So You Want To Build a Pallet Headboard?

So You Want to Build a Pallet Headboard? You can totally do it! Here are some tips & tricks via thinkingcloset.com to help you along the way!

What is it about reclaimed pallet boards pieced together that our eyes love so much?  Making order out of chaos?  The Japanese principle of Shizen: nature with purpose and intention.

I see such beauty in the rough hewn boards…especially when they turn gray like driftwood.  Mark’s favorites are the ones with the criss-cross marks.  So, we made a headboard out of them.  It helps bring the “rustic” to our Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover.

“All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am.” -Brandi Carlile

DIY Pallet Headboard! Just one piece in the puzzle of this Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover! via thinkingcloset.com

Working with pallets is more of an art than a science, so this post is not a tutorial.  But we did want to share some of the tips and tricks we picked up along the way.  We hope they help guide you as you discover your own methods for creating something beautiful out of reclaimed pallet wood.

You can do it, dear reader.  I believe in you!

Treasure Hunting

Every pallet is different, yet they share some common threads in how they are constructed.  Because pallets need to be sturdy in order to carry weight of heavy supplies, they are often made of strong, durable wood like oak.  Incidentally, oak is great building materials for other things.  Like headboards.  And plank walls.  And signs.

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood: How to find the right wood, harvest it, and properly prep it for your DIY project!  via thinkingcloset.com

Now, how to find the high quality hard wood pallets and discern them from the less durable soft woods….  Well, you can Google an oak pattern to know what it looks like, but Mark says you can tell pretty quickly by handling them.   Most pallets are either oak or pine.

Oak is not only more durable and lasting than pine (it doesn’t crack), but it is better looking.  It can be more difficult to dismantle from a pallet if you don’t have the proper tools…but we’ll get you squared away with exactly how to harvest the oak from the pallets in a moment.

TRICK: To distinguish between hard and soft wood, press your thumbnail into the pallet.  If it leaves a dent, it’s probably pine.  And in the words of Rex of Rex Kwon Do, “Break the wrist and walk away.”  You want to hold out for solid oak, which won’t easily indent.

Where to find pallet wood?  Believe it or not, many businesses will pay people to come and pick up old pallets.  So, check around back by their garbage bins (that’s where we found the Jackpot supply at our local lumber shop).  Mark has also called our local Home Depot before to see if they had any unwanted pallets, and sure enough, they said, “Stop by tonight, and there will be ten out back.”  You can even try searching on your local Craigslist under the “free stuff” category.

Jackpot!  Tips for Working with Pallet Wood & Recommendations on where to find pallet wood.  via thinkingcloset.com

Tips for Working with Pallet Wood & Recommendations on where to find pallet wood.  via thinkingcloset.com

Harvest Time

Here’s where you take a 3D pallet and break it up into flat 2 dimensional pieces.

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood: How to find the right wood, harvest it, and properly prep it for your DIY project!  via thinkingcloset.com

We have a whole post dedicated to the blood-sweat-and-tears method.  So, if you get a rush out of ripping apart wood secured with spiral nails, go buy a crowbar and follow our DIY Wood Pallet Sign tutorial from fall of 2012.

But thanks to my blog buddy Bev who tipped us off to this post about the power of a reciprocating saw or sawzall, we’re never going back.  It’s just too easy.  Essentially, you use the sawzall to cut right through the nails that are holding the pallet together.

TIP: If you plan on harvesting a good deal of pallet wood, invest in a sawzall!  It will make the job 10 million times easier than a crowbar will.

We even have a 15 second Instagram video tutorial to show you how easy the process is:

Crazy cool, right?

If you’re looking for a sawzall recommendation, here’s a link to the RIGID reciprocating saw we own; it is Mark’s favorite power tool, hands down.  (Note that some of these are affiliate links, meaning if you make a purchase using one of them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thanks for supporting this site!  Read all the fine print here.)

TIP: When harvesting pallet wood for a headboard or plank wall, don’t try to hand-pick your boards at this point.  Just harvest several pallets and choose your best wood later.

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood: Harvesting Pallets with a Sawzall via thinkingcloset.com

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood: Harvesting Pallets with a Sawzall via thinkingcloset.com

Enter Sandman

This step is tedious, but worthwhile.  No one wants to sit up in bed reading a book and get a splinter in their back!

