What is a wooden pallet ? It’s off grid furniture !
For those who don’t know, it is essentially a rigid, sturdy, flat styled timber structure which is designed to aid in the transportation and storage of goods which are fastened to it. The simple pallet itself is designed in such a way so it can be safely lifted by a forklift, a pallet jack or appropriate lifting aid.
Pallets are usually made of 3 different types of material. They are:
Those made from metal and plastics are designed to be stronger for the ability to support a greater load in weight. The different types of pallets made from these varying materials, are also used in certain places selectively for a few reasons. These reasons are due to safety, hygiene, efficiency, storage capability, strength and cost, to name few.
There is a world of information out there in regard to pallets. However, in this article, we will be talking about wooden pallets solely, and their incredible potential of uses, especially for those living the off grid lifestyle.
Wooden pallets – What are they good for ?
Above is a simple pallet shelving system I built myself, to keep the kids toys more organised. Beds and bases are yet to come, but will look good and be functional I used smaller sized pallets for this and they went together perfectly without the need to cut or adjust.
Pallets have many uses around the home and garage / sheds, but the biggest use is, re-using the timber pallets to build unique and custom furniture pieces from ! This is not only, a very cheap method to make furniture, but also has the distinctive and oddly pleasing appearance of functionality with style ! If you like the “Industrial” look, or like the touch of simple, raw and organic, then pallet furniture just maybe right up you’re alley !
Wooden pallets come in many shapes and sizes. They are made from 3 different timber types. Which are :
- Softwood – timber such Pine. This is a lightweight pallet design. Suitable for indoor longevity
- Hardwood – timber such as Gum, Ironbark, Oak. Heavier in weight. Suitable for longevity outdoors.
- Paper – or “Eco-Pallets”, Made from recycled paper and timber products.
“After it’s long days of working silently day and night ! the pallet is thrown out of the workforce and is left homeless and without a job! It sadly joins the other pallets in a commune of refuse, amongst the wasteland of wire fences and concrete. ‘Palliative’ care is a reality. Its prospects of a useful and happy future are slim” !…… Until, someone like the creative ‘off gridder’ you are ! …..Rescues it !
How do I know if it is a hardwood or softwood ? The answer is there are a couple of ways of determining. Usually a softwood pallet will be lighter to carry or lift, and more lighter and yellow in colour, as opposed to a hardwood pallet which will be darker in colour and will weigh considerably much more. ( 2 person lift with hardwood types )
As we know pallets are used to transport, carry or store something. BUT when I lock eyes on a pallet…….. I see nothing but ‘building potentials’ ! Due to the growing world of transporting and business we have a supply of lost and homeless pallets strewn across the countryside, especially amongst industrial precincts or places of business. So with that said, it’s easy to work out, that getting you’re hands on some pallets for you’re own home use is very achievable.
Where can I find Pallets ?
As mentioned you will find available, used free pallets in places of high industry, ( fabrication plants, hardware franchises, etc. ) or businesses.
This is really important.! When coming across used pallets stacked up behind a business or laying about in a delivery yard, it is always good practice to go and ask the store or business owner firstly “before” piling them in your utility or pick up !
Having an irrate store owner running down the street, waving their fists after you while you drive off with their pallets, is not the desired outcome here ! Always ask first, you’ll be surprised at how happy businesses are for you to take their used pallets away, as it solves their problem of pallet removal. It’s a’ Win-Win’ situation.
Some business use ‘ hire pallets’ which means they are not free to take as they are owned by another. That’s why you should ask first. However, the majority of pallets available to us are actually free for our taking. A word we all love to hear !
When choosing you’re pallets. Always look for ones that are not damaged, covered in spills or are in poor condition. I always collect only the ones that appear to be relatively clean and in good structural order, displaying little signs of use, wear and free of any type of contaminate.
“An important thing to consider is obtaining pallets from places that use them with the storage and transport of ‘non harmful’ to human products. This way you know, you will not be coming into contact with a pallet that has been contaminated from a ‘hazardous’ material. If you’re not sure, you can always ask the owner.”
Always try to find 2 or more of the same size and style of pallet. The more you have of the one same style or size will greatly help you in having more options to designing and building you’re furniture to ensure sound functionality, ability and good looks. As a lot of pallets come in different shapes and sizes it makes it very difficult to make pieces of furniture that comprise of many different shapes or sizes.
With that said also is the fact that you can design and build furniture pieces that are made up of different sizes and styles and still be quite good. However through my experience with building with pallets is, the more you have of one particular shape or style, the better.
Now that I have my pallets ! “What do I do next” ? !
Design and concepts.
This is the fun part. I find it best to lay all the pallets out on the ground so you can see what you have in front of you. I find using 2 pairs of different sizes or styles provides me with a starting point in design and is ideal to start with. By laying all of your pallets out makes it easier to visualize potential furniture sizes and shapes. A little bit like a ‘jigsaw’ solving approach.
