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Parkersburg, WV, United States

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pallet House Construction

There are pros and cons to pallet construction the low or no cost of the pallets themselves is certainly attractive however this seems to a topic that only we on the fringe are truly considering.

As a result of this I have been unable to find any plans that take into account the variations in pallet size and composition of the materials that are used to make them. As I haven’t found any suitable plans I assume I will have to come up with some of my own. I do fully intend to make use of these cheap easily acquired materials to at least build a work shop garage and possibly fencing around some areas of the house.

Finding pallets: You can find pallets usually at any business just by asking most are still thrown away and you can even buy used ones from pallet recyclers if you have one local in your area you can buy them for as little as a dollar a piece.

Having loaded and transported loose pallets before it’s a dirty sweaty job that requires a strong back and a good pair of leather gloves. Beware pallets that have been treated chemically with preservatives’ many of these are toxic.

Chemically treated pallets are most usually used for goods that are transported at sea and or for use in coastal areas so if you’re on the coast be aware of this. This is really only an issue if you are using the wood for interior construction or are burning the wood for fire wood never burn chemically treated pallets in the stove or fire place. Pallets get around the country as they are used and re used sometimes over and over again so it’s possible to find just about any type of pallet in any area.

A word about the wood the pallet is made of: pallets are not only made of poor quality woods. Pallets are made from woods normally local to the area they are built in. In some cases yes this means that many pallets will be made from culls that have issues such as grain of knots however some pallets are meant to be re used and are soundly constructed of local woods.

Types of woods range from white and red oak, hickory, maple. Pallets from the South and West are usually made of soft woods and are normally a bit larger due to the inherently weaker characteristics of the woods involved.

So look for durable \reusable pallets for building and construction and use the soft wood pallets in the wood stove.

Ring Nails and staples: Ring nails have round ridges along the entire length of the nail this gives them an extremely good hold on the wood which is necessary because the pallet would come apart through normal use and heating and cooling from being exposed to the elements.

Commercial ring nails have a very thin head, the round flat part you hit with the hammer. Since it’s so thin and the fact that the nail is ringed this means that if you try to remove the nail normally with a claw hammer or nail puller most likely the head of the nail will just pull off.

Staples: this usually means the pallet is soft wood, however this does not mean it’s a total loss sometimes the stringers, the 2x4s or 4x4s holding it together will be hard wood, and worth salvaging.

Using pallets: Once you have found your pallets, they will usually be a variety of sizes. Unless you are truly fortunate and have been able to get all your pallets from one manufacture this is par for the course. You got them for nothing so the little extra effort and creativity you have to use in accommodating these variations into you design are a small price to pay.

Disassembly: If you are not going to use the pallets as they are, you’re going to have to take them apart remember the ring nails? Ok the simplest easiest way to do this is with a saw-zaw or reciprocating saw. If you don’t have one you can get one cheap from Harbor Freight tools for about $30.00 bucks. I have also used a jig saw for this with a metal cutting blade but it doesn’t work as well. Yes you can take the pallet apart with a hammer a pry bar and some blocks of wood but you’re going to lose about 50% of the boards so, just buy the saw if you don’t have one and you do any projects at all around the house it will pay for itself just in time saved on the first job you do.

Take the saw and put the blade in between the cross piece and the 2x4 cut carefully through the nails. I some times use a wedge or small pry bar to lift the board just enough to get to the nails without gouging the wood. I cut all the nails on one side first on both the top and bottom this frees the 2x4 on one side I then do the other the same way this gives me room to get into the middle to cut the nails from the center of the cross pieces start at one end work all the way down, flip the thing over and do the same on the other side.

I can have the whole pallet apart in about 5 minutes. Staples are done the same way and are easier to remove usually.

This leaves the heads of the nails in the cross pieces, depending on what I’m going to do with the boards I either leave them in there or I take a small punch and drive them out. It’s up to you if you don’t take the nails out keep in mind where the nails are when your cutting the boards to length, you do not want to run into one with your circular saw or even a hand saw as this will dull the blade and or the set of the saw in nothing flat.

You now have about 10 to 14 1x4s give or take to use as you would normally. The three (usually) 2x4s still have the ends of the nails in them. Again depending on your application you can take them out of just leave them in place. Taking out the stubs of the nails is a real chore and there’s no good way to do it.

The way I do it is: I made a small hollow drill bit out of a 4 in piece of tubing the diameter is just slightly larger than the shank of the nail. I use a hack saw and needle file to cut teeth into the end of the tubing. It looks like a tiny hole saw. You simply drill down over the shank of the nail to a depth of about 2 in usually the nail comes out when you pull the drill bit out of the wood if not, you can easily pull it out with a pair of needle nosed pliers.
Note: all these tiny holes do affect the structural integrity of the wood so plan for that. To fill the nail holes or the holes from your little hole saw, just mix up some wood glue with the saw dust from your cuts this fills the holes and if your painting the wood anyway you can’t even tell they were there. I sometimes leave the holes even on finished pieces it gives them a really rustic look

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