So, to help us get the job done, we invested in a Skil belt sander.  It was $50 and worth every penny considering the time it saved us.

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood: Surfacing with a Power Sander via thinkingcloset.com

When it comes to sanding, first get rid of splinters and dirt by quickly hitting all 6 sides of your board with a rough 60 grit sandpaper.

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood: Surfacing with a Power Sander via thinkingcloset.com

Now, depending on how your boards look or what you’re going for, you may want to give them different treatments.

For us, 1/3 were good as is.  1/3 were “warmer” in tone, so we gray-washed them using the same wash we had created for our IKEA hacked wardobe.  1/3 looked dirty even after sanding, so we set them in a Tupperware container and poured diluted bleach overtop them.  We let the wood set for half an hour before rinsing them off and then lay them out in the sun to dry.

TIP: If you have any concerns that the pallet wood might be chemical-treated or have bacteria, it’s best to put on gloves and scrub the pallets down with diluted bleach.  Bleach can also kill insects, although insects don’t usually thrive in hard woods because they can’t burrow into them.  To read more about how to play it safe with pallets, check out this awesome post by Funky Junk Interiors.

Now, this is sort of jumping ahead a few steps, but after you build your pallet project and have everything fastened together, you should run back over it all with 100 – 200 grit sandpaper.  Most of the edges are buried, so you’ll be glad you didn’t spend all day making them perfectly smooth beforehand.

As the finishing touch, you’ll also want to sand the nail heads until they’re shiny.

Tips & Tricks for Working with Pallet Wood via thinkingcloset.com

Piecing Together the Puzzle

If you’re going the headboard route, you’ll need a scaffold on which to build it.  And it’s important that it be square (learn more about squaring here).  Here’s a picture of ours:

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: The Scaffolding! via thinkingcloset.com

We tacked some 2x4s to the edges to create a giant easel.  I’ll tell you right now, make sure the angle is about 45 degrees.  We tried 80 and 70 degrees (pictured above), but when it came to mapping out our pallets on the scaffolding, once we reached a certain height “the walls came tumbling down,” as the Sunday School song goes.

Once you set it at 45 degrees or so, then, start piecing your pallet boards together, then take a few steps back.  This is the point where it’s great to have a buddy.  Just try moving pieces around until the layout is pleasing to the eye.

TIP:  We recommend not following any set pattern when it comes to pallet layout.  After all, this is reclaimed pallet wood we’re talking about it.  Embrace irregularity as your regularity.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Laying out your boards via thinkingcloset.com

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard via thinkingcloset.com

There will be various board widths that you’ll have to contend with.  You’ll also have some small gaps to fill with wood strips.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Minding the gaps via thinkingcloset.com

Or just leave ‘em be!  Like Lauren Hutton did the iconic gap between her teeth.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Minding the gaps via thinkingcloset.com

TRICK:  Once you settle on a layout you’re please with, label the wood on the back in rows from bottom to top 1, 2, 3, and from left to right, A, B, C.  That way, after you cut off the ends, you’re sure to put the boards back in the right positions.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard via thinkingcloset.com

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard via thinkingcloset.com

Cuttin’ it Up!

When cutting your boards, add up the lengths of all the boards in a row and ensure that it totals 84″ or whatever your magic number is.

TRICK:  If each row totals the same amount, the sides will all be even.  Plain ‘n simple.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard via thinkingcloset.com

Screw It!

We placed drywall screws (1″ – 1.25″) from behind the headboard just so that the front would be as is and the screws would not be seen.  When drilling a hole through the purchased pine (soft wood), Mark was careful to choose the right length of screw so it would grab into the oak without piercing through it.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Reinforcing via thinkingcloset.com

TIP: Start from the bottom and work up.  After you’re done, push on all the boards.  If they’re not solid, reinforce from behind.

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Reinforcing via thinkingcloset.com

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Reinforcing via thinkingcloset.com

Surprises

TRICK:  Sometimes it’s fun to build surprises into your designs…like a secret panel just for hiding goodies for when your nieces and nephews come to visit.  Are we trying too hard to be the fun ‘n crazy aunt and uncle?

