Pallet Wood: Memories, Uses and Cautions

Pallet Wood: Memories, Uses and Cautions

In last eZine’s editorial, Rob mentioned his recent acquisition of pallet wood – in the form of ribbon-cut mahogany. We heard from several readers who had thoughts, or experiences, with pallet wood to share.  – Editor

“I have rarely used pallet woods, but I was able to get some dunnage from the cargo hold of ships at the New Orleans riverfront docks back in the late 1960s and 70s. A friend, Larry,  who worked on the docks would bring me some amazing roughsawn cocobolo, mahogany and other amazing woods that were at the bottom of the ship cargo area.

“I remember the cocobolo being around 10 inches wide x 3-4 inches thick, and many were 6 feet to 8 feet long. Larry would ask $25 each for the cocobolo planks and usually anywhere from $10 to $20 for the other woods. If only I had a time machine….” – Greg Little

“Many years ago, when I was working at a big box store, I found that the pallets, on which the flooring tiles were being shipped, were made from mahogany and teak.  Due to the enormous weights on the pallets, they were using as strong a wood as possible.

“I grabbed a couple and very carefully removed all of the nails, then during one of my ‘demo’ classes I was showing off a DeWalt 12” planer. I planed down every piece of that wood to show what beauty you can find underneath the surface of some ugly looking wood. Needless to say, I figured I had enough wood to see me through the summer months of building things, etc.

“I went to lunch and when I returned, my wood was gone. Seems as though one of the assistant managers had taken a liking to my work and claimed the wood for himself. Never could get him to give me back even a portion of it.  But to this day, I am always checking out pallets, just looking for another gem.” – Rick Ames

“Several years ago, I discovered a unique dump at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where my family was stationed with the Army. One of the most interesting things I found there was a large quantity of weathered mahogany side rails that had been removed from old Army cargo trucks (Deuce and a halfs). Like you, I reclaimed quite a bit of 1 x 2 mahogany that I used in numerous projects, including turned pens. Wish I could get back there.” – E. J. Eiteljorge

“The make-something-out-of-pallet-wood craze has grown to the point where my local Home Depot is selling pallets that are specifically made for folks who want to be part of the cult but are afraid to steal a pallet.” – John Hutchinson

This reader shared some photos of his pallet wood projects (including the one you see at the top of this page). – Editor

“Read your article today about pallet wood and wished to share a couple of things I have made from pallets.” – Jerry Layell


Some readers had tips for keeping your tools safe from pallet wood. – Editor

“Once you’ve checked closely for nails etc., run it through your drum/belt sander with coarse grit paper to clean out all the accumulated grit, before you run it through your jointer or planer.” – Brian E. Koehli

“Like you, I have tried to salvage wood from pallets. Like you, I am concerned about damage to equipment by hidden metal within the wood. I even have what I call ‘Nail Finder’ saw blades for the purpose of cutting pallet wood.  Like you, I have determined that the wood obtained from pallets is not worth the effort.

“Remember two things about pallets. Pallets are made from the wood that is probably better suited for firewood. The species of wood has little to do with the quality of a particular piece of wood.” – Rich Flynn

And, some had safety cautions for the woodworkers using pallet wood. – Editor

“Be aware that some pallets may have had caustic chemicals or other harmful products shipped on them. You never know what you may come in contact with from them.” – Ed Ackley

“Some pallets are treated with heat to kill potential insect hitchhikers, but others are treated with Methyl Bromide and are stamped MB on the wood. I am not sure you want to use this wood or create dust with it.” Brian Neylon

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