How to Safely Take Apart A Wood Pallet

 Safely dismantling or taking apart wood from a wood pallet can be a good way to obtain free wood for woodworking, crafts and carpentry, while being mindful that the presence of steel fasteners in wood can result in safety risk as well as damage to power tools. With the right approach, however, it takes just a few minutes to safely take apart a wood pallet and remove the legacy fasteners. Here are some easy methods to employ.

Some Precautions Before You Start

Pallets should never be used as a man lift. Only use properly engineered lift platforms or other approved equipment. Rick LeBlanc, licensed to

Ensure your safety with proper safety equipment and tools. The use of safety gear, including gloves, safety glasses, ear protection and safety shoes is generally recommended. Hammer, flat bar, and pry bar are typically required. Powered tools such as a reciprocating saw to cut nails and trim saw for wood also can aid the process. Ensure to follow all safety precautions in working with wood and power tools. For the serious enthusiast, the use of a table helps provide a better ergonomic solution. Pallets often weigh in excess of 50 pounds, and can be awkward to lift, so take care to lift properly. As with any heavy lift, try to keep the weight close to your body when you lift or lower, and take care for protruding nails. Not only can they result in a dirty cut, but they can catch when you are sliding a pallet off a stack, resulting in strain injury if you try to overcome the snag with muscle power. 

Method One: Using a Metal Cutting Reciprocating Saw

Step One: Loosen the Wood Deck Boards if Needed with the Help of Chisel and Hammer

This step might not be necessary in wood pallets if there is enough separation between wood deck board and stringer connections to run the reciprocating saw to cut the nails. However, if there is an insufficient gap between deck boards and the stringer, a couple of punches between the wood a few blows with hammer and chisel, or with a pry bar, will make room for reciprocating saw to run smoothly.

Step Two: Cut the Nails with the Sawzall

Once there is sufficient separation between deck board and stringer connections, you can easily run the reciprocating saw and cut all the nails to free the deck boards. If the pallet is large and heavy, it will not move much at the time of cutting the nails but if the pallet is a small one, it’s a good idea to clamp or otherwise immobilize the other side to avoid any accident or error in your cutting.

If you want to keep the central stringer nail free you can simply not cut the nails attached with it and separate the deck boards from the center stringer with the help of the hammer and flat bar. After the boards have been freed, use the hammer and nail puncher to remove the remaining parts of the nails from board ends, and a claw hammer to remove nails from the board center. For more information, watch this Youtube video.

Method Two: Cutting Deck Boards Inside the Exterior Stringer Connections

This method is more or less the same as the first method, however substituting the use of a reciprocating saw which would cut nails with the use of a circular saw or other tool for cutting deck boards. The result is a modest reduction in board length. In this case, the deck boards, both top and bottom, are cut just on the inside of the outside stringers. After the cuts have been made, you are left with deck boards nailed only to the center stringer, top and bottom, which can be easily removed by hammer and flat bar.  You can see more at this Youtube video.

Method Three: Manually Taking Apart Pallets without Power Tools

You can also dismantle a wood pallet with the help of just a hammer and a pry bar. This approach requires the use of more muscle power, and depending upon the quality and condition of the pallet, might result in a considerable amount of the material being cracked and unusable. A pry bar is most effective when used in conjunction with pallets with fewer and shorter nails, associated with the manufacture of expendable or limited -use pallets.   

Have fun dismantling wood pallets for your wood projects. If you need ideas about where to find wood pallets, be sure to read my article, as well as my resource guide for pallet DIY