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Adding a touch of whimsy to your design with a secret panel via thinkingcloset.com

Tips & Tricks for Building a Pallet Headboard: Adding a touch of whimsy to your design with a secret panel via thinkingcloset.com

Then, it’s time to attach your headboard to your Custom Bed Frame!  Check out our tutorial for that step in the process.

Back Lighting

TRICK: For those who enjoy low lighting like we do, try running white Christmas lights behind your pallet headboard to achieve a back-lit look.  Not only does it serve as a night light, but by golly, it looks cool!

So, You Want to Build a Pallet Headboard?  Here's How!  Tips & Tricks via thinkingcloset.com

So, You Want to Build a Pallet Headboard?  Here's How!  Tips & Tricks via thinkingcloset.com

It almost looks like the boards are on fire, doesn’t it?

Backlit DIY Pallet Headboard via thinkingcloset.com

 The “After”

And because pallet boards are just so gosh-darned photogenic, here are some of our “after” photos.  (To see the before, click HERE.)

How to Build a Custom King Size Bed Frame via thinkingcloset.com.

DIY Pallet Headboard! Just one piece in the puzzle of this Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover! via thinkingcloset.com

DIY Pallet Headboard: Practical Tips & Tricks via thinkingcloset.com

How to Build a Custom King Size Bed Frame via thinkingcloset.com.

Dear reader, once you start building beautiful things with pallet wood, you’ll never look at “junk” by dumpsters the same way again.  It’s a whole new world!  A thrilling chase.  A wondrous place.  For you and me.  (And yes, that song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.  Especially if you watch this.  You’re welcome.)

Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover: A Dramatic Before & After via thinkingcloset.com

So You Want to Build a Pallet Headboard? You can totally do it! Here are some tips & tricks via thinkingcloset.com to help you along the way!

Other Posts in This Series!

Thanks for tuning in, friends!  And for those of you just joining us, here are all of the other posts in our Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Series:

Have a wonderful start to your week!

{I like to link up here!}

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Lovely comments so far...

  1. So, I don’t think there are too many people out there like Mark (except maybe Uncle Roy) who could make such a beautiful, rustic headboard out of pallet wood, but I’m amazed and proud that he did this.

    I confess my favorite part was the “secret panel.” Reminds me of my love of Nancy Drew mysteries (e.g. The Hidden Staircase, etc.). I also enjoyed how you included that special version of A Whole New World in this post…it’s like your own little “secret panel” of a song!

    I can’t wait to hear of someone else who is inspired to make a similar headboard. It is just perfect for your NEW bedroom!

  2. Hehe….love the you strapped those pallets to the top of your car! So jealous of your back yard, really a lake? …..And the “secret” panel is so cute!! You (and your cute husband) rocked this out as usual! Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait until spring to make sooooomething!!

  3. Great tutorial on the “art” of working with pallets! SOMEDAY I will actually try one of the many pallet projects on my “to-do” list…maybe even a headboard for our guest room…and I know exactly where to come for some awesomely helpful tips and tricks! Still insanely jealous of your beautiful bedroom, btw…

  4. Great tutorial and tips. Love the headboard, the bed, the room!

  5. Awesome tutorial, Lauren! Your headboard is FABULOUS! I am so jelly over your master bedroom. Our bedroom is such doo doo. I am going to have to fix this… but in the new house. :) I have way too much to do right now, so it’s an item for future Bethany.

    Hope you are having a wonderful Monday! Hugs!!!

  6. I love your headboard, like LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! But you already knew that because I told you during the first big reveal! But I also need to say I love how you and Mark team up on these projects, it’s so cute! Could he call my husband and you know.. pass a few tips along? ;)

  7. This looks like a lot of work but I LOVE the way your headboard turned out! Awesome tutorial. :-)

  8. By golly, I love all of this. The bleaching of the pallet wood (genius), the secret compartments (so not trying too hard), the backlighting (magical)… I could go on!

    Also, agreed on the sawzall! That’s also how Alex took the pallets for our basement apart and it worked like a charm!

  9. Very cool! I want to go build a pallet headboard now!

    Rachel

  10. Lauren..we must be on the same nautical voyage together! This is freakin awesome! I’m crazy for the secret panel. It makes your headboard seem like it came from a cool vintage mystery novel. – I’d say an old Nancy Drew book, but I don’t think anyone really knows who she was:) Keep on creating I can’t wait to see what’s next!

