Pallet project debacle! Help!

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Forum topic by McKitten posted 09-02-2014 11:45 AM 2036 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View McKitten's profile


1 post in 1358 days

09-02-2014 11:45 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question pallet help me nail gun

I was so exited for labor day weekend. I got my hands on 4 free pallets and was all set to get to work on some DIY furniture. I broke apart one of the pallets, sawed the lengths I needed, and began what I thought would be a relatively easy job of fastening the boards together. More fool I.

I tried hammering them together with 1.5in. ring shank nails. This proved so difficult it was comical. I was pounding and pounding away and the nails were barely going through the wood. Some of the nail heads even broke off with the force of my eventually frustrated hammering but the nails were barely driven into the surface.

Then I thought maybe if I used a nail gun with some force behind it this would work. So, I went to rent one from Home Depot. This was another exercise in futility as the people at the rental place had no idea what they were taking about, plus they were out of compressed air cartridges. So I went to Lowe’s to price out a nail gun and maybe get some better advice. The guy in the tool department seemed to have a much better idea what I was talking about and recommended some screws (advising that I drill some pilot holes) Great. Can do. I get home and go to work drilling those babies in. No, the wood proves to be too hard for the screws too. I drill and drill and the screws don’t even penetrate the second board. I break the tip of a screwdriver bit off in the head of a screw just trying to get it in after throwing all my body weight into the thing.

Then I try drilling pilot holes the size of the screw shaft into the wood of both boards and screwing the screws in afterward. Does this work? Not a bit. The screw seems to be in both boards but will not join the two close enough together to make them flush with one another.

I showed the wood to someone who said maybe it was Asian hardwood. Whatever it is it’s like iron. Two people at home depot, a wood worker friend, and the guy at Lowe’s all say that I don’t need a nail gun and/or it won’t work.

I can tell the pallet was put together using a nail gun because, on the nails I pulled out of the pallet, I can see the traces of metal that was holding the nails together in the magazine (two little wire filament things on the shaft of each nail) so obviously a nail gun worked on the pallet at some point.

MY QUESTION IS: What kind of nail gun was used and if not a cordless one, can a cordless one be used? AND/OR how in the heck do I work with this wood?! Easy little beginner project turned into a weekend nightmare. Please help!

8 replies so far

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1832 posts in 1964 days

#1 posted 09-02-2014 12:27 PM

Hi Mckitten,

I have done quite a bit of work with pallet wood. I have encountered some beastly hard woods, but never one that I couldn’t put a screw through. There are ways to make the screw go in to wood easier; such as coating the screw in a wax like Johnson’s Paste Wax or plain old bar soap.

Second, was the hole that you drilled too small? (Just asking because I don’t know you and am trying to help). Maybe try stepping up the size of the hole for the screw.

Third, if you snap the head off of a nail that you want to use to fasten something, you can chuck that in a drill and use that go into a drill/driver and use the exact size for the hole. Then you can pound it in.

Fourth, did you have the pieces clamped together in some fashion? Whether in a bench vice or clamps?

Fifth, what are you trying to build? There is guaranteed going to be someone, maybe me, that has built what you are trying to work on. And then can offer some insight

Don’t quit, you will be happier in the end. Good luck, hope I helped and didn’t confuse the situation

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View mahdee's profile


3883 posts in 1762 days

#2 posted 09-02-2014 01:11 PM

More likely the pallet is white oak and more likely it was wet when assembled. The only way I know how is to drill a hole as big as your nail/screw on the top piece and a smaller one on the bottom one.


View bigblockyeti's profile


5112 posts in 1715 days

#3 posted 09-02-2014 01:38 PM

Drill hole the size of your screw in the top board, drill a hole with only a light interference fit. Use good heavy screws to, drywall screws won’t take the torque to fully seat if the interference is too tight. There are many powerful nail guns capable of driving nails into steel, the problem very likely might be the wood is dry to the point of being fragile with such an application of force.

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1286 posts in 1725 days

#4 posted 09-02-2014 02:22 PM

Pretty much all screws come in numbered sizes #6, #8, #10, #12, and #14. Then they go to inch sizes, 1/4”, 5/16”, and so forth.
When drilling for numbered screws, if you don’t have the proper sized countersink set up, drill your top piece first, using a drill bit the same size as the screw, drilling through the top piece thickness only. Next, remove that bit, and get another bit 1/32-1/16” smaller in OD than the numbered size. In this particular case, get a bit that’s about 1/32” smaller than the screw. You’ve already indicated that the wood is hard, so the hole you drill should only make contact on the threads, instead of the screw body. If you have a numbered index, the screw size, through hole and drill sizes are indicated on the inside of the index.
I found some drywall screws in #10×1 1/2” long, and did a breakage experiment. I couldn’t break it or them, so that’s what I use now…......#8 screws are a lot tougher than those #6’s that the boxes sell as they are brittle…...
If you’re going to use nails, find a bit just a bit smaller than the nail, and drill out the hole and pound the nails into you piece. ............. Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View mpounders's profile


875 posts in 2890 days

#5 posted 09-02-2014 03:08 PM

Sounds like it might be cheaper to buy softer wood?

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

View diverlloyd's profile


2727 posts in 1852 days

#6 posted 09-02-2014 03:19 PM

Have you tried self tapping screws(spax or kreg)?

View runswithscissors's profile


2750 posts in 2020 days

#7 posted 09-02-2014 10:20 PM

It’s about impossible to pull 2 pieces of wood together with an all-thread screw, as so many are today. The old fashioned wood screw had a smooth shank for the top piece of wood and threads to go into the lower piece. The smooth shank allowed the top board to be pulled tight when the screw was driven down.

If the 2 pieces aren’t clamped tightly together when you’re using an all-thread screw, the screws lock the boards into whatever orientation you started with. Starting with a 1/16” gap, for example, you’ll end up with the same gap no matter how hard you try to drive the screw. Sometimes you can get away with this in softwood, but even then you can have the problem. Of course, pre drilling will help with all-thread screws, especially if the top hole is the same diameter as the outside of the threads.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View endgrainy's profile


251 posts in 1883 days

#8 posted 09-03-2014 01:02 AM

Mckitten, I hear your frustration. Every step in the woodworking process presents challenges, but there are none more frustrating than the first steps. I agree that a nailgun is not your best option here.

As far as fasteners go, I agree with the comments above. If using a mechanical fastener, I would choose screws over nails for strength and stability. I assume you are aesthetically ok with exposed screw heads? One suggestion – do you have an impact driver? For screws that are really tough to drive, the torque of an impact driver would be useful.

For fine furniture, most people would use wooden joinery with glue. As a second choice, countersunk wood screws with pilot holes as suggested, possibly followed with wooden plugs to cover the screw heads. If this is more rustic furniture, and you’re ok with the exposed screw heads, the impact driver with the above suggestions may work.

-- Follow me on Instagram @endgrainy

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