10 DIY Projects You Can Make Out of Free Wooden Shipping Pallets
One of the best ways to save on any home decorating project is to do it yourself, or DIY for short. DIYing cuts out the cost of labor for a project, which can be as much as 70% of the total. However, you still have to pay for materials – and when you’re really strapped for cash, even that cost can be too much for your budget.
Fortunately, there’s one material that’s widely available, incredibly versatile, and practically free: shipping pallets.
Pallets are small, sturdy platforms, usually made of wood, that are used to transport goods in trucks and planes or store them in warehouses. Using pallets makes it possible to move a whole stack of boxes or crates at once on a device called a pallet jack or pallet lifter, rather than having to load and unload them one at a time. Because pallets are so bulky, many stores don’t find it cost-effective to ship the empty pallets back to their point of origin for reuse. Instead, they either send them to be recycled or simply throw them away.
All these discarded pallets are a treasure trove for DIYers on a budget. Many stores are willing to sell their used pallets dirt cheap, or even give them away for free. This makes shipping pallets an abundant source of free or nearly free wood that can be used in a variety of home projects. And, while you’re saving money, you can also pat yourself on the back for doing your bit to help the planet by reusing and saving resources.
You can use wood from pallets to make hundreds, if not thousands, of different items for the home and garden. There are whole websites devoted to the fine art of shipping-pallet construction, including 1001 Pallets and 101 Pallet Ideas. Sites like these show you in detail how you can use pallets to make art, refinish walls and floors, and even build entire pieces of furniture. Here’s a sampling of the most intriguing pallet projects to be found online.
Decorators often stress the importance of creating a focal point in a room by grouping the furniture around an eye-catching feature, such as a fireplace or a picture window. However, if you happen to have a room that’s just a plain, white box with no natural focal point, you can create one by adding an accent wall. You simply decorate one wall in a contrasting color so that it that stands out from the rest of the room and draws the eye.
While you can create an accent wall with paint or wallpaper, several ambitious DIYers have found that for the same price or even less, you can cover an entire wall in pallet wood. That vast expanse of natural wood creates a big, dramatic impact. This type of decorative project is a great way to put thinner pieces of pallet wood to good use, because the wood doesn’t have to support any weight. In fact, the thin pieces of wood that come from pallets are actually better for this job than thicker boards, because they’re lighter and easier to affix to the wall.
You can find several gorgeous examples of pallet-wood accent walls online. For instance, the bloggers at Cape 27 paneled a wall in their living room using approximately 70 pieces of pallet wood – around eight complete pallets – for a total cost of just $20. Katie of Addicted2DIY did a similar project in less time by purchasing pallets that were already broken down, so it took her only two days to sand them and secure them to the wall with glue and nails. Pallet walls are so popular that both 1001 Pallets and 101 Pallet Ideas have whole pages devoted specifically to this type of project.
There are several ways to turn wood from a shipping pallet into storage for your books. One of the simplest versions is the small hanging shelves JennaBurger made for her son’s room. She just pried one strip of wood off the center of the pallet, nailed it to one end of the pallet, and then cut off that entire end, sanded, it, and stained it. By doing this to both ends, she was able to turn a single pallet into two small hanging shelves for her son’s room.
The “tree shelf” design at Instructables is slightly more complicated. It requires a thicker pallet with hefty, solid blocks sandwiched between two layers of thinner wood slats. These thicker blocks form the shelf supports, while the thinner slats, attached at 90-degree angles, serve as the actual shelves. Alternating shelves to the left and right sides of the blocks gives you a tree-like shape.
You can also make a freestanding bookcase from pallets, but it’s a more complicated job and requires more material. At Made With Love That Can Be Felt, you can see how the blogger broke down several pallets into separate boards, sanded them, and then reassembled the pieces into a four-shelf bookcase. Each shelf uses four wood slats lined up side by side, with three slats nailed crosswise to their undersides as a support. The finished piece has a rustic, Mission-style vibe.