  11. Wow Lauren, this was so interesting! I’ve seen the finished product in person but did not realize how much TLC went into making it the beautiful piece that it is. You guys are a great team! Mark is quite the tool-man is he not?

  12. Oh, and I’m still chuckling over the pallets on top of the Camry. Too cute for words.

  13. Lauren, This is beautiful!! Never thought of using pallets inside! Hubby made a compost bin with them and it turned out great but your headboard – really neat!

  14. The process of building your headboard is way cool. The thing I Like the most is what a great DIY team you and Mark are! Loved the Instagram video. The ambience that the backlighting creates is really nice. Keep up the videos. They can serve as excellent visual tutorials for those of us who have difficulty with lengthy written instructions (can you tell I ‘m a bit ADD?)

  15. Hi Lauren! I’m so excited about this tutorial, I’m going to feature it on my ‘Weekly Wonders’ post tomorrow morning. Thanks for sharing! ~Lisa

  16. This is such a great tutorial and I just love all the photos! We definitely need to get a reciprocating saw and a new sander so I’ll check out the ones you use. Eric {the hubs} has wanted a reciprocating saw for a while and we almost bought one a couple weeks ago but then wound up getting a jigsaw instead thinking it would be easier for me to use and get acclimated with sawing stuff. A few hours later we decided to cut up a pallet to use on the sides of my new desk and Eric was really wishing we had gotten the reciprocating saw, haha. Thanks for sharing your experience! Pinned :)

  17. Hi Lauren! What a great tutorial and I totally enjoyed reading your post. Your headboard looks amazing! SO happy you shared this at Best of the Weekend and thank you!! Pinning and will be sharing this week. Have a happy Sunday and a fabulous week!

  18. Lauren… I loved your bed before… but that little secret compartment and the back lighting! Oh me, Oh my!! I love it even more!! Those pics of you peeking through the ‘secret compartment’ made my day!!! You are too stinkin’ cute!! :)

  19. In.cre.di.ble! You keep on blowing me away with your bedroom makeover & all the love and work that you and Mark put into it! Many have said it before me, but I’ll say it again: Secret Compartment!? Backlighting!? Amazing!! (and I’m totally going to sing A Whole New World for the rest of the day <3)

  20. Lauren, just popping in (again!) to let you know that I am featuring your headboard and great post at tomorrow’s Best of the Weekend. Thank you again so much for sharing at the party and have a great Friday!

  21. This tutorial is FANTASTIC!! That headboard is insanely gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

  22. I really like the contrast of the pallets and how you put them together. It looks very nice.

  23. This is so beautiful – and lovely pictures!

  24. Cannot tell you how much I love pallet headboards! They’ve been on my to-do list forever! Now I just gotta find the time to do it… haha!

    • That’s always the issue isn’t it, Maggie? So many creative ideas…so many pallets…not enough time! If I find some extra pockets of time lying around, I’ll be sure to send some your way, okay? ;-)

  25. Lauren, this is amazing! Definitely crushing on it! I love pallets.

    • thethinkingcloset says:

      Why thank you, Beth! (I love that we’re not the only ones obsessed with pallets.) I just can’t get enough!

  26. This is SUCH a good post with so much good information. Thank you! I picked up my first pallet a few months ago and it was a little bit intimidating, honestly. Also I love, love, love the secret hiding spot. There’s no way you don’t win coolest Aunt/Uncle.

    • thethinkingcloset says:

      Aw, thanks, Alexis! We were hoping it would be helpful and encourage those who maybe have never yet ventured into the wonderful world of pallets before to give it a go. We’re totally obsessed with them! Lol. And way to go, overcoming the intimidation factor with your first pallet, Alexis. I think that’s the hardest part!

      Also, thanks for the kind words about the secret hiding spot and coolest Aunt/Uncle status. My niece is coming over next week…we’ll have to hide something extra special there just for her!

