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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

109

A Femme's Guide to Improvement: The Multi-Purpose Wooden Pallet

I don’t know what you guys did during the Hurripocalypse, but over at Handy Femme Central in Brooklyn there was cake-making, movie-watching, and lightweight demolition.

Oh yes, you read that right. Demo. I finally managed to act on my wishful thinking and drag home a wooden shipping pallet. You know the type: They’re always stacked outside stores, waiting for whoever hauls them away to haul them away. The same type of pallet you’ll see in “upcycled,” “repurposed,” “reclaimed” projects everywhere, done by people who seem reluctant to call them “OMG FREE WOOD FROM THE SIDEWALK” projects.

These things are made to bear a ton — literally — of weight, and, as such, can be a bit hard to take apart. Get one that’s not too gray, since that’s a sign of dried-out wood that will crack and splinter pretty easily. You either need:

  • a claw hammer
  • lots of elbow grease, and
  • time

or

  • a claw hammer
  • a wood chisel
  • a rubber mallet
  • optional: a crowbar

If you’re just using a hammer, there’s one step. Wedge the claw below the nail, and pull. This is super hard to do, because pallets are held very tightly together by long, screw-tipped nails. Good luck with that.

If you’ve decided to be reasonable and spend ten bucks on a chisel and a rubber mallet, this is how your process will look:

1. Use the mallet to drive the tip of the chisel between the wood.

2. Work the chisel back and forth to pry the boards apart a little at a time. Be gentle, or things will start to crack.

3. Turn the pallet so that you can see the nailheads. Using the mallet, lightly pound down the wood next to them. There should now be enough room to easily get the claw of the hammer under the nailheads and pull them out.

Keep at it until you have the entire thing taken apart. You’ll want either a small handsaw or a little cordless saw to cut the boards down to whatever length you need them. The cordless is totally worth the $35 investment if you’re into this type of project — $25 if you get a refurbished one from Amazon like I did.

Now you have wood! (Rimshot!) Sand it as much as you want to sand it. Here are some quick projects driven by my need to make things more civilized:

1. A frame for your dog’s bed.

This is about as Shop 101 as things can get, as it’s really just a frame for the sides of the bed. I sawed two boards into four pieces, two long, two short, to make a rectangle. I then sawed four small blocks from the thicker boards found in the middle of the pallet, making them as long as the width of the boards for the bed frame; you can eyeball it or be superprecise and use measuring tapes and levels and carpenters’ pencils, which is true for all three of these projects. (Guess which I did?) Nail the widest side to the ends of the shorter boards first, and then nail on the longer boards, as pictured above. I used 1-1/4” common nails — the type with a wide head, as opposed to finishing nails, which have a tiny head — for this and the catbox below.

The driftwood finish you see in all of these is fast, cheap, and fool-proof: Get a 2 oz. sample of a medium gray paint from your local paint supplier. Sometimes they’re free, sometimes they’re $4 for the fancy-pants Benjamin Moore stuff. Mix this with a quart of cold water and you’ll have a quick-drying wash. Apply a coat or two with a brush or sponge, and you’re done. Beagle ball not included.

2. A box for your cat to play in that doesn’t clash horribly with every décor imaginable.

You can either build your cat a crate, using the frame above as a template, or start with an old crate you may or may not have already had on hand. You hoarder.

Three steps:

- Get some sisal twine (about $4 for a generously-sized roll) to make a built-in scratching post. Tie it around a board on one side of the crate, and wrap. Wrap wrap wrap. And then wrap some more. Knot it in place when you’re done.

- Cut three small boards the width of your crate. Nail them together on the bottom using a crossbeam, as shown in the bench project below. Use two nails to fasten this little platform/lid to two of the crate’s corners. (Nail it to the wider boards used to hold the crate together, rather than to the crate boards themselves, as they’ll split.)

- Throw away your crazy cat’s old box.

3. A bench for your entry hall.

You can either use 2” common nails for this, or, if you have a drill, screws. Decide how long you want your bench to be and cut three boards to that length. Cut four support beams from the wider boards found in the middle of the pallet, and nail or screw your boards to two of these, as pictured below. From those same wider boards, cut four legs for your bench. Fasten them to your other two support beams — mine are shorter for the legs because I ran out of wood — and then fasten that to the seat boards.

Now sit on it.

Questions? Clarifications? Hit up the comments!

Previously: Caulking Your Disgusting Bathroom.

Lucia Martinez reads too many old poems and tries to be a lady.



109 Comments / Post A Comment

SarahP

I usually hate seeing pallet posts on design blogs, but your creations are fantastic! I especially love the entryway bench--I wish I had such a nice looking way to store (and a place to put on/take off) my shoes!

Ophelia

@SarahP If only I had an entryway, instead of just a door that opens next to the refrigerator, I would totally make this.

