Thursday, January 8, 2015

Working with Wood Palettes

For quite a long time I have viewed other people's amazing projects using discarded wood palettes.

Every time I have seen an abandoned palette somewhere, I've tried to get it into my car, but they've never fit and I usually don't carry equipment in my car for breaking them down.  But one day my brother told me he had a dozen wood palettes for me, and that he'd deliver them to my house.  Jackpot!

In preparation, I decided to treat myself to an upgraded brad nailer.  I've seen many people use this specific cordless, electric brad nail gun in their blogs and spoke very highly of it.  So I bought one for myself.  No more noisy air compressor!

Then my brother brought me the palettes.

He also lent me his reciprocating saw to help me break the palettes down.

This saw is able to cut through wood and nails.

By the time all 12 were cut down, I had to reorganize my garage a little and neatly organize my new wood.

Before I begin making anything in particular, I needed practice with my new nail gun and wood.  I very carefully cut the studs, and began nailing planks to the studs on all 4 sides.

During the cutting and nailing stages I wore work gloves and a protective face shield - similar to what's pictured below.

The gloves protect myself from splinters, and the face mask shields my face from any flying debris from the wood.  I'd also like to add that I did not attempt to remove any of the nails and staples that were still in the wood - so I was also protecting myself from possible flying pieces of sharp metal.

The nail gun worked excellently and despite no glue, screws or pocket holes, this thing is holding together well.  Next I began sanding with the belt sander.

This was no easy task.  I concentrated on one board, and smoothed it out with my rotary sander.

The board is not quite smooth, and not very even.  I'm afraid I need better tools to level these boards, namely a tabletop planer.  But for now, I'll Keep playing with it.  Next I added some boards for legs.

Then I added a second board to each leg to make it stronger.

....and some crossbeams on the bottom for support.

I called it quits after that.  My hands were hurting from splinters that actually went through my work gloves and using the crowbar repeatedly to remove nails lodged into the wood.  After a good night's sleep I decided to try making something else.  I spent about an hour and a half trying to remove nails from the studs.  The reciprocating saw cut the heads off most of the nails, and the crowbar and various pliers could not pull out most of them.  I guess I'll have to work around it some how.

Those pesky nails also created problems when trying to saw some of the studs to length.  Whoever assembled these palettes had screws going diagonally inside the wood every few inches.  I had to stop sawing when I saw sparks shooting out of my miter saw - luckily I didn't damage my saw blade.  Eventually I cut enough studs to begin making another table or bar.

This time I attempted to drill pocket holes in the studs.  This also turned out to be a failure - mostly because of nails and small staples scattered throughout the studs.  Also each palette stud seemed to be a different thickness.  I would have to readjust the pocket hole jig and drill bit for each stud I planned on making pocket holes into.

I eventually gave up on the pocket hole idea and drilled straight holes at the ends of the studs.

About 3 hours after I began I was alarmed to find out that I had only gotten as far as making a simple frame.  Boo!

Next I started cutting more studs to use as legs.  Like before, I ran into the same problems, but eventually sawed 4 studs evenly.

I screwed the legs on...

...and screwed on some supports to the bottom.

Next I used my planks to cover the top.  Like the studs, each plank has a different thickness and width.  This table top is super uneven.

Eventually I boarded up 3 sides.

It's a bit of a sloppy job, but I like how the planks look along side of each other.

Both these tables could be made to look nice....

...but I'm not going any further. These pieces were just for practice.  After a while I disassembled the bar.

I flipped the table upside down and used it as a storage piece for my wood.

Now I have to work with making this wood more usable.  I clamped one board to my work table and slowly removed all the existing nail heads still stuck in the wood.  Then I used my hand planer to begin leveling.  I was surprised how nice the wood was underneath.

Next I took the plank and ran both long sides on my table saw, giving them straight edges.

Then I straightened out the short sides with the miter saw.

Below is an unaltered plank with the one I just finished.

After working on a second plank I decided that this wood can indeed be used to make something nice.  I gathered several more boards to work on.

Below is a photo of a board, unaltered.

Below is the same exact board after planing.

One thing you have to make sure of is to thoroughly check each board for hidden nails.  The board below had a nail hidden from me....

...and as a result it chipped the blade on my hand planer.

After replacing the blade, I sanded the boards I had worked on.