By using a tape measure, you can assess sizes for furniture that you would like to build so that you have a perfect fit for it within your house or outside. ( This reminds me that if you are building outdoor pieces, always try to aim at using a ‘hardwood’ type of pallet, as they will stand longer and stronger over time, in all weather conditions unlike a ‘pine’ or softwood pallet will ).
Another consideration when designing your custom furniture pieces is, will it fit through the doorway ?!!!!
If you are making a piece of furniture that is quite large for indoors and won’t fit through a doorway, then that is quite alright. Continue with you’re design and build it in one full piece outside to the point where it is finished. By simply dismantling some of the pieces to make the piece smaller and more maneuverable, and then re-assembling it inside is the solution to the problem of getting it to fit through doorways.
Consider some questions like these below, before committing to build something.
1. “What is it that I need to build”?
2. “What different designs can I come up with, to suit the need”?
3. “Will this design solve my problem and be functional” ?
4. “How much more is this particular piece going to cost me” ? ( You may need to buy fasteners, further material or accessories.)
5. “Will it last the test of time “? ( As previously mentioned, softwood pallets are more suited to indoor furniture projects and items.)
Choosing your custom piece of furniture.
Above are some of the different sizes and shapes of pallets I have at home. These are the more common sizes used in Australia and are easy to get your hands on. Good sizes and nothing too big.
The types of pallet furniture designs out there are as endless as the ideas themselves. These custom pieces are not only practical but they are strong and long lasting. They provide a look that is accepting, smart and modern. You will find most ‘off gridders’ will have a piece of pallet furniture in their homes or sheds, or know someone that does.
By using the internet you can access thousands upon thousands, of images and great ideas to help you in the decision-making process of building furniture from pallets. Visit Pinterest.com and have alook at the incredible ideas you will see. A lot of businesses such as ‘new age’ rustic coffee shops and eco-based enterprises will use pallet furniture in their domains as features with striking functionality.
Below is a list to help you with ideas that will transform your ‘homeless pallets’ into works of art and purpose.
- Storage boxes
- Bed heads
- Screens or room dividers
- Mattress bases
- Planting boxes
- Compost or mulching boxes
- Bicycle stands
- Used in sheds or garages to store items on ( How could we forget their original use ! )
- Cubby houses
- Pet kennels
- Make quirky or beautiful signs to hang around you’re house
- Picture frames
- Structures like pens and surrounds
“In Australia, it is common tradition to build your outside bar with the use of pallets ! I have spent many a time sitting or standing around one and talking up a storm that’s for sure” !
Building your custom piece.
Now that you have decided on that special piece you’re going to build, all you have to do is build it !
Below is a basic list of tools, that will help you build with a lot more ease.
- Circular Saw and a Handsaw
- Cordless Drill with Drill Bits and drivers ( countersinking you’re fasteners is always more attractive )
- Fasteners such as Bolts, Screws and Nails
- Spirit Level
- Combination Square
- Tape Measure
- Planer ( Electric or Hand )
- Sander ( Electric or Hand )
- Hammer and Mallet
- Wood Chisels
- Marker Pens
- Wrecking Bar ( or a steel lever to pull apart a pallet if needed )
- PPE ( Personal Protective Equipment – eye safety, ear muffs, gloves, sturdy footwear, etc. )
Considerations to think about, when building your pallet furniture.
* Always use personal protective equipment when building furniture. This goes without saying but needs to reminded. The amount of times I have seen people unnecessarily injuring themselves as a result of not abiding to basic safety would make your eyes pop !
* Most pallets are easy to handle and deal with, However, they can be quite rough on the hands initially as they are a good source to pick up a splinter. Usually it is a good idea to plane and sand your separate pallet pieces firstly before construction. This helps with keeping a clean and accurate build, also you won’t be jagging a pesky splinter along the way.
* Before the build, Stand your desired pallet pieces up next to each other first. You may have to balance things a little ! or you may require a second person here, to hold ‘this or that ‘! This will give you an idea of how it will look a certain way or another. This “Playing “around will give you opportunity to find a better design or look that you’re trying to achieve, before actually cutting and assembling the pieces together, which you may want to change later.
* The finished product can be stained to suit your desired colour or can be sealed with a clear lacquer or paint. ( I personally like the raw untouched look as it looks softer in appearance. )
* Think about designing a piece that has more than one function or purpose. As mentioned in my article ” Off grid With A Tiny House” an item of furniture that has more than one purpose is an excellent way to create extra space and efficiency.
For example: A coffee table that has a lid, that can used to store blankets, cushions etc ? A Shoebox that has a lid, that can also be used as a front porch or verandah bench seat ? The ideas are only as limited as you’re imagination !
Now that you have a better understanding about wooden pallets, you are now equipped with the ‘know-how’ to use them to your advantage.
So let me ask you a question !
Q. “What is a wooden pallet” ?
A. “Anything you want it to be” !
Stay safe and Happy building.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to reply and help you out.
All the best,