SarahP

@Ophelia Same here! Except I have a door that opens to a steep staircase that leads to the exact middle of my living room. But when we have entryways, we will know what to do with them!

melis

You are clearly some sort of crazy genius. Twine? Common nails?? I can't even. What are these things!

Dancercise

@melis
Hey, buddy. I'm metal claw! I'm your friend!

melis

@Dancersize Yes, Linda, that IS what I used to call hammers, because THAT'S WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE AND I'M NOT SURE WHICH END TO USE. I still stand by my decision.

Dancercise

@melis
Your coffee table will have one leg slightly shorter than the rest.

brista128

@Dancersize I imagined finding this message in a fortune cookie.

Dancercise

This makes me want to find a few pallets and make everybody I know a coffee table for Christmas.

L M
L M

@Dancersize I KNOW. be broke + give amazing presents = you're mysterious and intriguing.

David Buchta

Damn. I want some pallets now!

BScottie

I'm a preachy bitch by nature, so I'm gonna use one as a soapbox in my living room. Now my roommates will know who's boss.

 
melis

@E So these pallets are not only attractive, but they'll also keep bugs out of my home? I'll take two!

L M
L M

@E well damn. there goes my plan to make bread flour from the bakery pallets across the street.

E
E

@Lucia Martinez Sorry! I am a huge bummer (comment needed editing and accidentally deleted, but my suggestion to seal them is below).

Ophelia

@E So you're saying we shouldn't renovate that castle using reclaimed wood from pallets?

E
E

@Ophelia Our castle is belgian right? I believe that Europe is a magical land, where everything is made out of trees that happily fell over just to keep ancient craftsmen in business. So I think the pallets there probably keep people from aging.

L M
L M

@E I want to go to belgium and eat fries and chocolates. continuously.

Ophelia

@E Phew. We can probably get recycled glass windows, too. Do you think we should bribe Lucia with chocolate and fries to come help us?

L M
L M

@Ophelia I RESPOND WELL TO BRIBERY

rayray

@E Shhh! Everytime someone idolises Europe, a hot, non-juiceboxy French pastrychef dies!

Ophelia

@Lucia Martinez Eeexcellent. As soon as we get that castle, I'm calling you.

Tragically Ludicrous

@Lucia Martinez There's also beer in Belgium! All the beer!

E
E

@rayray my profession basically is everyone idolizing europe, and I'm the person who says, "what about the inherent racism of significantly homogeneous populations? What about unemployed minorities in France? What about lots of countries there are more sexist than here? Oh? They have BIKE LANES they ride in?! Well then, clearly it's better than here in every single way."

rayray

@E Ahahahaaaa THIS.

Edith Zimmerman

The tidy dreaming dog!

L M
L M

@Edith Zimmerman fact: he is available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

laurel

@Lucia Martinez: The upsidedown cat in the cardboard box has killed me. This is all so great.

ribs+bbq

@Lucia Martinez That photo just reminded me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA8WEjzetx4

SBGBlogs

@Lucia Martinez Is he available to come live with me forever as well? Because BEAGLEBEAGLEBEAGLE! Aw. Beagle. Cute.

L M
L M

@SBGBlogs he is always available for overnight playdates, especially around major holiday weekends.

L M
L M

@_ribstbbq_ OMG THAT VIDEO YOU MADE WITH BOS. seriously people need to watch it. best dogsitter ever.

ribs+bbq

@Lucia Martinez I need to set something up with the Bos. We haven't hung in forever and I have an opening in my posse, so...

Ophelia

I need a new coffee table...and I live a block from Met Food...Fate? Yes.

JoanTition

I stare at piles of pallets down the street from me all the time wondering what I can do with them....so - AWESOME!

My boyfriend pre-thanks you for my shoes not being left in the middle of the floor sometime in the near future.

E
E

SOME pallets are SUPER toxic. Like, you'd be better off mixing ammonia and bleach together, toxic. The ones from china get some kind of massive chemical treatment which is really bad. My friend and I were planning to build everything in our homes out of it, but when we did the reading, it was just too scary for us.

If you are going to keep these beautiful things you made, please please please at least seal them up under something- resin coating, hard core paint layers, something. Especially the ones that you and your sweet pets are going to come into contact with.

L M
L M

@E see, you ruined our clever replies above by decontextualizing them! also, I have a deathwish. I go to the movies, even though the bedbugs might get me.

E
E

@Lucia Martinez Deathwishes are fine by me, just so long as they're informed consent deathwishes. Although, if it's not pallets, its the non voc paint, the plastic in your microwave, the formadahyde in the carpet glue etc, so I guess we all have to develop our deadly cancers somehow.

E
E

@E Okay! Here: http://www.improvisedlife.com/2010/10/05/the-scoop-on-safe-shipping-pallets-shipping-pallets-101/. How to find a safe kind!