Instead of trying to make something big again, I decided to work small.  So I'm going to make a simple, small box.  I cut all the boards to the same width.

Then I trimmed a few boards to make the bottom and sides of the box.

For the bottom I used the thickest piece of wood and drilled some pocket holes.

I attached the 2 pieces with pocket screws.

Then I attached the sides with wood glue and brad nails.

Next I began sanding and leveling the sides.

Then I added wood filler to the bottom and sides.

While that dried I cut large pieces of palette wood and sanded it.  This will make the lid.

I attached 2 pieces to each other with hinges...

...then I glued and nailed it to the box.

After a little more sanding I finished my box.

I'm not sure it I'll stain this one, as I like how the different colors and conditions of the wood play off each other.

With the box more-or-less done, I decided to tackle another project.  In preparation for Christmas, and a gathering at my house, I moved the my bar into my kitchen, underneath the rustic kitchen shelf I built a few months ago.  This was a perfect place for the bar since all our glassware for the bar is on the rustic shelf.

In it's place, I moved one of my bookshelves to the dining room.  The shelf fits nicely, and needs some filling.  But on the sides I felt it was barren.  I placed a small vase with flowers to one side, but didn't like how it looked.

Remember this vase I made?

I made 2 of these rustic vases for my faireplace.

I've decided to make 2 more similar vases out of palette wood to go on both sides of the bookshelf.  To start I gathered several pieces of wood to work with.

I removed the nails and cut the wood to be even heights using my miter saw.  I then cut all the pieces to equal widths using my saw table.

Instead of using my hand planer, I decided to clean the boards using some course sandpaper (80 grit).

I'm amazed how nice the wood is underneath.

for a few of the boards that had splits, I added glue and clamped them.

Next I began assembling.  My original vases were assembled with pocket holes/screws, but these vases will be assembled using wood glue and brad nails.  

After the 2 carcasses were assembled I began adding trim from some leftover wood from the box build.

I needed more wood for trim, so I followed the same steps and cut/sanded some trim wood.

Then I attached the new trim using glue and brads.  After the bottoms were done I added top trim...

...then some more trim for the bottom...

...then a base, and decorative trim running vertically down the middle.

The last bit of trim was added to the top near the opening to make it look nicer.

Here are my 2 new vases next to one of my older ones.

Then I applied some wood filler to fill in gaps and holes from the nails I had removed.

When the filler dried I sanded and cleaned them up.

Next I applied the same wood stain as I did for the first set of vases.

I liked how the vases came out so I stained the box I had made from palette wood.

Then I let everything dry.

Then I sanded the vases to look rustic.

I also sanded the box.

I love how the box turned out!  I think this will make a great gift for my sister-in-law!

As for the vases, I placed them on both sides of the bookshelf.

and completed everything with some more flowers.

In conclusion, some wood from palettes can be quite usable - mostly the planks.  Palettes can be found for free, but they do have drawback - the studs (to me) and not very good, even after sanding.

There are too many embedded nails (with the heads chopped off) and I haven't the means to remove them easily - and they required a lot of work to smooth them out.  Extracting nail heads wasn't overly difficult from the planks, but it was time consuming.  And on the chance you miss a nail, you could damage the tools you are working with.   Also each piece of wood from a single palette seem to have different widths and thicknesses. Perhaps one day I will own a table top planer like the one seen below.

This tool would make the boards even and flat, but it's an expensive piece of machinery.   But it will probably make all that palette wood easy to use and work with, so I'm putting it on my wish list.  Another great tool is that cordless nail gun I bought.

For anyone interested, this is the Ryobi 18-Volt One+ AirStrike 18 gauge cordless brad nailer.  I bought mine at Home Depot, but you can also buy it online.  It doesn't come with the battery - you need to buy that separately.  So far I like it a lot more than the nail gun I used with my compressor.  It's a bit heavier than a normal nail gun, but so much easier to use.

I salute those who make masterpieces out of palettes!  I hope some day I will be making my own masterpieces out of palette wood!

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE:  2 months after receiving all those palettes, I bought myself a surface planer!

This thing is awesome!  It smooths and evens out the surface of the palette wood very nicely.



I wasted no time planing a lot of my palette wood.

I used some of these fresh pieces to build a few boxes for my girlfriend's jewelry and cometics.

The surface planer definitely makes palette wood nicer and more usable!

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