  27. Stopping by from the link up :) This is absolutely amazing. It looks outstanding! Thank you for the how-to! xoxo

  28. Christine says:

    You might want to consider a oscillating saw as well. It gets into the center nails that are so hard to cut out without bending a reciprocating saw blade. I have several of both, but just invested in the new Craftsman, 20v lithium multi tool thing that is a drill base with attachments: jig saw, reciprocating saw, oscillating saw, router, sander, impact drill, and a couple more. ABSOLUTELY worth the investment for a first-time tool buyer. (Not paid, just a tool lover!)

    I’ve just finished cabinet doors and drawers in a 16′ 10″ wall unit I built. All pallets and fence panels I got on the side of the road. I just lightly sanded them and immediately stained and/or waxed them. I liked the rough look.

    Another excellent tip if you need thicker boards, medical equipment importers, found in industrial parks, have these HUGE, SOLID, usually oak pallets you can build a house out of. Usually at least 3/4″ thick. The kerf and saw marks are gorgeous.

    Good post. I like to see others joining in with something so unique!

    • I’ll be sure to pass along your tips to Mark, especially since he is always excited to try out new tools! And I myself have been wanting a jig saw, so the multi tool wonder you speak of sounds uh-ma-zing. Thanks for sharing! Adding it to the wish list.

      Also, thanks for the tip on where to acquire thicker pallet boards. You are a font of useful information, Christine! Cheers.

  29. I love this tute! I am in awe of all the creative pallet projects I see online and your headboard is another lovely idea! Would love for you to share at Fridays Unfolded!

    Alison
    Nancherrow

    • Alison, thanks so much for the warm words and for stopping by. Yes, the plethora of pallet projects out there are pretty incredible; just so glad my hubby and I see eye to eye on how awesome they are! ;-)

  30. One word: WOW!!!!
    I love that sawzall and that back-lighting: oh my!!!
    :) Have a happy week!!
    “hugs” Crystelle
    Crystelle Boutique

  31. Hello! Just stopping by to let you know that I featured YOU today over on my blog! Thank you so much for linking up to {wow me} wednesday! LOVE your headboard!!! :)

    Ginger

  32. This is such a cool headboard! I love anything to do with Pallets Great Job!

  33. I love your headboard and your pretty bedroom.

  34. Pamela Speigel says:

    I love your pallet headboard! I have been looking all over for a way to make one a reality for myself. Thanks for such a great guide!! Ps- Where did you get your illuminated nightstands from?? They are great!

    • Thanks so much, Pamela! We are lovin’ it ourselves! Do let me know if you end up making one…I’d love to feature a photo of it in my next Reader Showcase! And to answer your question, the nightstands were actually little storage boxes from IKEA that we added legs to…and we just popped an IKEA light inside. Here’s a post dedicated to that project you can check out. Cheers!

Trackbacks

  1. […] …a headboard we pieced together using reclaimed pallet wood… […]

  2. […] again…y’all know I can’t get enough.  Lauren at The Thinking Closet made this headboard, and she was kind enough to give us a […]

  3. […] How To Build A Wood Pallet Headboard from The Thinking Closet […]

  4. […] Building a Wood Pallet Headboard @ The Thinking Closet […]

  5. […] Thinkingcloset.com […]

  6. […] Closet. She shares LOTS of great tips for working with pallet wood, and teaches us how to make a gorgeous rustic headboard. You have to go check out this headboard. (Guys, it has a secret hiding spot. I kid you […]

  7. […] Closet. She shares LOTS of great tips for working with pallet wood, and teaches us how to make a gorgeous rustic headboard. You have to go check out this headboard. (Guys, it has a secret hiding spot. I kid you not.) […]

  8. […] The Thinking Closet, Lauren and her husband recently build a headboard out of wood harvested from old pallets.   They […]

  9. […] from The Thinking Closet is a creative g-e-n-u-i-s!  Check out the uber-cool pallet headboard she and her husband made. […]

  10. […] How to Build a Pallet Headboard Tutorial at The Thinking Closet […]

  11. […] Find your materials.  Although the headboard is made mostly from reclaimed pallet wood (click HERE for the full tutorial on that step), for the frame I went with white pine and oak from Home […]

  12. […] wood.  Find some pallets to harvest for wood.  Earlier this year when sharing how we built our Pallet Headboard, we wrote a whole post with tips and tricks for working with pallets.  There’s even a short […]

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