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
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!
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.
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.
Here’s where you take a 3D pallet and break it up into flat 2 dimensional pieces.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Or just leave ’em be! Like Lauren Hutton did the iconic gap between her teeth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
It almost looks like the boards are on fire, doesn’t it?
And because pallet boards are just so gosh-darned photogenic, here are some of our “after” photos. (To see the before, click HERE.)
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.)
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:
- Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover: How We Found Our Shared Style
- IKEA Hack: Whitewashed Fjell Wardrobe with Pallet Shelves
- How to Stain Wood with a HomeRight Finish Max Sprayer: Video Tutorial
- How to Build a Custom King Size Bed Frame
- So You Want to Build a Pallet Headboard (you’re here!)
- IKEA Side Table Hack: Such Great Heights
- The Thrifty Girl’s Guide to Coastal Decor
- Nautical Anchor Pillow Tutorial
- Felt Fish Pillow for the Nautically-Inclined
- Roll-Top Desk Makeover: Business on the Outside, Party on the Inside
- Desk Styling 101: Say Goodbye to Styling Anxiety
- Adding Scallop Stencil Details to a Roll-Top Desk
Have a wonderful start to your week!