L M
L M

@E also, as a general guideline, you could just get a Made in the US pallet from outside a grocery store, so it's food-grade see here.

E
E

@Lucia Martinez: In today's news, E overreacts about being poisoned by common mostly harmless goods. It must be a day ending in y. Everyone else carry on!

bloodorange

@atipofthehat THIS, A THOUSAND TIMES THIS. Uline is possibly my favorite company ever.

emilylou

I once took a wood pallet from the sidewalk outside a gardening store in my neighborhood. I attempted to turn it into a rustic "sunglasses rack" that I also put some books and candles on. I even used a SAW to install/modify some shelves. It was my proudest, most handiest moment of my life.

Then I kept imagining that spiders were secretly living in the wood, it got me all paranoid that they were going to come out and crawl all over me in my sleep, and I eventually rolled my eyes, took my shit off the pallet/shelf, and tossed it back on the sidewalk. Return from whence you came!

L M
L M

@emilylouise you just made me snort. thanks for that. (I get this way about wild roses.)

emilylou

@Dancersize You didn't eat that dove, did you? Because I only have a couple of days left to return it.

Megasus

@emilylouise DEAD DOVE DO NOT EAT

Ham Snadwich

This is crazy talk. No cat is going to sleep in a thing that you make for it.

NeenerNeener

@Ham_Snadwich It will if you line it with cardboard box.

L M
L M

@NeenerNeener we totally clipped a piece of cardboard to the platform and the cat is now obsessed. we also put her mice in there and she's treating it like a fishbowl, standing on the platform, fishing.

DickensianCat

@Ham_Snadwich yes, my understanding is that if cats get even the slightest inkling of something being made specifically for them, they will hate it. Cat bed? Bah. Suitcase? Perfect!

L M
L M

@DickensianCat I got that cat a suitcase and the god was the only one interested.

NeenerNeener

@Lucia Martinez You're making me feel guilty that my cats have only ghetto cardboard boxes that they can't fish from!

atipofthehat

@NeenerNeener

I think it needs to be lined with the fresh, folded, still-warm laundry you need to wear the next day to an important event. GUARANTEED CAT SLEEP!

Ham Snadwich

@DickensianCat Mine graduated from old Amazon box to the underside of a dining room chair that's stacked in the corner. Occasionally the arm of the sofa. Never in the beds purchased specificaly for purposes of sleeping in.

Lily Rowan

I have left cat-specific items around my house long enough that the cat started to use them! Specifically, the carrier, which I hoped he would grow to like and not fear, which seems to have worked. And he's recently been hanging out in this cardboard thing that's supposed to be for scratching or something, but I've had it forever and he just ignored it until last week.

So. Cats! On the internet! Who would have thought??

NeenerNeener

@Lily Rowan I'm so glad there's FINALLY a place, here, on the internet, where I feel free to watch and discuss the things that cats do. The wacky things they do!

Lily Rowan

@NeenerNeener BUT WHERE CAN I PUT ALL MY PICTURES OF HIM?????

Lily Rowan

I just love your cat in that box. BOX!

bangs
bangs

Good lord that's ambitious. I just use them to stack things on... Also who is throwing these things out? An in tact pallet is gold where I work!

L M
L M

@Xaxa there are stacks in my nabe. the next avenue over houses a brewery and a bakery. I got this one from the elementary school behind my place.

rayray

@Lucia Martinez ... Do they keep the children in crates?

atipofthehat

@Lucia Martinez @rayray

You live near STC Elementary?

rayray

@atipofthehat Nah, he doesn't even let his out for the holidays.

Ashley Alvarez@twitter

I need a bench like this! Can we have more of these please? I'd be really down to reupholster something simple, like a stool or a chair. Help!

L M
L M

@Ashley Alvarez@twitter yes! we can do this.

area@twitter

@Lucia Martinez Yes please reupholstery! I feel like this would be a Useful Skill. Or is there something you could do with slipcovers, or just generally making my Ikea and dorm room grade furniture less hideous.

pawtism

I stole a bunch of pallets from a Lowe's parking lot pre-hurricane to stack my shit on (NYC Zone A, ground floor, nothinghappenedthankyoujesus). This article couldn't be more timely. Thanks too for all the photos.

Hot mayonnaise

Instead of a chisel (which, gasp!, should never be used for demo), get a pry bar
instead. Cheap and good for prowlers too.

L M
L M

@Hot mayonnaise yup, aka a crow bar, which is on the list.

L M
L M

@Hot mayonnaise also, I wonder why criminals call them crow bars and hardware stores call them pry bars. is it a jailbird thing? ilu, etymology.

