While sites like Pinterest and various mommy blogs are all trying to convince us we're just a sander and a paintbrush away from being crafting champs, there's no denying that some of us just aren't cut out for DIY projects. But with money tight and ideas plentiful, it's tempting to suck it up and try to save a dollar without sacrificing creative design.
In the next few pages, we'll see how wooden construction pallets -- yes, the ones used for hauling crates of groceries, building materials and all manner of bulk goods -- can be restored, recycled and repurposed inside and outside your home. From bedroom furniture to garden planters, let's take a look at how these nifty pieces of used lumber can transform into nearly anything you need.
While some of us are bequeathed pallets from some never-ending construction job on the roof or are lucky to have a career where pallets can be scavenged, finding pallets is not always easy for everyone.
Your best bet is to ask the manager of a local hardware, big box or grocery store if they have any pallets to spare. It's not foolproof, of course; some of them contract with companies that take the pallets. One thing we don't recommend? Just pinching them from the back of a business. Be kind -- ask first.
Some argue that pallets shouldn't be used at all because they're exposed to insects, rodents, weather, bacteria and so on. There's some good reason behind this argument. In 2009, a batch of Tylenol was recalled due to a foul odor that was linked to a chemical applied to the pallets used to ship the medication [source: Kavilanz]. But here's the deal: Bacteria is everywhere. Be reasonable about the pallets you use; wash them and inspect them. If you're nervous about potential harm, it's probably best to avoid interior projects and stick to using pallets on outdoor projects.
A word of warning: When working with recycled pallets, remember that they were designed to hold cargo, not cuddle people. You should always be aware that splinters, protruding nails and rough edges are par for the course. Sanding and smoothing can prevent a world of hurt.
Now that we have our pallets, what are we going to do with them? Well, let's think about the easiest things first.
First off, stack 'em up. Put a couple of pallets on the floor and cover them with a plywood board. and you've got yourself a table. Of course, you might want something a little sturdier, in which case you can put in a bit more effort.
Remember that the pallets you're getting may have been exposed to the elements and beaten up a bit. Sanding and staining them might be a necessary step to avoid splinters. There are a couple of ways to make the table. If you're stacking pallets, use connector bolts to attach one pallet to another. You might want to screw in a flat surface on top with an electric drill. One of the simplest ways to get more use out of your recycled table is to add some wheels to the bottom. That way, the unfinished wood isn't scraping your floor, and you've got yourself a transportable surface.
Or instead of putting small wheels on it, outfit the pallet with four legs, and nail plywood to the bars on top and bottom. Suddenly, you've got yourself a pallet desk with a nice little storage cubby.
Now that you're comfortable in your living room and office with your pretty pallet tables and functional pallet desk, you're probably feeling the need for a nap. Lucky for you, there's a construction pallet with your name on it!
Doesn't sound appealing? Well, you will, at the very least, need a mattress. But the truth is, you don't need to do much more than push a few of the pallets together to make a decent bed frame. If you already have a bed frame that lacks panache, consider painting or staining some pallets and nailing them to the wall for a customized headboard.
If you're looking for a low-cost couch or chair, keep those pallets handy. You should be aware that you might have to deconstruct your pallets before you construct your chair. For instance, to make an Adirondack chair, you might need to disassemble your pallet, cut the lengthwise strips in half, and fashion legs and a back out of the "frame." You can then nail or drill the strips onto the frame [source: TinyYellowHouse].
Even easier? Make a futon couch to lounge on. Simply hinge two pallets together side by side, add some wheels for easy movement, pile a futon mattress on and voila. You've got yourself a pallet couch.
With a little more effort, you can create some seriously impressive constructions that no one would ever guess started with the pallets behind your local grocery store. These projects can be a little more intensive because they usually require you to deconstruct the boards.
If you're up for the challenge, what about a pallet wood floor? While it's essentially going to be as difficult as installing any wood floor (plus the cost of sanding or staining your wood), you are getting your planks for (probably close to) free. If doing it yourself isn't your game, you can also work with a company that will install the recycled plank floors for you [source: Arctic Plank].
While you're taking apart your pallets, do consider that you can also easily panel walls with the slats or wood of the construction leftovers for a paneled den or nice alternative to wallpaper [source: Grand Design Co.].
In what might be the coolest and most useful idea, consider nailing together upright pallets to form easy decorative room dividers [source: Streu]. Less flimsy than a screen and much easier to customize with paint or designs, it's a great solution for those needing to divide a small space.
