Today's post is a little different from my usual stuff. For today I'm going to consider the use of pallet wood for woodwork projects. Tis going to be a very sensible post.
As I'm semi-retired I have plenty of time to indulge my many hobbies including woodwork. First off I'm not naturally gifted when it comes to things practical. What I lack in skill is made up by my dedication to learn and profit from my mistakes (I told you it was going to be sensible).
I mostly work with pallet wood. Pallet wood has the advantage that it is free. Whenever I order an item from the mega hardware store in my area (Mitre 10), that requires delivery, I ask the store to throw in a few pallets that are destined for scrap anyway. I know that dedicated woodworkers the world over will recoil in horror when I mention pallet wood. Pallet wood has many disadvantages and many think it is just not worth the effort. I'll mention these disadvantages later in the post. Personally, I use pallet wood because commercially available wood is relatively expensive and hardwood, in particular, is very expensive and difficult to find. For instance, Mitre 10 only stocks pine and within a two-hour drive, there is only one outlet where I can obtain various species of hardwood such as oak and ash.
To date, I've used pallet wood for a variety of projects, such as: stools; workbench; bows racks; arrow rack/store; mallet; large plant boxes; vegetable plot surround; shave horse; gate; crossbows; associated shelves; shoe rack and archery stand. I cannot tell a lie, some of the objects have been supplemented with commercially sourced pine.
Let's look at some of the issues involved when working with pallet wood. The first problem is one of safety. All pallets are initially treated to remove insect pests. In the majority of cases, the wood is heat-treated although you can still find pallets treated with methyl bromide. Pallets treated with methyl bromide gas are left with a toxic residue and should never be used. Generally the mode of 'pest control' is indicated on the pallet. Thus, heat-treated wood is coded with, HT, while bromide treated wood, receives the moniker, MB. Therefore, it shouldn't be a problem distinguishing between suitable pallets from pallets that should be discarded.
Pallet wood is of poor quality. Only the finest shitty wood is deemed suitable for the pallet. The wood is of uneven thickness and full of knots. Also, the ends of the pallet are universally split by the attaching nails. These need to be cut off, unless of course, you are deliberately cultivating a primitive 'rustic' look. If you are not interested in keeping the nail riddled end pieces then removing these pieces will limit the length of the boards obtained. And of course, before you can use the wood you have to dismantle the pallet. This is not an easy exercise and will take some time. There are various methods to do this. I direct my intrepid readers to YouTube. I use a handheld circular saw to cut through the wood in situ. Be careful of nails, they will fuck up the blade! The wood that is left is of uneven dimensions and often warped. Once you process the wood by planing etc, you have to be careful to avoid random pieces of metal, grit, and dirt. I use a cheap blade for this type of work that is exclusively used for pallet processing. Don't use expensive blades for this work as the blades quickly become beaten up and chipped.
In the final analysis, is it worth using pallet wood for your projects? I have to say the main advantage (for me) is that the wood is 'free' although you will have to spend time taking the pallet apart and processing the wood before you can use it. Any scrap pieces of wood leftover go to fuel our wood burner which is the only source of heating in our house. If you live in North America I suspect transforming pallets to second-grade items is not worth the effort. From what I can see, wood is cheap and easily sourced in the US and Canada. New Zealand is a special case. Many items that can be cheaply acquired in many countries are often relatively expensive in my adopted homeland. I'd like to say that the price hike is due to our isolation in the vast Pacific ocean although I can't discount downright profiteering. Perhaps I'll write about this issue in a future post.