Coffee tables made from pallets are another popular project. It’s possible to make an amazingly wide range of styles from the same pallet wood. Some are as simple as two or three pallets stacked together and painted, a design that allows for storage in the hollow centers of the pallets. Others are much more elaborate, involving drawers or decorative inlays.
For example, one simple piece shown at 101 Pallet Ideas is basically a top made from five side-by-side strips of wood with four legs made from the thicker support pieces. A simple frame of four more pieces nailed to the edges of the top gives it more structural support.
By contrast, the bloggers at The Merry Thought made a much more complicated table using a combination of pallet wood, plywood, and framing lumber. After breaking down the pallets, they cut the wood strips on an angle and fitted them together on top of the plywood piece to make a fancy chevron design, alternating contrasting strips of lighter and darker wood. They added a shelf underneath this tabletop to hold books, toys, and magazines.
If you make your own compost at home, it’s handy to have some kind of bin to keep your compost pile contained. You can buy ready-made compost bins or kits, but it’s much cheaper to make your own – and building with shipping pallets is one of the easiest ways to do it.
The simplest designs don’t even require you to break the pallets down. A tutorial on Bob Vila shows how you can make a basic bin from three complete pallets joined with L-brackets to make a box, with a fourth pallet attached on hinges as a door. The gaps between the pallet boards let in air, which is important for composting, and allow excess water to drain. If you want, you can make your bin prettier by staining the outside and even creating small planters in the sides, but it works just fine without them.
With a bit of effort, you can use pallet wood as a flooring material. This project is more complicated and costlier than creating a pallet wall, since you have to make sure all the boards you’re using are uniform in thickness, which may require running them through a plane. Their sides and edges also have to be even, and you’ll need to install a flat, level subfloor if you don’t already have one.
All this takes a lot of work, but the results can be fantastic. At A Building We Shall Go, you can see how one couple broke down dozens of different-sized pallets and alternated planks of different sizes and colors to create a unique, intricately patterned wood floor. The blogger warns that the job isn’t cheap, since it requires a lot of special tools, and admits that they probably could have had a professional install hardwood floors for around the same price. However, the finished floor is unique, and she says she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Hiring a contractor to install a fence around your yard or garden can be quite pricey. According to HomeAdvisor, this job can run you anywhere from $400 to $8,000, with the average cost nationwide coming in at around $2,650. However, if you build your own fence out of shipping pallets, you can do it for virtually nothing.
Like compost bins, garden fences are easy to make with pallets because you don’t have to break them down first. All you have to do is line up a row of pallets side by side and nail or bolt them together. Adding hinges and a latch to one of the pallets allows it to serve as a gate. MorningChores offers several suggestions for altering this basic fence design to make it taller or grow flowers and vegetables in the crevices.
One downside of a pallet fence is that the gaps in it can allow small animals, such as rodents or rabbits, to slip through. If you want to make your fence critter-proof, you can line it with chicken wire, stapling it to the inside. Another problem is that the pallet wood will eventually decay due to moisture and termites – but when it does, it’s cheap and easy to replace.
It’s amazing how much furniture stores and home centers charge for patio furniture. A casual wooden Adirondack chair sells for anywhere from $60 to $200, and a simple outdoor dining set goes for $500 to $2,500.
However, if you’re willing to do the work yourself, you can build many types of outdoor furniture from pallet wood for only the cost of the hardware. Here are a few of the many outdoor furniture designs you can find online using pallet wood:
Picture frames are a great use for lightweight pallet wood, since they don’t need to support any significant weight. The blogger at Southern Revivals made some very simple photo frames using slats from the pallets, placed side by side, with two smaller crosspieces in the back. She then transferred her photos directly onto this wooden background using a product called Mod Podge.
