallets.

Pallets painted all blue or all red, are actually lease pallets, and are accumulated untill there is a full truck load and then picked up by CHEP or INEFCO. If you ever wind up with a colored pallet… it’s acutally someone elses property.

True GMA pallets have 5/8” deck boards, and are made from EDH (eastern dense hardwood… maple, oak, hickory, etc…). They will have notched 5/4×3-5/8” stringers, and 6” lead deck boards (which facilitates three fasteners per joint). These pallets are load rated for 2,000 lbs. on pallet racks. Repaired GMA pallets are segregated by the type of repair and sold in truckload qty.

Hardwood pallets are assembled with green lumber with hard screw shank nails (to prevent splitting out the deck board ends). The lumber then dries rapidly while in service. Softwood pallets are a mixed bag… using both rough green and S4S KD, lumber. High volume pallet manufactures are set up so that a log gets stuffed into a mill at one end of the building and a pallet pops out of an automatic nailing machine at the other end, with the touch of human hands minimized. These lines are expensive and require down time to set up for different sizes, however, so they want to run trailer load quantities only… and prefere to spend most of their time banging out GMA pallets.

Believe it or not, there have been serious injuries and even a couple fatalities related to pallets falling apart when handled at the big retail warehouses (Sam’s, BJ’s, etc…), so those outfits are very restrictive as to the grade of pallet that their suppliers must use when shipping in product.

There’re are several other pallet standards and construction methods. With non-std. GMA pallets and block pallets making up the remaining 10-20% of the maket. Light duty pallets are often made from softwood or Aspen. And Southern yellow pine is frequently used in the south. The DOD also has several published pallet standards…. And of course the Europeans have their own union gig with “Euro-pals”.

Because the spread of Pinewood Nematode (think Dutch Elm disease) is of great concern in counties that don’t already have it. There is a whole protocol for heat treating lumber used in pallets and crates used for international shipment. Hence the HT stamp (which is different than KD) to certify that the little bugaboos are properly toasted.

Trust me, there is no such thing as an “unwanted” pallet. As mentioned, however, transportation and handling costs determine whether or not anybody can make money off of the pallets. So if you don’t have a truck load qty. of pallets, and both a loading dock and fork truck on site, you will have a difficult time attracting any ones interest to pay for your pallets. You may be able to get a “pallet gypsy” to take them for free, however. And these guys will bring pick-up truck loads into a processing facility and make a couple bucks (probably just enough for smokes and gas).

So there’s the world of pallets in brief…. and the next time you pass a pile behind your local retailer you can muse to yourself “there’s gold in dem dare pallets”


-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

36 replies so far

View Rex B's profile

Rex B

320 posts in 2250 days

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

Very interesting read, thanks for posting.

-- Rex

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2486 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


8535 posts in 3648 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 2850 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

8046 posts in 2328 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”

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View Jeff's profile


433 posts in 3194 days

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

Cool information. Free enterprise at work.

View Ted's profile


2847 posts in 2210 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

8046 posts in 2328 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.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View cakman's profile


30 posts in 2690 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 2354 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

8046 posts in 2328 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.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View Sarit's profile


549 posts in 3139 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


2873 posts in 2514 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


2584 posts in 2960 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

8046 posts in 2328 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

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

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