When it comes to pallet-based upcycling for the do-it-yourselfer, there are hundreds of great ideas out there from creative garden designs to home furnishings and decor. The big question is, “Where do I find free pallets?” Here we take a look at some good tips for finding the best pallets for the job, as well as a few safe-handling practices that will help you with your project.
Where to Look
Most big chain retailers already have processes in place for disposal of used pallets. These companies often get money back from distributors for returning shipping pallets so don’t expect to find freebies at these types of establishments. Instead, use the internet or a local phone directory to locate nearby small businesses in the following categories:
- plant nurseries
- small home improvement stores
- cycle shops
- outdoor equipment sellers
- retail outlet stores
Other places to try include nearby processing facilities, manufacturing plants, and distribution centers. If you live near a port, check with the dock workers to see if they need to dispose of any used pallets. The same goes for small airports. Recycling centers and landfills may also have used pallets that are just taking up space. Check with any new businesses or construction sites in your area. These are a fairly good bet as they likely have a few pallets laying about which they wouldn’t mind getting rid of on someone else’s time. Finally, search the internet for individuals advertising free pallets. Often these are used to deliver building materials from a large retailer to a residence and the homeowner simply has no way to dispose of them.
Ask, Don’t Take
Remember that pallets cost money. Most businesses frown heavily upon individuals who drive by and snatch up pallets without asking permission first. Some even consider such behavior to be stealing. It is always a good idea to make yourself known. Find the manager or owner, tell them what you need, and request their permission to relieve them of a pallet or two. Even if you already know that a place gives away their pallets, it is still better to ask before you take.
Know Your Providers
Try to build a relationship with any business kind enough to supply you with pallets. This is especially useful if there is a chance that you may need more supplies in the future. Introduce yourself and get to know the people who work there. Visit the store just to shop every now and then. The employees will remember your face and management will appreciate that you aren’t just coming to them for hand-outs. This will make them more likely to want to help you in the future, possibly even setting aside the best pallets for you or calling to let you know when they have a few available.
What to Look For
Knowing how to spot a quality pallet can make or break your project. Pallets are often damaged during handling and may even pose a danger to the unwary DIY’er. Make sure that there are no loose boards, splinters, or nails sticking out. You want your pallet to be fairly sturdy with parallel planks. Also make sure that the wood is free of mildew or other fungus that may pose a health risk.
Safe-handling of Pallets
Wear the right gloves.
This is the absolute most important rule for handling used pallets. Aside from the risk of cutting yourself on a sharp piece of metal or damaged wood, you never know what may be lurking in the wood. Poisonous spiders, ants, fungus, manure, chemical fertilizer, machine grease, pesticides, or any of a hundred other things that you don’t want on your skin could be hiding inside a used pallet. Protect yourself by donning a sturdy pair of leather work gloves prior to pallet-handling. Perhaps only slightly less important is to make sure that your gloves fit properly. For women especially, locating appropriately-sized leather work gloves may prove difficult. Try ordering them online or check the garden center at a large home improvement retailer to find quality work gloves that fit smaller hands.
Don sturdy shoes with closed toes.
In the event that you drop a pallet or something surprising falls out while you’re carrying it (see above – spiders, ants, etc.) you want your feet to be protected. While steel-toed work boots may be a bit much, at least wear a good pair of tennis shoes that will guard your toes and provide good traction while carrying heavy pallets.
Lift with your legs, not with your back.
Pallets can be heavy. Avoid back injury by bending your knees when you lift. Try to keep the pallet close to your body so as not to put unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints. Also, lift in front of your body and try to avoid any side-to-side motions that shift the weight of the pallet and may throw you off-balance.
Secure your load.
While a tow-behind trailer or pick-up truck are best for moving larger pallets, this may not be an option for a lot of people. With all of the potential creepy-crawlies that may be in the wood, you probably won’t want to transport used pallets inside your vehicle either. A third option is to secure the load to the roof. First, make sure to have an old blanket ready to minimize damage to your paint. Also, make sure you bring enough cord to secure the pallet on all sides. Locate tie-down points ahead of time so you have a good idea of where you will attach the cords. Be certain that your load isn’t sticking more than a couple of inches out to either side of the vehicle. Finally, if there is a chance that you may be picking up a pallet which is longer than your vehicle, remember to bring a brightly colored flag, ribbon, or piece of cloth to attach to the protruding end or ends. This will alert other drivers to a potential hazard and help to get you and your pallet safely home.
Clean before you craft.
Make sure that your pallet is free of any potential hazards before you begin your project. You can do this any number of ways. There are a variety of repellents – both natural and chemical – that will get rid of anything living in the wood. You probably also want to clean the pallet of any foreign matter. Use a spray nozzle or low-power pressure washer if you have one. Finally, inspect the pallet once more for potential structural hazards that you may have missed the first time around. Sand, file, or cut away any sharp pieces of wood or metal you find.