Re-Purposing Pallets

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Forum topic by lew posted 07-01-2012 04:19 PM 4488 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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10263 posts in 2575 days

07-01-2012 04:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: pallets tip resource

Just received this in an email from Andy's EZwoodshop. Just reposting it here for your consideration.

Ever build something from a wood pallet? I remember all the buzz about pallet furniture from a couple years ago, but apparently it’s still going strong today, especially with some of the newer photo sharing sites like Pinterest. I’ve seen everything from pallet tables, pallet chairs, pallet beds, and even pallet kids’ toys. Truth is I have very mixed feelings about the fad. As interesting as some of the projects are, I doubt I will ever build furniture from a wood pallet. Here’s why.
So What’s the Problem with Pallets?
Everything from soda pop to cyanide gets shipped on pallets. And because pallets are repaired and resold (many times over), it’s nearly impossible to know what a recycled pallet has been used for during its lifetime. More often than not, a wood pallet does have bacteria and other contaminants lurking under the surface. For those who aren’t up to date on the subject, here are a few things to consider before bringing pallet furniture into your home.
Bacteria in Wood Pallets
Do you recall a couple years ago when wood pallets made national news? Twenty people from Michigan, Ohio, and New York ended up in the hospital after eating lettuce infected with E.coli. Where did the E.coli come from? You guessed it—wood shipping pallets. Of course, this discovery opened a fresh can of worms for the FDA, who had always let the shipping pallet industry operate freely without regulation. After the big lettuce recall (in 23 different states), the FDA quickly put forth a set of food-safety guidelines for shippers, but no laws to actually enforce them.
Fungicides in Wood Pallets
A lot of wood pallets are treated with pesticides and fungicides before they leave the assembly line. That’s because insects and mold love to hide in the grain of the wood, which is a big problem for companies that ship things around the world (ever hear of Dutch Elm disease?). These chemicals can’t be removed (or easily covered for that matter), and can continue to release toxins in the air for years to come. As a result, treated pallets are a bad choice for any kind of project you might want to keep in the house.

Still Want to Do It?
I’m kind of a germophobe to begin with, so there’s no convincing me that building pallet furniture is a good idea. However, I realize a lot of people love the idea and are determined to build something with a pallet no matter what. With that in mind, here are some practical tips for getting started—and how to avoid some of the more common pitfalls of the craft.
Recycled Pallets – What to Avoid
Sometimes you can spot which recycled pallets to avoid simply by paying attention to how the wood looks, feels, and smells.
> Smells Bad. This is a dead giveaway that bacteria is growing somewhere on the pallet. Leave it alone and look elsewhere.
> Looks Oily. This is a good indicator that the pallet was treated with some type of fungicide (to prevent mold and wood rot). Keep looking.
> Spots and Stains. This can mean only one thing: SPILLS. There’s no telling what might have leaked, so don’t even touch it.
Recognizing a Treated Pallet
Treated and non-treated pallets can sometimes look the same. Here are a few clues to help you recognize the difference. First see if the pallet is marked with the following letters:
MB – (Methyl Bromide). MB is a toxic pesticide applied to wood pallets to kill insects. Although pallet manufacturers are phasing out the process, you will still see this mark on older, recycled pallets.
HT – (Heat Treated). HT is also a process that also kills insects. The method is considered safer than using MB, but can still include the use of other hazardous chemicals.
Does it Feel Extra Heavy?
Sometimes the weight of a pallet can be an indicator that it’s been treated with fungicides, especially if the wood also has an odd color.

Cleaning Recycled Pallets
If you’re confident you’ve found a wood pallet that’s free of bacteria (as free as it can be anyway) and doesn’t appear to be treated with fungicides, it’s still a good idea to scrub the pallet down with bleach and soapy water. Keep in mind that bacteria might still be embedded in the grain even after a thorough cleaning. That means wood from a pallet should never come in contact with food, children’s toys, or children’s furniture, regardless of how well you clean the surface.
Working with Recycled Pallets
Pallets are usually riddled with nails, splinters, and other sharp edges that make working with the material especially hazardous. Plus, the dust created from cutting or sanding a pallet treated with fungicides and/or pesticides can be extremely toxic. Always use the following safety precautions when working with recycled pallets:
> Wear gloves to avoid splinters, cuts and punctures.
> Wear safety glasses to keep stuff out of your eyes.
> Wear a dust mask to keep fungicides out of your lungs.
Be safe in the shop!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

9 replies so far

View Marpintero's profile


194 posts in 2107 days

#1 posted 07-01-2012 04:39 PM

Well said Lew. It is very important to know that recycling, like everything in life, must take into account certain issues. I think you stated very well and will be of great help to many.
Thank you very much.

Bien dicho Lew. Es muy importante saber que el reciclaje, como todo en la vida, debe realizarse teniendo en cuenta ciertas cuestiones. Creo que las has expuesto muy bien y serán de gran ayuda para muchos.
Muchas gracias.

-- Our lives are marked and bound together by concentric rings. Martín - Argentina

View ShipWreck's profile


548 posts in 2572 days

#2 posted 07-01-2012 05:08 PM

I recently met a new freind who has been using pallet wood for years and never had a problem. He is fairly poor and uses what he can get his hands on. He stops by the car wash on the way home and washes them down. I imagine a good pressure washing would eliminate any problems with contamination.

Sounds to me that Andy might be a bit phobic.

View mafe's profile


9880 posts in 1909 days

#3 posted 07-01-2012 07:47 PM

Interesting article.
Best thoughts,

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

4786 posts in 1148 days

#4 posted 07-01-2012 08:52 PM

HT – (Heat Treated). HT is also a process that also kills insects. The method is considered safer than using MB, but can still include the use of other hazardous chemicals

None of the heat treat processes I’ve seen involve any chemicals directly. They simply “cook” the pallets. How the heat is generated does vary, with some processes exposing the pallets directly to the exhaust from the burning of natural gas (or propane)

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

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13347 posts in 2493 days

#5 posted 07-02-2012 01:47 AM

Nice article, Lew.

View Roger's profile


16066 posts in 1624 days

#6 posted 07-03-2012 12:59 AM

It’s good that u posted this Lew. yes, I get the same email. It makes a lotta sense. I actually used to keep (still have about 8 or 10) a small stack of em just for burning. I believe this is one o them things that folks just gotta use a thing called common sense. I know there has been some nice projects done from pallets outta these pages. I was ahead of this little article because I said about a month ago, this is the last o the pallet campfires. Use yer noggins folks. That’s the botom line

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe.

View redryder's profile


2270 posts in 1921 days

#7 posted 07-03-2012 06:49 AM

I have always felt pallets were too much of a hassle to tear down, de-nail etc. Now you have given me more reasons to not use them. Recycling seems to make some people feel all warm and fuzzy. It may also make them feel sick…................

-- mike...............

View Napaman's profile


5379 posts in 2897 days

#8 posted 07-03-2012 02:05 PM

really good article!

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View Too_Many_Tools's profile


32 posts in 200 days

#9 posted 02-02-2015 03:14 AM

I would be interested in hearing what woods others have gotten from pallets.


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