Thursday, July 19, 2012

How To Disassemble A Wooden Shipping Pallet

Recycling shipping pallets into furniture, home decor and art is currently one of the biggest DIY trends! But before you can create anything with wood pallets, you first need to take them apart! 

Because they are made for the shipping industry, pallets are built for strength.  This means they are usually sturdily assembled and sometimes they can be difficult to dismantle. The nails used to hold pallets together are spiral nails that are pneumatically driven. That means they are inserted with air power (think compressed air) and actually "fired" into the pallet. This can make them tough to remove, but fear not! With a little patience, muscle, and know-how, you will have your pallet taken apart in no time. 

Of course, pallets can be easily cut apart with power tools such as saws, but in this post I am going to explain how to dismantle a wood pallet with common hand tools. This is so we can salvage as much of the pallet wood as possible without having to cut it apart!

First off, pallets are comprised of slats and stringers. The slats are the long top pieces that are connected with nails on the ends and center to the stringers. Also, it's important to note that wood pallets aren't all the same. They are created and assembled to carry different types of materials with different weights, so know that pallets can be made from woods that are hard or soft, and the slats and stringers can vary in size. The age of your pallet is another thing that will determine how much muscle power you will need to put into disassembling your pallet, as newer pallets will require a bit more umph than a pallet that is old and has been around the block.

Before beginning to disassemble your wood pallet, remember that pallet wood is rough and often splintery, so wearing work gloves and safety glasses is a must! 

You will need a hammer and a pry bar (crow bar): 

To disassemble your pallet: 

Begin by loosening the nails so that they are easier to pull out. 
To do this, starting on one board at a nailed end, (see image below) use the pry bar between the board and the board below it to slightly lift or pry the top board just until it is loosened. 

Doing this should pull the nails partially out. 
If you are having a hard time getting the pry bar in between the boards to do this part, use the hammer to pound the end of the pry bar between the boards.

Now do the same thing on the other end of the same board/slat (and on the center nailed portion if applicable, as shown on the pallet in the image below.) 

Keep going back and forth, loosening each end until the board/slat is free. 
Remove the nails that are stuck in your free slat by flipping the slat over and hammering them out from the reverse side. Then flip the slat back over and use the pry bar or pry end or your hammer to completely remove any remaining nails. 

Repeat this process with each slat until your pallet is completely disassembled. That's it! Just remember to take your time and loosen each section slowly. If you work too quickly you could end up cracking a board, so be sure to go back and forth, traveling down the board, loosening each nail section slowly. 

Now what are you going to make with all that wood? 

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What do you think?

Have you ever taken apart a pallet or have you made anything with wood shipping pallets?

*Be sure to check out my previous post, God Save The Pallet! Reclaimed Pallets Revamped, for tons of ideas for things you can make with shipping pallets!

On a final note: A word about safety and wood pallets 
Be advised that some pallets are chemically treated and could actually be hazardous to your health. There are regulations in the US which require pallets to be treated with either chemicals or heat before being shipped overseas. The safest kind of pallets to use for projects are those that are marked "HT" on the wood - that means they have been heat treated by being dried in a kiln.
Aside from chemicals, pallets can also harbor bacteria, insects, and mold. You never know where a pallet has been, or if it could have come in contact with something dangerous, or if it was used to ship a hazardous material such as a pesticide.
Keep these things in mind when considering your pallet project. 

Have a great week!

Article copyright ©Laura Beth Love for Dishfunctional Designs™ 2018
all rights reserved


  1. we have a stack of pallets and crates to take apart next to our garage, i'm looking forward to making projects with it. taking apart crates with a billion staples in them are a pain in the butt lol

  2. I have recently cut two pallets down, the size was wrong, and hung them on my kitchen wall. They now display my collection of cast iron and make me very happy to have it all out of boxes again. I would like to know you think this process will work on a pallet that has a piece of 1 1/2 inch solid plywood on top and compressed 4 inch stringers? I want to use the plywood to make the top of my kitchen island bigger so I really do not want to damage it but would rather not have to cut it apart.

    1. I don't know, you may need to move to a jack like the post below suggests!

    2. use a sawzall to cut the nails in half and then pound them back through the plywood from the bottom

  3. Try a small hydraulic jack! just put it between the boards and jack the handle. So easy to take them apart like this! Most jacks are small enough to fit easily inside a standard pallet and allows you to apply slow pressure. Then simply tap the top side and they usually just pop apart. A pallet jack is perfect obviously but even a small auto jack works great without all the prying.

  4. On aged/older pallets, I've found that prying tends to split the slats. I use a circular saw to cut the stringers between the slats. Then I hammer the pry bar into the stringer remaining on a slat, splitting it, then pound the nails out. Slow, really slow, but I usually get the entire slat without splitting it.

  5. I've used a circular saw and cut along the stringers but recently, I've been using my sawzall with metal blade and just cutting at the nail location. Faster & cleaner. You can leave the nail heads or remove them - your choice...

  6. just use a saws all and cut through the nails

  7. In my experience, pallets come apart much easier, and with much less damage, when they're [very] wet using a crow/pry bar and claw hammer. Obviously, if they have been allowed to become soaked for this purpose, the wood you salvage from them has to be stored on a flat surface afterwards [preferably with a weight on top of them] and allowed to dry naturally, NOT 'forcefully' dried, which reduces the possibility of warping.

  8. I am thinking about making a walk way with pallets,cutting them to size I need but I need a little more info on how to make this project,any suggestions? Thanks for all or any, Cris

  9. I saw an episode of "Yard Crashers" on DIY Network once, they had tree stumps sliced up for stepping stones. Before placing them in the ground, they applied mineral oil to prevent rot. not sure if it matters that your pallets are processed. Hope this is helpful. BHughes

  10. Use a BIG prybar, a 48" form-stripping bar does wonders. Put thick scrap plywood under the boards to avoid splitting. A four pound dead blow hammer is another helper, as is a big framing hammer and a set of old fashioned 14" nail pulling nippers, the kind farriers used to employ. Don't use stained pallets. Don't use them if they smell "odd" like chemicals. One-trip domestic pallets and machinery crating (often oversize - longer boards) are the best. I have two oak 4 x 12 planks, some 6 feet long that were the base of a skid for a huge welding machine.

  11. Found a stack of 4ft x 8ft plywood sided pallets. Tried to disassemble the plywood piece with no positive results. Probably need a reciprocating saw but can{t afford it. Any guidance appreciated. Thanks!