If you've attempted to conquer paneling your walls or installing wood floors, congrats. You've certainly surpassed crafty territory and headed straight into the land of hardcore DIY. But for those of us who are little less handy and a little more hands-off, you're not out of luck if you have a construction pallet or 19 on your hands.
When staring at your construction pallet and pondering the endless possibilities, your mind probably landed somewhere around "shelving" first. And for good reason; with a little tweaking, pallets are pretty much self-contained shelves that simply need a little creative structural reorganization.
First you'll want to cut your pallet to the height you desire for your shelf (use the part of the pallet with the most slats as the backing). Now use a piece of scrap wood from the part of the pallet you're not cutting to install as a "bottom" of the shelf. Set books, plants, old Prince records or your tax paperwork on the shelf, and you're set.
Another easy way to decorate a wall? Pull those pallets apart, cut and decorate to your desire and use the wood to inexpensively frame your favorite pictures or prints.
Let's start moseying our way outside to see how we can use our pallets in the garden or backyard. Building a fence from leftover pallets is a great way to cut costs on what can be an absurdly expensive endeavor.
There's a couple ways to decorate your backyard with a recycled pallet fence. The first is the easy way, but it means you pretty much have to stick with the height of the pallet you have. All you need to do, in that case, is bolt or nail the pallets together, reinforce them every few feet with a wood or iron support beams a few inches longer at the bottom, and then dig a trench to fill with concrete to plunge the support beams in.
To really get your neighbors jealous, consider making a pretty porch or garden swing made of reclaimed pallet wood. Depending on your pallet, you might need to take off end boards: however you do it, you'll need to have places on both ends of the pallet to tie a rope. Cut a pallet in half, and use the slats on the unused end to fill in the gaps on the end you're using. Using a sturdy rope, you can simply knot the front and back on each side of the swing, bringing each together into a single knot where you've secured ceiling hooks [source: Salisbury]. Better yet, throw the rope over a sturdy limb and use your recycled lumber to enjoy your own tree.
We're not yet done with our tour of the backyard. Because while fences are useful, there are some more decorative and interesting ways to create a yard decorated with pallets.
First off, don't forget that pallets -- like people -- can be perfect just as they are. That is, you can use pallets in your garden without too much ripping apart, building up and sweating over. One easy approach to pallet gardening is a stand-up pallet planter, where the pallet is actually vertically aligned. By stapling landscape fabric over the back, sides and bottom of the planter, you can then plant flowers -- or even herbs -- in soil between the slats [source: Richardson].
By reclaiming the wood from pallets, you can make a little more heavy duty planter, as well. If you've got a small space, a planter from one pallet can do [source: Crabb]. If your backyard resembles the Queen's Gardens, raised beds can be easily assembled. Simply cut the top (slatted) side of the pallet into four equal boards. Those will be our sides. Fasten them with either wood glue, nails or screw them together. If there's space between your slats, you might want to line your bed with landscape fabric. Now simply fill with soil and plant away.
While making raised beds, swings and paneling your wall can sound more headache than handy, do not fear. There are pallet projects for those of us who lack the uber crafty gene. These projects will require not much effort--or design skill--than taking a pallet apart and nailing in hooks.
First up is the ultra-easy wall rack. You can probably picture it: Basically, all you're doing is cutting your pallet (if you'd like it smaller--not necessary though), and taking off the "bottom" side (the side not with the slats). Paint or stain the slats, and add simple hooks wherever you please. Mount it on a wall and have a place to hang your hat [source: Shelterness].
Next up, we're not even dealing with the hooks. We're just taking the pallet apart, and cutting the boards to fit our needs. Want to make a cute rustic looking sign? Reclaim the slats by nailing a few onto a support board underneath. Paint or stencil on a design or phrase [source: Max & Me].
Or take the small piece and create letters out of them. Paint 'em, stick a few on your kids' walls and all of a sudden, you're Crafty Parent of the Year.
One of the simplest uses of pallets is to create storage containers from them. You can do this a variety of ways, some more utilitarian, others more decorative. First, let's think of some things we can do with pallets that don't require too much work.
The easiest solution is to simply lay a few pallets on top of each other; it leaves about five inches of space to shove in whatever you desire. Stick a cookie sheet or some shallow baskets on the surface so your materials have something to sit or lie on, but can still be easily pulled out.
