How to Find, Pick, and Prep Your Pallet Wood For A Project

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Pallet wood is a popular option for DIY projects. Because of its relative abundance and free availability, it is a great choice for do it yourself projects. However, not all pallet wood is created the same, and its important to learn how to identify and prep your pallets before you start your project. 

Where to Look for Pallets

If you’ve decided you want pallet wood for your next pallet-inspired DIY project, the first step is going to be finding that wood. Since most people don’t have pallets laying around their home, you’re going to have to go searching for extra pallets that businesses are willing to sell you or are looking to get rid of.

To start your pallet search, try looking at:

  • Lumber yards or hardware stores
  • Garden centers & landscaping companies
  • Feed supply stores or pet stores
  • Liquor stores, breweries, distilleries or bars

None of those turn up anything? You can purchase pallets directly from a manufacturer—though that will likely be the most expensive option and could defeat the purpose of your upcycling project. 

Once you’ve found a supply of pallets, the next step is learning about the history of the wood.

Photo Credit: Pexels—Brent Keane

The Meaning of Pallet Stamps

When choosing a pallet, you should inspect the wood for stamps that tell you more about the history of the wood such as the country of origin or how the wood was treated.

A pallet stamp will have a few different elements to it, including a two letter country code, as well as an IPPC (International Plant Protection Convention) logo and a registration number.

The registration number is used to track where the wood came from. This registration number is beneficial to manufacturers, but is of little importance to you when determining if the pallet is safe for you to use for your next project.

The country code will indicate where the pallet came from, which will help you to avoid wood from countries that are known to use unsafe production methods for their wood.

Pro Tip: When looking at pallet stamps, look for the country code ‘CA,’ indicating it’s a Canadian pallet. Canada has strict laws about wood treatment and doesn’t allow for chemicals like methyl bromide to be used for treating pallets so you know a Canadian pallet is safe for you to use.

In addition to the country code, registration number and IPPC logo, you’ll want to look at the treatment code on the pallet.

Pallet Treatment Codes

The most common treatment codes you’ll come across are:

  • Heat Treatment (HT)
    • A heat treated pallet is a safe pallet for you to use. ‘HT’ on a pallet means that the wood was heated to a minimum temperature of 132 degrees Fahrenheit (56 degrees Celsius) for at least 30 minutes.
    • Heat treatment is used to kill any insects or parasites, seed or plants that the wood may have carried.
  • Kiln Dried (KD)
    • Kiln drying pallet wood involves treating the wood in a kiln at a slightly lower temperature than standard Heat Treatment. Kiln drying is used to eliminate parasites or insects, as well as to avoid warping or fungal growth.
    • A pallet marked KD-HT means it was kiln dried, but at the same temperatures required to be classified as Heat Treated, and is safe for you to upcycle.
  • Debarked (DB)
    • DB will typically be present on a stamp in combination with another treatment code such as HT.
    • Debarked simply means the bark was removed from the wood before it became a pallet.
  • Methyl Bromide (MB)
    • If you see ‘MB’ marked on a pallet, you should avoid using it, especially if you’re going to work with the wood in an enclosed space or the final product will be inside any home or building.
    • Methyl Bromide is a harsh pesticide that is used in certain countries to treat pallet wood (among other products) and can pose serious health risks or complications for anyone exposed to it.

If a pallet doesn’t have any stamps or markings, you may want to avoid it. No IPPC stamp means it was never shipped out of the country, but it also means that it was never held to international treatment standards. There’s no way to know what chemicals or products it may have been exposed to so even if it looks clean, you have to use it at your own risk. 

Prepping Your Pallet

When picking a pallet, you probably already opted for wood that was relatively unstained or unmarked. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to start building though! You should still make sure to clean the pallet and prep the wood so it’s ready for any project.

Photo Credit: Pexels—Joice Rivas

Prep Steps

  1. Break out that power washer and put it to work. Wash away any built-up grime or dirt that may be on the surface of the pallet.
    • You can also use good old soap and water to scrub away at any particularly tough spots.
  2. Allow the pallet wood to dry completely.
  3. Disassemble the pallet using a hammer, crow bar, and nail punch to break down the pallet into usable pieces.
    • An oscillating tool can be helpful to remove rusty or damaged nails and screws that have been lifted up with the pry bar.
  4. Using sandpaper or an orbital sander, smooth out the pieces of the wood to prevent anyone from getting a splinter when they want to sit on the nice new porch bench you’re creating.
    • Sanding is also an important step if you’re planning to stain, paint, or varnish the wood as part of the project.

Once the wood has been washed, broken down, and sanded, you’re ready to move forward and get to work on building your pallet wood project!

Raised with a fix-it and improvement mindset, my wife and I completely restored our Craftsman-style home. Learning how to DIY a variety of home improvement projects, I started SawsHub with my father. He's the fine woodworker, I'm the DIYer!