Palatable Pallet Procurement Procedures

Wooden pallets are a versatile and widely-available starting point for a multitude of projects. Best of all, they can usually be acquired free of charge. But choose the wrong kind of pallet and you could end up paying dearly. [Eric] has compiled a great deal of useful information about pallets that will help you find ideal candidates and prepare them for whatever project you have in mind, be it a coffee table or a backyard roller coaster.

Pallets come in several styles and loader configurations. Some are made with space between the boards, and others are closed. If you take nothing else away from his article, just remember to look for plain, untinted pallets with no markings and you’ll be fine.

No markings means the pallet was used domestically, so markings aren’t required. Marked pallets from abroad should feature the IPPC logo as well as a treatment code indicating the method used on the material. Debarked (DB), heat treated (HT), and pallets with the European Pallet Association logo (EPAL) are all safe choices. Pallets labeled (MB) were treated with methyl bromide, which is a poisonous fungicide. Colored pallets should be avoided as well. If you find one in a cool color, take a picture of it and find some paint in a similar hue.

Safe pallets can be had from many places ranging from hardware stores to feed and tack supply stores. Find someone you can ask for permission to take pallets—they might even help you load them. Keep some gloves in your trunk to avoid splinters.

14 thoughts on “Palatable Pallet Procurement Procedures

  1. I don’t really understand how simply heat treating wood makes it resistant to rotting in the future compared to wood that isn’t heat treated? They are both wood and as soon as they touch the ground they are going to absorb bacteria and fungus and start breaking down again. Maybe the heat treated ones simply have less internal mold and such internally?

    So domestic pallets are not required to be marked so how can you tell how they were treated?

    I cringe when I see people making things like beds or couches out of pallets.

    1. Heat treatment is intended to kill bugs and other nasties, so they don’t get shipped to new regions.

      Domestic pallets can be left unmarked if untreated, but will be marked if treated. Usually.

      The HAD summary is pretty good for a highly condensed version, but not perfect. You really should read the original article.

    2. I was in shipping for a long time. Some pallets are amazing. It is pretty rare, maybe 1 in 500 at best, but when you find it, it will blow your mind as to why anyone would waste quality wood like that. I have seen prime, checkless, cherry, red oak, white oak (most common), heavy as all creation hickory, and chestnut (second most common). No maple though. I have no idea how or why this happens, but it does.

      A thought has gone through my head to grab one of these mystical unicorn pallets, deconstruct, plane, polish and reassemble with some pretty hardware, maybe brass on the nail heads. Just as a ‘luxury pallet’ and keep it in my house somewhere.

      There’s lots more to say about pallets too that was not covered in the article. It was kinda hipster in it’s approach, like the person has never actually heavily worked with them. The best pallets are used to transport steel. They are made of thicker materials and are double layered on the top. Their weight is shocking compared to normal pallets. Not surprising after considering many are rated for up to 26,000kg. Hard to get though as there usually is a sizable deposit on them. One of the few times used pallets are never free. Euro pallets are the worst. They are more fragile, center blocks often being very short or made of compressed wood particles, and they have been through so many treating operations.

      1. I worked in commercial printing for some time. They had some great pallets from time to time. 2×6 pine with 3×8 runner on the bottom. Most were in great shape as they were first use. Would love to find those again if they are out there.

  2. I know that heat affects lignan in wood and other plant materials making them harder. That might help discourage termites and fungal growth by making the wood less porous.
    Another good source of wood is large cable spools. I knew a guy who worked on the docks and found spools made from tropical hardwoods that he made awesome jewelry boxes from.

  3. Obviously you need to make sure any palettes you take are taken with permission of the owner of the palette. Be careful as that might not be the owner of wherever the palette is located (e.g. retail store etc). If the palette has the name of a palette company like CHEP on it, the palette is probably owned by that company and they may want it back (which would cause problems for the owner of wherever the palette is located and the guy that took it)

    Supermarkets/department stores can be a good place to find palettes (if they will give them to you and if they are untreated) as they (at least around here) dont tend to sell the kind of dangerous chemicals that would leech into a palette and cause problems for its use in furniture/art/etc.

  4. Another question that this brings to mind. How safe are burlap sacks used in transporting food stuffs for reuse? For instance, bags used for transporting coffee to roasters.

    I have done some research on this, but not found any satisfactory answers.

    Coffee bags come from many places around the world. Hence they can transport fungi from all over. Treatment/fumigation is usually targeted at maintaining safety/quality of the food stuff being transported, not necessarily at making the container safe for subsequent agricultural use.

    Presumably the treatment/fumigation done leaves the bags reasonably safe to handle (since they contain food stuffs). But I have found no evidence to suggest that treatment ensures that they will not spread fungi, spores, etc. from their place of origin if used as a mulch in gardening/farming. (They are commonly promoted for such use.)

    The best solution I have found is to treat the bags myself (either by dunking in bleach solution, by treating with moist heat, or at a minimum by solarization).
    (This on the advice of a micromicologist.)

    Obviously the kind of treatment required depends on where you are, if you live in a coffee growing area (such as Hawaii) there may be more stringent controls in place. (Of course then the risk of inadvertently introducing a pathogen are also higher, since you live in a climate more like the one from which the bags originated.)

    Would be curious if anyone has found any solid information on this topic. Thanks.

  5. Just to give another source, new car dealers tend to get a small but steady supply of pallets that they want to get rid of. Just talk to the parts department manager, most likely he/she will be glad to see them go. Car dealer pallets, at least from what I’ve seen, tend to be “cleaner”.

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