With all of the boards and nails, it can be a little intimidating and difficult to start separating a pallet. Just going at it with a pry bar and hammer isn't going to work very well. You'll have trouble getting the pry bar in to those tight joints and you can easily crack the wood, rending it hardly usable. Here is a guide with my steps, precautions, and techniques to help you reclaim the wood used in a pallet with maximum efficiency and minimal damage to the wood.
The tools I recommend are
- a 4x4 piece of wood, long enough to lay across the pallet.
- a 2 pound or heavier mallet, possibly made of rubber
- a piece of 2x6 or similar, 1-3 feet tall
- a pry bar - Stanley 21-Inch Wonder Bar
putting on your gloves and laying the pallet out on a hard, flat surface. I use my garage floor, but a sidewalk, porch, or driveway will also work well. Make sure you have sufficient space to walk around the pallet. I like to start the pallet with the heavily planked side up, the same way the pallet would lay if the shipping cargo were sitting on it. Grab the 4x4. Raise the pallet with one hand and slide the 4x4 underneath with the other. Position the 4x4 so that it is side to side with the first board you want to remove.
If the board is in a really hard to reach place,
use the sledge hammer. Don't go nuts and start swinging at the board! Use gravity and the weight of the sledge hammer. Just lifting it and dropping it a few times is enough to dislodge the board from the rest of the pallet. This technique allows you to place the head of the sledge hammer sideways into a small space, then just lift and drop to get the board moving. You could use this method for the entire pallet, but this method is prone to creating more cracks in the boards.
Before moving on to the next board,
make sure to move the recently removed board far enough from your work area that you won't accidentally step on it or the rusty nails sticking out of it. Then move your 4x4 next to another board and start removing that board with the mentioned techniques. I like to work from outer-most to inner-most boards, helping keep the pallet rigid while I'm working with it. Once finished with one side, flip it over and do the other side of the pallet.
When deciding which side of a board I want to place my 4x4 against, I choose the side with the least weight. This puts the board I want to remove in between the 4x4 and the floor, as opposed to the 4x4 and the air. I can't follow this rule when removing the boards on the ends of the pallet, so to help keep the pallet heavy and steady against the 4x4, I stand on the pallet while making my hits. Another thing to note is that hitting too hard into a small area will cause cracking in the board. You never want that. That's why I recommend using the mallet in conjunction with a 2x6 and only using the sledge hammer in tight spaces.
you should take the time to remove the nails. This will make your new boards safe and easy to store. I take each board, one at a time, and lay it on the edge of a work bench or flat stool. I make sure the nail heads are on the bottom side (floor side) of the board and that I'm looking at the points of the nails. I then take my regular hammer and start knocking the nails out to the other side. Keeping the targeted nails close to the edge of a sturdy table or stool keeps the board from flexing and makes each swing of the hammer count that much more. Once I've knocked each nail flush with my side of the board, I grab another board and do it again.
will lose their heads. To get these out, you need to get creative. If the nail hole goes all the way through the board, I take the board back to my workbench or stool and flip it over, the same way it was when I knocked the nail through to the other side. I then use a punch set to drive the nail the rest of the way out from the bottom side. If the nail hole doesn't go all the way through, I will lay one of my punches next to the nail and us the hammer to bend the broken nail over the punch tool. Then, I'm usually able to use the claw on the hammer to get enough grip to remove the nail.
You'll want to store the nails in a safe place, like a jar with a lid. I haven't thought of any good uses for rusty, bent nails yet, so I just recycle them. Make sure that before using the reclaimed wood, you pass a metal detector over it. You don't want any missed nails or staples damaging your saw blades and other tools. Also, I try to plane my wood ASAP. I do so with a lot of dust protection. The reason I do this is because some pallets get fumigated and treated with bad stuff and strong chemicals while they are being moved around the world. It's my belief that this stuff typically sticks to the surface and doesn't absorb deep. Holding the boards to the light, you can sometimes notice an eerily shiny surface layer. So, I plane or cut the surface layers away before storing and using this wood, getting rid of that shiny layer. I wear an N95 or better rated mask while doing this to protect myself from contaminated saw dust.