By Daphne Howland
Q. I would like to use old pallet wood to build some outdoor furniture and other pieces for our cabin. What do I need to know? What steps should I take before getting started (precautions, etc.)? – Janice Fritz, via email
Pallets provide excellent building material because they’re made of strong pieces of wood that often have pleasing patinas, says Seanna
LaRose, who co-owns Seaside Pallet Designs in Portland, Maine, with her father, Jim LaRose. Together, these two use wood from reclaimed pallets to handcraft a variety of items, from furniture and lamps to shelving units and signs.
What to look for
Seanna cautions that there’s an art to finding pallets that are safe to use. Before working with a pallet, inspect it for any markings. Pallets marked “HT” (heat-treated) or “DB” (debarked) are good because they’re chemical-free, and those marked “EPAL” or “EUR” have met European safety standards. In the U.S., pallets don’t have to be marked if they’re used for non-hazardous purposes, so unmarked pallets are generally safe. Avoid those marked “MB,” which means that the pallet has been fumigated with methyl bromide, a toxic pest-control agent.
Where to find pallets
Old pallets can often be found in industrial parks or on Craigslist. Seanna now has a few regular suppliers, companies that have agreed to save their pallets for her. She avoids food stores or convenience stores because they’re less likely to have non-hazardous pallets.
How to work with pallets
After deconstructing the pallets, Seanna sands the planks just enough to smooth them without ruining the patina. When working with reclaimed pallet wood, it’s critical to remove any nails or staples from the boards before cutting them to size. Otherwise, such hardware could cause serious damage to your saw blade. You’ll also want to wear protective goggles, gloves and a dust mask to protect yourself from dust, splinters and debris. “Even though you’re trying to get safe pallets, you still don’t want to breathe that stuff,” says Seanna.
Seanna uses beeswax and almond oil to give reclaimed pallet wood a light finish without taking away from its rustic look. She has also used chalk paint for color accents.