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Picture of How to Disassemble a Pallet Efficiently


Below you will find a detailed guide on how to disassemble a pallet, quickly and efficiently, and salvage all of the timber as well as nails!

Step 1: Where to Get Free Pallets?

Picture of Where to Get Free Pallets?

The number of things you can make with pallets is endless. The question is, however – where can you find free pallets?

In the UK at least, there are several options. You can try your local supermarket or food market (just ask a member of staff to keep it on the side for you), Gumtree or construction sites. I personally was rather lucky with my local storage unit. They keep all the good pallets for me and I occasionally drop them a couple of beers to say thank you. Everybody wins! Storage units are great for this purpose as they quite often serve as a base for companies importing goods from abroad - and these companies use the good quality EPAL (EUR) pallets.

Great instructable. I've always had trouble taking pallets apart. That crow bar looks like a good solution.

ClintC151 year ago

I made myself one of these with scraps that I had laying around. It works good! Almost too good though. Some planks end up broken.


Can i please have some details on how it works?

So, I have no vid, but the forks go under the pallet board (that your saving) and the back of the fork rests in the structural part that's sandwiched between the pallet boards. Then you just pry the board up. Kinda like pulling a nail with a cat's paw.

I just found this you tube video:

ClaudeH161 year ago

Quick tip on the nails. Take a grinder with cut off wheel and cut them off about quarter inch from the face of the board. Beating them back through is easier, they don't need to be straightened usually, and won't bend again when struck being shorter. Leave enough to get the pry bar under the head after driving them through. Reduces all the hammering. Also, some of the nails are specific to pallets. They have a twist in the body making them like screws. Some are even coated to glue in. If the nail breaks off, use another as a punch to drive it out. The hole is the same size. Be careful, when cutting they get glove melting hot. Simple magnet can find them sometimes. The basics of nail removal and dissassembly help to make a better woodworker.

If you're not bothered about damaging the blocks, a good firm clout or three with the hammer on the side of said blocks will cause them to rise up off the planks, so that you may insert a pry-bar or wedge to ease removal of the nails. to prevent damage to the planks when levering, slip something thin and made of steel into the gap before inserting the bar. I use an old brickies' trowel to spread the load, but anything about that thickness will do. You may also use the hammer to aid removal of the block by whacking the opposite side of the block from the side you are levering. The block comes off straight up, and the nails don't bend.

A word of warning... A co-worker and friend of mine was a 'wood-mole' at the factory we worked in. (Wood mole being a scrounger of re-usable timber). He took home some pallets that originated in Brazil, which were made from mahogany or a near-equivalent Brazilian timber. He made a beautiful job of his loft, lining the rafters with this wood, which he sanded and varnished to perfection. Some time later he noticed holes had appeared in the planks, and dreading the worst, he treated the whole loft with woodworm killer, to no avail. When the exterminator was called in, he revealed that the rafters had been eaten to dust by this exotic South American wood-boring beetle, that was immune from normal insect-killing chemicals. The episode cost him dearly, and the mahogany had to be burned, along with parts of his roof timbers.

I may be wrong, but I had always understood that EPAL pallets operate as a pool ... ie they are supposed to be collected/returned, refurbished and reissued. Whilst I'm sure that many EPAL pallets do go astray, I think they are not intended to be disposable in the same way that many other pallets are. If that's right, it would be better to focus on disassembling other pallets - the recycling and re-use that's partly our objective in using pallet-wood for projects would potentially be better served if these pallets continued in life as pallets

Or have I got this totally wrong?

You're dead right, Richard. Busting up returnable pallets is totally non-ecological. Some of them even have a monetary value to the receiver of the pallets, redeemable through a voucher scheme. I used to be in charge of a hardware warehouse, so I know what goes on. However, there are many pallets that are non-returnable and often the wood is new and good quality. So, if saving the world is your prime directive, dismantling 'branded' pallets is not the way to go.

