Second Source to the Rescue

The first two pallets I came across for this project ended up being duds. The Q/S White Oak pallet looked great at first, but after being pulled apart many of the slats and two of the three rails twisted around some gnarly knots. Most of the material became unsuitable for re-use. The Ash pallet seemed to be the saving grace, until I discovered more than three-dozen nails sheared off flush in the four rails. These could be considered serviceable if one doesn’t mind sanding the surfaces and not having any truly square or flat faces… and never doing a rip cut on them of any kind.

Fallback #2, I found a place around the corner that sells reconditioned pallets for dirt cheap. Kansas City Pallets is a wholly owned subsidiary of Specialty Lumber Enterprises in Kansas City, Missouri. They provide two major services in the KC Metro area. The first is selling inexpensive new and refurbished pallets. The second is training apprentice woodworkers in an urban area. The least expensive options from KC Pallets are in the stock lot. Piles upon piles of used pallets to be picked through. The staff are well acquainted with the properties of their products and can do a fine job of picking out decent pallets for any application. While the reconditioned pallets are often made of mixed materials, KC Pallet apparently prides their workmanship to the point of removing, rather than cutting off, left over nails in recycled pallets. I expect this has something to do with their gallery showroom of fine furniture made in-house from recycled pallet lumber.

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These actually did cost me a couple dollars. $10, to be specific. The first pallet pictured looked great. 48″ long, “square” oak rails, and very clean. I was charged $3 for this one. The slats are all pine, however, and once I got a good look at the rails from the underside it was discovered that only one of the rails was both oak, and solid. The other two are pieced together of oak and pine. So, for $3 I ended up with one 6/4 by 2.5″ length of flat sawn red oak.

The second image is of a couple small 28″ inch pallets that were a steal. I did get over on these as the oak rails are 2.5″ by 3.5″ in cross section. Though relatively short with 1/2″ cut outs, at $2 each the fat 4/4 ash slats put the value of these over the top. One of those slats split was from rot, and another split roughly in half while prying them apart. The latter can be salvaged with a little glue and clamping before it gets processed. I think these slats will end up being the seat for the settelbanc with minimal work needed to get them into shape.

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The “shorty” pallets, viewed from the underside. The 16oz hammer is included for scale. The rotten board is clearly visible as the left-most slat on the pallet.

The long pallet was an exquisite find. The slats are effectively useless, as they are 1/2″ rough finished pine. The rails, however, are roughly 6/4 oak, six feet long. Out of the three of them, the four corner posts of the settelbanc should come out nicely. Leveraging out the nails at the very ends of these rails was a bit problematic. I resorted to using vise-grips to get solid purchase on the nails before pulling them. Getting proper leverage against the bed of my pickup was extremely difficult and I ended up nipping through two nails rather than pulling them. It didn’t help that I was already tired by this point and they were the last nails I tried to extract.

If it wasn’t immediately evident, using pallet lumber to build decent furniture will require a lot of labor, and result in a lot of waste. Knowing what pallets are good, even if of a “good” wood, and which parts are able to be scavenged for useable parts is a skill that needs to be acquired. Knowing when to say that a particular board is not salvageable, like the ash rails from the previous article, is an exercise in disappointment. I have about four hours of work in the preliminary stock prep for this project. about 70% of the materials I’ve acquired are unusable. I don’t mention this to dissuade anyone else from following along, but to clearly express the actual costs involved with using pallet lumber as a “cheap” alternative. Were I pricing this at a standard shop-rate, I’d be into this project now for about $300, and I haven’t even made a single cut or layout mark on the lumber.

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