How to recycle a pallet into an… armchair… and more!

Posted on 04 November 2011

We are always thinking of ways to reduce, reuse and recycle so recently, when I realised how common it is to see wood pallets thrown out in nature, on the side of roads, parking lots or junkyards, I thought ‘what can I do with those?’

The good news is that with a bit of imagination and some DIY, there is a lot of potential in these seemingly useless wood stocks… I recently made this garden armchair from a pallet found in a street near where we are staying in Palestine!

I know it’s far from perfect, but hey, it’s only my first attempt! :-) Here’s how I did it.

How to upcycle a wood pallet into a garden armchair

1) Find and prepare a wood pallet

First you need to find a suitable pallet…. so, how do you choose your wooden pallet? Well, regulations require pallet manufacturers in different countries to treat the wood before shipping. This can be by chemicals or by heat. You don’t want to work with a chemically-loaded wood pallets, so give it  a pass if the pallet you find smells, looks oily, is stained, is extra heavy, looks ‘suspect’ or even has too many twisted nails (not worth it!). Also and as Donna, from Funky Junk Interiors (a website well worthwhile checking!) adds, “chemicals are one thing, but bacteria is another. Always be safe and scrub the wood down with bleach and soapy water. Rinse well, and allow to completely dry. But do remember, wood is porous, so there’s a chance the bacteria is embedded. Just go into this knowing NO pallet wood should be used for food related items, children’s toys nor children’s play furniture. It just isn’t worth the risk.” Wise advice indeed.

If not chemically treated, timber pallets can be kiln-dried to lower the moisture content of the timber. Pallets that have a low moisture content, usually between 20-24%, are inherently stronger. This makes the timber pallet more durable and lighter in weight which helps save on transport costs and environmental impact – but beware, it also means that the dry wood is likely to crack when you work on it… just be cautious.

The HT on the board in the picture to the left means it’s been heat treated, or kiln dried. This is the safer kind. If the boards are unmarked, it may be safe but there’s also a strong chance it’s been chemically treated, which makes them dangerous.

Note that there are many sorts of pallets and not a standard size as there is no single international standard and different products or situations requires different sizes for doors, containers, lowering labour costs, etc. This actually causes substantial continuing expense in international trade. As a result, you will find different sorts of wood pallets, so  you can choose the one(s) that fit best your DIY’s needs… To give you further ideas, check out this link that shows the variety of pallets offered by Palletland.

2) Put your idea down on paper

Although the work can be done off the top of your head, I recommend you put down your ideas on paper before you actually work with the wood material – this certainly helped me build a clear picture of what it is I actually wanted.

Having said that, you’ll notice that the final result of the armchair I’m presenting in this post is actually different from the drawing! The reasons being that firstly, I drew a sketch of the chair very rapidly with a patchy sense of scale and perspective… and secondly I allowed myself to be guided by the challenges offered by the material. Some wooden boards broke down during the process and I simply had to deal with it if I wanted to remain true to my goal of building an armchair from a sole pallet…

3) Dismantle the wood pallet

  

 

Note that removing the nails out of the pallet requires some efforts… A few websites provide recommendations, but I simply used a hoe (because that is what I could find on site), and at times, pliers. However I had to resort to eventually cutting down those nails that were too recalcitrant.

4) Cutting, assembling and refining the material

Unfortunately, I didn’t have an electric saw at hand, so I used a manual saw and a grinder… I’ve used nails for sake of ease, but, if the wood allows for it, I recommend using screws which are more likely to hold for longer.

 

   

Also, if you don’t want to ending up sitting on a splinter, make sure you sand the armchair… or even paint it for a more finished look!

   

Last, but not least, enjoy the result! :-)

  

I take this opportunity to thank Jon for his kind help – in particular when assembling the longest parts! We now, at the Bustan Qaraaqa farm in Palestine can enjoy the view while comfortably seated… it’s well worth the effort! However, and for the pleasure to be complete, the one-pallet armchair would be nicely completed with a cushion for the head, and a coffee table for the feet… More to come next time!

These wooden pallets got me thinking…

Whilst building my chair I was thinking about the number of pallets all around the world… travelling from country to country, across seas, fork lifted around and eventually thrown in to landfill. How long have they been around? Why do they use timber when we have so much deforestation and environmental degradation?

Well, pallets make it easier to move heavy stacks. Most pallets can easily carry a load of 1,000 kg. Today, over half a billion pallets are made each year! Of these new pallets produced annually in the United States, 30% are made of pine or coniferous wood. It is estimated that there are around 2 billion wooden pallets in circulation in the United States alone.

It is also estimated that 90% of all pallets are made of wood and the reason for it is that wooden pallets are cheap when related to their properties.

There are a lot of advantages to wooden pallets but also some disadvantages. Among their advantages, wooden pallets are cheap compared to plastic and metal pallets; have higher friction than other types; can easily be repaired if damaged; and even when beyond repair, pallets can be shredded to create wood chips, with a variety of uses (like mulch for instance!).

But they also have their disadvantages however, which any DIY-er should understand: they can contain invasive species of insects and plant diseases and have to be treated in order to be shipped internationally; they can get mouldy if they are exposed to moisture; they can be hard to keep clean; they can contain splinters, and of course, it requires some efforts to get rid of their nails…

Through my questioning I started researching and found out that the pallet has become fundamental to the world of modern material handling since the 1940s. ‘Palletisation’ has evolved over the last 105 years or so, spurred into prominence since World War II as it was regarded an enormous opportunity to help the U.S. armed forces do more with less. For example, according to an article in a 1931 railway trade magazine, three days were required to unload a boxcar containing 13,000 cases of unpalletised canned goods. When the same amount of goods was loaded into the boxcar on pallets or skids, the identical task took only four hours…

 

Upcycling pallets into… anything you want!

As you can see, it’s fairly easy to transform a pallet into an armchair… I’m pretty excited by what else I could make out of pallets… Carly is concerned we’ll end up living in a pallet house with pallet furniture one day (although I think she’d secretly like the idea) :)

Below are a few pictures I have found of other ways to creatively use pallets… I want to try a few and would encourage you to start building with all that waste too! If you don’t, keep the pallets you found for me! :-)

  

  

  

 

 

  

 

 

Some have even built sheds and houses out of pallets!

 

 

 

 

Now… send us your own pictures, we’ll be happy to share them here! :-)


 

 


2 responses to How to recycle a pallet into an… armchair… and more!

  • Timber Dubai says:

    Think more creativily to work with the wooden pallets, as it creates wonder. Pallets can be made into trendy urban farm items too.

    [Reply]

    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Sure! Do you have any pictures or stories to share with us?

    [Reply]

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