Hot mayonnaise

@Lucia Martinez: Sorry, missed the optional item. Just saw the pic of you? pounding on the chisel and cringing that it's going to hit a nail and ruin the razor sharp edge. Also, I think of crowbars as [link to photo] being used to open manholes and pry bars for nails and wood, but wikiP redirects pry bar to crow bar. [shrug]

finn

@Hot mayonnaise I had the exact same cringing reaction to the pic of the chisel!

L M
L M

@finn meh. it's fine as long as you do it gently and, like, don't hit a nail. they're spaced fairly far apart, so it's not hard.

Valley Girl

Loving this column so, so much. I'm inspired to write in about a DIY project I judged to be perhaps too cutesy/elementary...not because THIS is too cutesy or easy but just because it's so awesome I can't resist (my elbows are extraordinarily ungreasy so all this hammer and nail stuff is totally aspirational for me still).

Tragically Ludicrous

I used to deal with pallets at work on a semi-regular basis (even though it was mostly an office job). They are heavy! Although I used to get to use the pallet mover, that was pretty cool.

L M
L M

@Tragically Ludicrous I am freakishly strong and determined. same thing happens when I decide to haul two week's worth of groceries from Trader Joe's home on my shoulders.

Judith Slutler

Ahhhh, pallets! I used to have a hippie fabulous living room landscape of pallets with matresses, rugs, blankets and pillows on top. Now we have actual furniture and it is not as comfy as the pallets were :(

sheistolerable

The first picture of your dog made me think that the dream balloon with heart was stenciled (actually I thought it was a 3-D art installation with narrow wood) on the wall above his bed so it would always look like he was dreaming adorably. May I suggest that as a design element?

L M
L M

@sheistolerable YES. yes you may.

Ophelia

@sheistolerable I LOVE this idea. If my dog would ever sleep in one place, I would totally do it.

Alli525

Completely beside the point but... THAT FONT WHAT IS IT I MUST HAVE ITTTTTTTTTT

L M
L M

@Alli525 that is my sloppy handwriting. should I typeface it?

Alli525

@Lucia Martinez Yes! Not only are you handy but your penmanship is so lovely!

Dandizette

Mabye someone already mentioned this, but pallets sometimes are treated with insecticide or other chemicals. I'm sure there's a nifty website around with a listing. Check it, in particular if you have such a lovely beagle as you do!

@Alli525 That looks like genuine handwriting, not a font type.

L M
L M

@MurderMyAngel please see the comments above--lengthy discussions

L M
L M

@MurderMyAngel and yes! handwriting!

Dandizette

@Lucia Martinez Oops, yes I see it now… *falls into a coma disguised as a beauty sleep*

shenannies

Was going to ask if you were scared of bedbugs in the pallet, but I'm guessing not. So now the more pressing question: do the doggie and cat get along? They are adorable! (And I'm not a cat person at all, but she is cute in her centerfold pose there).

L M
L M

@shenannies I won't go near anything upholstered/mattresses on sidewalks--bedbugs are to be treated with respect, but not irrational fear, imo. as far as the beasties go...they love each other. it's gross.

NellieBly

Love it! But you forgot the last step on the cat box one. After "throw away your cat's old box," is "watch as your cat pouts and refuses to go near the thing you've built for them."

L M
L M

@MutantEnemy I love your username. Buffy. yes. also, mercifully, my dog and the cat are freaks and jump on things meant for them immediately. it's kind of weird.

NellieBly

@Lucia Martinez Oh you lucky person. Also - Anya! "Selfless" changed my life.

Elaine Grow@facebook

@Snork Juice HA! I LOVE it! That's probably what my girls would do which is why I will not be building one even though it is pretty cool.

julie lauren

also, FACT: cats love boxes

L M
L M

@julie lauren someone on pinterest pinned this and was all "LOVE! But what's a cat box?" and my head was all, "really? any box is a cat box!"

julie lauren

@Lucia Martinez my butch roommate likes to say, re: her cats, "they love the box...just like mom." hahaha

LeafySeaDragon

i am going to make that shoe shelf. i loves it!

my husband has made (in the last two weeks) out of old pallets: a hay bale holder-thing, a chicken run, a playhouse, plant boxes and a plant stand. i got an old tile coutertop off of cl last night and it's goign to get legs and be my new patio table!

northshorenature

Hope you read up on pallet safety. You don't mention in your article that they can be treated with all kinds of chemicals and pesticides that can be very harmful to your pet. See

http://www.improvisedlife.com/2010/10/05/the-scoop-on-safe-shipping-pallets-shipping-pallets-101/

ionice

que lindo tudo isto, adorei as camas para os bichos, vou fazer a caixa!

Cmpunk1

You are clearly some sort of crazy genius. Twine? Common nails?? I can't even. What are these things!
Joey

timmegda

Hmm this is really creative work and much more interesting to create many attractive things for your home by the wooden pallets. Thanks for sharing this post!! Stunning Loft Creations

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