Re-Purposing Pallets

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Forum topic by lew posted 07-01-2012 04:19 PM 7730 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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12329 posts in 3904 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.

19 replies so far

View Marpintero's profile


211 posts in 3436 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


557 posts in 3901 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


11741 posts in 3238 days

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

Interesting article.
Best thoughts,

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

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Mainiac Matt

8432 posts in 2477 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)

-- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3822 days

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

Nice article, Lew.

View Roger's profile


20949 posts in 2953 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. Keep your dust collector fed.

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2393 posts in 3250 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...............

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5526 posts in 4226 days

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

really good article!

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

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32 posts in 1529 days

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

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


View HillWilly's profile


54 posts in 2257 days

#10 posted 03-20-2015 10:46 PM

Good article…..... I have found a shop that gets auto parts from all over the world and there is some AMAZING woods in their pallets that I, and most of the people I talk to, cant ID. Some are kinda nasty but I have found some that are new and spotless. Some I have found are straight nailed and made of panels that are bolted together. I take the easy, clean ones.

I understand that life is full of hazardous things. The furniture that we buy for our homes is poisoning us. The tobacco that we are filling our lungs with is killing us from the inside out. It’s rotting our gums and causing our teeth to fall out…... The auto grease and oils that I have had my hands in all my life could make me sick….. Alcohol is a poison but we do it anyway…... The fast foods and “garbage” that we eat is killing us….. The snow that we have to drive thru in the winter could kill us…. Yada yada yada.

I recently read a toxicity report on the dust from the very woods that we run thru our machines. Go figure.

Pick your poisons cuz you cant avoid them all. Be vigilant….be carefull….have fun with your pallets.

-- ...and whether or not it is clear to us, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should...DESIDERATA...Max Ehrmann

View bonesbr549's profile


1576 posts in 3216 days

#11 posted 03-21-2015 12:10 AM

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.

- ShipWreck

As someoen who works in manufacturing and knows this topic, a car was is not going to get rid of chemically treated pallets. If they are heat treated thats better, but you don’t know what was stored on them. Could be harmless lettuce, and it could be PCB’s as well. We’ve banned all wood pallets from our plants. Originally we said vendors could use HT rated pallets, but found that some vendors, were taking the HT boards and putting them on CT to make them more expensive. So now we will only allow plastic.

When the pallet craze started, I have repeatedly implored folks that it’s not advised, but at best use HT only.

Go ahead bring that crap into your house if you want and live with the offgassing. Not me.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View canadianchips's profile


2608 posts in 3146 days

#12 posted 03-21-2015 12:22 AM

I went through this 20+ years ago when people discovered the harms of “lead paint”
I had finished building and giving away toys for kids to play with. Used what I had. Tremclad paint. The old stuff that was made with lead. Of course I panicked. Was discussing what I have done with a RN nurse. She looked at me and said NOT to WORRY. Chances are the kid will choke on trying to eat the whole thing sooner than get lead poisoning.
We just recently went through the TREATED lumber wirh arsenic .OMG !
But now we realize every human body has arsenic in it !
I don’t build much with pallets, I tried, disassembling and hitting nails was more of a hassle than what I felt I got out of it. I do use a lot of recycled lumber from houses that are torn down, or furniture that has been thrown out to curb. OLD house doors also take a lot of time to get to the wood I am looking for, not using them as much…..depending what shape they are in.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View upinflames's profile


217 posts in 2311 days

#13 posted 03-22-2015 07:16 PM

In this litigation happy society today there is no way I would make anything from cra-pallets. Just asking for trouble. The U.S. passed all kinds of restrictions on what they can be treated with. I do not know of ANY country that abides by regulations of another.

The HT doesn’t mean squat unless you follow that cra-pallet and see where it goes and what was on it. If you think it’s a great resource, ask your insurance provider if they would cover you if someone filed suit.

View Shadowrider's profile


183 posts in 1358 days

#14 posted 03-22-2015 11:02 PM

No way I would ever use pallets for anything to be brought into the house. Working in an industrial setting and seeing what is commonly shipped on pallets convinced me that’s never coming indoors. Dry chemical sacks containing things like sodium metabisulphite, ammonium fluoride, chromium trioxide, just to name a few, the list is friggen endless. There’s just no way of knowing.

View MrUnix's profile (online now)


6949 posts in 2347 days

#15 posted 03-23-2015 12:21 AM

Use them all the time. Can often find some really nice exotic hardwoods, depending on country of origin.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

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