DIYPete created a slightly more elaborate pallet-wood frame for a raised relief map. The map itself already had a slightly raised edge, so he simply laid out the pallet boards around the edges, cutting each one at a 45-degree angle. After securing the pieces together with glue and nails, he added some quarter-inch trim to give it a more finished look. He then used a staple gun to secure the map in place.
Besides using pallet wood to frame your existing art, you can also use it to create brand-new art pieces. There are many ways to create art from reclaimed wood, and shipping pallets are one of the best sources of free or cheap wood for the purpose.
Bloggers across the Internet have come up with a variety of creative art ideas using pallet wood, including:
If you like to buy good wine on a budget, you need a nice budget-priced wine rack to store your collection. The blogger at Sweet Pea came up with a design for a hanging wine rack that holds five bottles, complete with storage for six wineglasses, using only a single shipping pallet.
First, she cut off the bottom section of the pallet with a handsaw and removed the top board, creating a box. She removed the two middle connecting boards and used a jigsaw to put a decorative edge on the outer ones. After sanding it smooth, she screwed the removed top board onto the bottom to reinforce it.
To make the storage for glasses, she removed an extra board from the pallet and cut a slot for each glass stem. Screwing this piece onto the bottom of the rack allows the glasses to hang below the bottles. Since she used no paint or stain, the only materials she had to buy for this project were a few screws.
Now that you’ve seen all the different projects you can make with pallet wood, you’re probably excited to get started on some pallet projects of your own. The first step, of course, is finding pallets to use. There are many sources of cheap and free pallets, but you have to know where to look – and you also need to know what kind to look for. Some pallets are treated with chemicals that make them unsafe to work with, so it’s important to know how to spot them before you start sorting through piles.
One of the best ways to get pallets for free is to call around to small, local businesses in your area. Smaller businesses generally don’t have the resources to recycle their pallets, so they have to pay to have them hauled away for disposal. There’s a good chance these businesses will be happy to give their used pallets to an eager DIYer and avoid the fee. Grocery stores, pet supply stores, hardware stores, furniture stores, garden centers, motorcycle dealerships, and newspaper companies are all likely to have pallets to give away.
Other good sources of pallets include:
It’s also possible to purchase pallet wood in bundles from Home Depot. These bundles are pricey – about $27 for 8.5 square feet of material – but they save you the work of breaking down the pallets into individual boards. If you’re more interested in pallet wood for its looks and sustainability than for the money it can save you, buying broken-down pallets could be worth the cost.
When you’re looking for free pallets, it helps to know how to ask. A guide from 1001 Pallets site offers these tips:
Not every shipping pallet you find in a dumpster is safe to use. Some pallets are tainted with mold, spills, or harmful chemicals that you don’t want in your home. Here are some tips to keep in mind for finding clean wood pallets:
In North America, the most common size for shipping pallets is 48 inches by 40 inches. If you have a pickup truck, an SUV, or even a large hatchback, hauling pallets this size is no problem. However, if you drive a smaller car, you’ll need some other way to get your pallets home. Here are a few ideas:
The projects listed here only scratch the surface of what it’s possible to do with shipping pallets. Do an online search for “pallet projects,” and you can find literally thousands of other ideas, including beds, lamps, pet furniture, and even entire structures. Chances are, if you can make something out of wood, someone has found a way to make it with pallets.
However, building with pallets isn’t the only way to get furniture and accessories on a budget. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might be better off shopping at garage sales, visiting thrift stores, hunting on Craigslist and Freecycle, or hitting the as-is section at your local furniture store. Often, these sources can offer furniture bargains for a lot less work – and sometimes even less money – than it would take to build your own.
On the other hand, if your goal is not just to save money but also to have the thrill of making something with your own hands, pallets can be a great way to do it. Because each pallet is different, building with pallets will give you a unique piece that will be different from anything you could buy in a store. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction of being able to tell your friends that you made it yourself, which is a pleasure money can’t buy.
Have you ever built anything with pallets?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
10 DIY Projects You Can Make Out of Free Wooden Shipping Pallets
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