I've worked in a number of warehouses/depots and we always had a pile of broken pallets, which I'm sure they'd let you pick from if you asked nicely. Also if you can get to talk to the forklift driver, they might accidently run over a couple of pallets for you! I would've done that for a fellow woodworker when I drove an FLT.

I also volunteered at a recycled wood/wood reclamation yard for a few months and we had claw hammers; nail bars of different lengths, and a couple of things like ClintC15 mentioned for prying them apart. Although some are more determined at hanging on to their nails than others and I even bent a claw hammer, because I was hanging off it trying to get out a particularly tricky one!

Again, nice to hear from fellow members in the US and Australia bragging about their fancy hardwood pallets, while us poor Brits have to beg, borrow and steal just to get a sniff at some half decent timber. It's just not fair, I tell ya!

AlistairW71 year ago

For flimsy easy to break wood, using a nail or pin punch to hammer the nail all the way through the board, should help

Gofish1 year ago

A tool such as that posted by ClintC15 works great but lazy me likes to use an air chisel with a wide blade to seperate things then I work along with two flat wrecking bars. Very little work by me and very fast.

Great to see the the emphasis put on removing the nails. Tip: use two hammers instead of pliers for straightening.

I'm very lucky living on the edge of an industrial area and a lot of clean pallets get put out. After a few years of saving I've invested in a thicknesser so every now and then I will run a hundred or so boards through, so nice to be able to just grab some wood when you need it. A biscuit joiner on sale last year has made more projects possible.

I am just wondering if you had any further suggestions on the different styles of pallets that are available?

I have had some right problems with some of the thinner wooden pallets.

Did you have any left problems?

_woodify_ (author)  MajRiceEvans1 year ago


I`ve experimented with different types of pallets in the past and for me at least, the EURO pallets are the best for DIY projects. They are relatively easy to disassemble and the timber is of decent quality. The planks from thinner pallets tend to be curved or bent hence there is very little use for them. Also, it cracks when taking the pallet apart.

I have to agree with others about American oak pallets. I've had to use a sawz-all or hack saw (the hack saw was actually easier) and just cut the nails between the boards , trying to minimize cutting into either piece of wood.

Korvinst1 year ago

I've got some experience with EPAL and non-EPAL pallets, and I didn't find wrecking-bar method good enough, as I usually bent and/or shattered about half of the wood.

I tried last week the reciprocating saw, and I found it much better. Google for "pallet reciprocating saw". I found only one thing against it: some nails don't go through the planks, and I couldn't pull out or hit through them when they were cut. Fortunately it is a rare case. Most of the nails go through to the blocks.

Nice instructable though.

TassieMike1 year ago

Aussie hardwood pallets are great for reuse, BUT the timber and twist nails, often a bit rusted as well are a real pain to pull apart, I'd like a pulsed magnet strong enough to rip them out!

jpcwebb1 year ago
Freegle/freecycle are also good sources of pallets

Yep, USA pallets seem to uniformly use ring-shank nails into that nasty old oak. Even if the rest of the pallet is falling apart, the nails are in so tight that it's even hard to get a sawzall blade in between! I typically cut all of the pallet boards at the end cross-pieces, then twist and pull them around to be able to get a pry bar in between the boards.

gm2801 year ago

Most of the pallets I ever worked with were made from quality woods to including oaks maples and such. Hardly ever seen pine used. But as you try to take them apart, usually the wood breaks up yielding little long boards to use for any large projects. Not saying to not use them. But it is different depending what pallets you get.

sgbotsford1 year ago

It doesn't work with conventional northamerican pallets made from red oak. That oak holds onto nails that the boards shatter before the nail gives OR the nails break, leaving surprises when you are cutting up the boards.

I can see where this might work with EUR style block separated pallets. Very few of our pallets are made that way.

_woodify_ (author)  sgbotsford1 year ago

Hi there,

Thank you for your comment.

On the positive note, you are very lucky to have oak in your pallets! It costs lots of £££ over here :(

It seems like the only solution to your problem will be using the reciprocating saw to cut the nails. I know that's what they doing in pallet yards when replacing worn planks.

Hope this helps