Pallets are available in abundance in the UK. I personally have made many wooden objects from pallets ranging from tables, shelves to storage units and a rabbit hutch. In this article I wanted to share some tips that make disassembling pallets easier. It certainly is not the easiest method of doing wood craft, there is a lot of bending and pallets are heavy so manoeuvring them is not easy. They also take up a lot space, if you are not to selective you could end up with more material than you can use. There are reasons companies and individuals are willing give them away. Our local council waste management centre does not take pallets.
Choose your pallets carefully, there are plenty around so I like to take my time when choosing a pallet, and as a rule I don’t accept pallets from people unless I have viewed them first. The cleaner and newer the pallet is the better. Repairs on pallets can mean that more nails have been inserted into the wood, which makes taking removing wood without creaking it more difficult. Check if there are enough good pieces of wood in the pallet for your project. If too many of the slats have been nailed with numerous nails, stay away from these pallets as you will break too many of the slats. The nails on most pallets are serrated and they do not come out smoothly, which means a stronger construction, but on the downside it makes it harder to take apart.
This slat has many nails. It also has a crack and there is a knot. Removing this slat will be difficult.
Tools needed in taking a pallet apart include a claw hammer, chisel and a crow bar. It is advised to wear a strong pair of shoes, steel capped is the best as the pallets can end up on your toes when manoeuvring the pallet. A pair of gloves is a good idea, although as you will see in the photographs below, I tend not to listen to my own advice.
Lever slat out with two pieces off strong wood. This distributes pressure exerted on either side of slat.
Levering the slats off with two pieces of strong wood each side, is an efficient way for removing slats without cracking them. Once you have levered the slats off, you will be left with a slat with nails sticking out. Push the nails through by hammering the end of the nail until you have enough space between the head of the nail and the wood to lever it out with you claw hammer or crowbar.
I alway keep a little box or tin to throw the nails in. This keeps your work space tidy and the nails can be used for other projects.
Hammer end/point of nail
Lever nail out with claw hammer.
Lever larger nails out with crow bar.
You may find that some of the the heads off the nail come off when pulling them out with the claw hammer or with the crow bar. Use a nail punch to punch the nail through the hole, and then pull the nail out with a carpentry pincer.
Hammer the nail punch to the end/point of nail.
Some nails need to be straightened before they can be punched out.
On occasions you will find that nails are too bent to be levered out with a hammer or a crow bar. I hammer the skew nail the opposite direction it is bent, flat on to the piece of wood. The straightens the nail a little. Next lever the nail up, ready to be punched with the nail punch.
Flatten nail onto wood to straighten a skew nail.
After flattening the nail, lever it upright again. Ready to be punched out
Lever headless nails out with carpentry pincers.
To create a space where pieces of wood are too close for the claw hammer to lever underneath the wood you desire to remove, hit the crow bar with a hammer as shown in Fig 4. I use this method when I can’t take off slats with the two pieces of wood method, or when slats have broken. Only use this method as a last resort as it will more than likely end with the slat being damaged. This method is good for removing the blocks of wood attached to the slats.
Hammer crow bar underneath slat and then lever bar to lift the slat. Use ear defenders when doing this, it’s really loud.
Hammering the crow bar underneath the square blocks and then lever the crow bar to remove the block.
To be successful dis-assembling a pallet you would have to be determined. No pallet is the same and with practice you would find techniques that suite your skill set. My motivation comes from dreaming of the project I am wanting to complete. I don’t have to travel to the local wood merchant and stand in a line to make an order, this also reduces wear and tear on my van and limits my petrol usage. Not only am a saving money by not having to buy the wood, but I am also being kind to nature by reusing wood.
Use a vice to straighten nails. You may feel more comfortable placing the skew nail on a flat piece of metal and hammering it out. Often I use a combination of both techniques.
Place bent nail in vice and tighten vice to straighten the nail
Hammer out nails (straighten them) using a flat piece of metal.