If you're looking for a good start, try wine bottles for an inexpensive, rustic looking wine rack [source: Improvised Life]. It's also a decent way to store flat things that you may want handy but out of the way; think plates, certain cooking tools or ingredients, stacks of books, clothes and so on into pretty much into (a five inch tall) infinity.
If you'd like more storage that's a bit smaller, consider cutting your pallet above the corner of the top or bottommost slat. Prop the resulting rack against a wall to fill with (toe-side down) shoes or a box of slim books, ready to fit in the corner of the kids' room.
Okay, it's not exactly decorating. But when you can make an entire house out of pallets while aiding those suffering through a humanitarian crisis, it deserves a mention.
One of the cruxes of refugee camps and situational housing is that while living conditions are supposedly temporary, they still might be the primary location for a person or family for years, or even decades. That translates to tents, or building materials that can be easily salvaged in the area. Not always safe, and certainly not cozy.
While attempting to brainstorm transitional housing for Kosovo refugees, two architects hit on a recyclable, cheap and easy to get idea: construction pallets. They designed a roughly 250 sq foot home that takes about 100 pallets and less than a week to build from easy-to-understand instructions [source: Dirksen].
Unfortunately, the houses, like many designs for transitional housing, have yet to be put to use at actual camps. However, go online and for $75, you can purchase PDF plans, instructions, material lists and other resources for building your own pallet haven [source: I-Beam Design].
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- Ashley, Ann. "DIY Pallet Reading Bed for the Nursery." Under the Sycamore Blog. June 29, 2009. (April 13, 2012) http://ashleyannphotography.com/blog/2009/06/29/diy-pallet-reading-bed-for-the-nursery/
- CBC News. "Anatomy of a Refugee Camp." June 19, 2007. (April 13, 2012) http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/refugeecamp/
- Crabb, Simon. "DIY Pallet Garden Planter." May 25, 2009. (April 13, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4S0O5JUb-k&feature=player_embedded
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- Kavilanz, Parjia. "Tylenol Recall: FDA Slams Company." CNN Money. Oct. 19, 2010. (April 13, 2012) http://money.cnn.com/2010/01/15/news/companies/over_the_counter_medicine_recall/index.htm
- Love, Laura Beth. "God Save the Pallets! Reclaimed Pallets Revamped." Dishfunctional Designs Blog. Jan. 10, 2012. (April 13, 2012) http://dishfunctionaldesigns.blogspot.com/2012/01/god-save-pallet-reclaimed-pallets.html
- Max and Me Blog. "Pallet Art." Aug. 11, 2011. (April 13, 2012) http://maxandmeblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/pallet-art.html
- National Consumers League. "NCL calls on FDA to regulate industry after tests reveal hidden pathogens on pallets used to transport food." May 26, 2010. (April 13, 2012) http://www.nclnet.org/newsroom/press-releases/404-ncl-calls-on-fda-to-regulate-industry-after-tests-reveal-hidden-pathogens-on-pallets-used-to-transport-food
- Richardson, Fern. "How to turn a pallet into a garden." Life on the Balcony Blog. March 25, 2011. (April 13, 2012) http://lifeonthebalcony.com/how-to-turn-a-pallet-into-a-garden/
- Salisbury, Sheryl. "Pallet Swing." Sherry Salisbury Photography. July 11, 2011. (April 13, 2012) http://sherylsalisburyphotography.com/2011/07/weekly-wanderings-western-oklahoma-photographer-3/
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- Summerville Nova Scotia. "The Pallet Fence." Sept. 8, 2011. (April 13, 2012) http://summerville-novascotia.com/PalletFence/
- The Improvised Life. "D-I-Y shipping pallet wine rack and flat storage." Oct. 25, 2010. (April 13, 2012) http://www.improvisedlife.com/2010/10/25/d-i-y-shipping-pallet-wine-rack-flat-storage/
- Turner, Ry. "Pallet Project Wine Storage System and Finishing Tutorial." The Design Confidential. (April 13, 2012) http://www.thedesignconfidential.com/2010/10/build-it-plans-pallet-project-wine-storage-system-and-finishing-tutorial
- Vedel, Pierre. "Pallet Desk." Ikea Hackers. July 23, 2011. (April 13, 2012) http://www.ikeahackers.net/2011/07/pallet-desk.html