It’s the first week of actual quarantine, in March, when cars aren’t on the road much and the world is deliciously quiet. It’s weird. I’m masked up and skulking behind a specialty parts store that had been known to hoard and give away wood pallets to people. There’s a car parked at the store and a light on at a counter in the back. There’s a dude there; I can see him through the big picture window.
The door’s locked, so I knock on the window to get his attention. Then I realize I have no idea how to mime this: “Can I take some of your pallets from the loading dock?”
I try shouting, but my words have to make it through my mask, through the plate glass window, and about 30 feet to his desk into his earholes. It’s a big ask. It sounds something like “Cruhh ayye herz serm PAHluzz?” He’s all with the “huh?” body language, and I add in a few hand gestures toward the dock for bad measure. This is the early days of the pandemic, remember, and we don’t know a lot about how COVID is passed yet. I’m scared to lower my mask, in part because of that and in part because I want to show him I’m a responsible adult who cares about the safety of others. Yet he’s scared to come to the door. He probably thinks I’m some sort of gentleman looter. After three more attempts at communication, I just walk back to the dock ponder carrying a pallet to the window so he can see what I’m after.
But he sheepishly peeks out the back door and I can ask him to his masked face. And of course he’s all “sure sure, take what you want,” relieved and retreating back to safety.
I was planning for the days when summer would wane, and with it the daily job at the farm. Indeed, when the daily diet of news became both unhealthy and unpalatable, I started playing with the pallets.
Longtime readers will know of my many love affairs with repurposing wood pallets in days of yore, with projects that ranged from dalliances — making a firewood rack turned out to be literally a rotten idea — to eternal flames. Seeing my pallet-made liquor shelf, fireplace bookshelf, and tiny outdoor end tables still fills me with Kondolike glee.
I tackled three quick projects reclaiming pallet wood this year, trying to keep in mind the mistakes of my past. (The biggest takeaway from those failures: Keep such untreated wood off the ground.) Here’s a quick look at the new builds.
Park bench redux
I more or less inherited two endcaps of a wrought-iron park bench from my brother. They’d been laying in his yard, covered with leaves and detritus, for years, waiting for him to rebuild with new wood slats. My first attempt at reviving them into a full bench used pressure-treated pine 1x2s, since they were (1) a stock board at Lowe’s Depot, (2) could stand up to the elements, and (3) cheap. But 2-inch boards, which actually only measure 1½ inches after they’re milled at the lumbermill, proved not wide enough and not rigid enough. The whole contraption bowed and flexed when you sat on it, like that infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge I learned about in an architectural survey course.
For the second try, I went with pallet wood, which I ripped (cut lengthwise) to a full 2 inches wide. The widest pallet I could find shortened the original width of the bench by about a foot, but since we planned to tuck this in the narrow end of the Jenn-yard, that actually worked to our advantage. It was a fair amount of ripping — 12 boards, each of which needed sanding to ease the sharp corners and edges — but since pallets are nearly always made of hardwoods, the resulting bench was rigid. And we liked the look of the wood so much that we didn’t need to paint or stain it.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my first year of farming is the need to take off one’s shoes before re-entering the house. At least, that’s the case at our house, which wasn’t even built with attached bathrooms and certainly didn’t squander space on a mudroom.
I could sit on the back stoop to kick off my boots, but what I really needed was a place to store them until the caked soil and clay was dry enough to knock out. So I concocted the idea for a little boot barn, which could offer a higher seat for taking off shoes and a place to stow them sheltered from rain underneath.
I even made a little swing-front door to spare the neighbors from those messiest tools of our trade.
I basically disassembled an entire pallet and framed the box with it, using the wider 2x4s from the pallet’s underbelly to frame it. It sounds difficult, but it was actually a breeze. Knocked it out in a few hours and every bit of the wood was from the one pallet, plus two pieces of scrap 2×2 as bracing behind the slats of the case’s front door. (Full disclosure: It was a breeze partially because I’d already learned the hard way how to deconstruct a pallet. Also, I bought an electric finishing nailer back when I replaced the crown molding in a rental property two years ago, so there was no need for pre-drilling and screwing together the bits. Assembly is easily three times as fast with that beauty ready to do its kaCHUNK-ing.)
As a plus, having this box right by the back door has proved handy for unloading the car, giving us a place to drop whatever we’re carrying to get the door unlocked.
Finally, we realized from our first year at farmers’ markets that we needed to elevate some produce to make the booth more visually appealing and to let folks see what we’ve got to offer without getting their COVID, influenza, or uptown funk germs all over our goods.
I had a tiny little pallet that was perfect for making a couple of charmingly rustic crates.
These were even easier. The gaps between slats didn’t hurt anything, so I just cut the pallet in half and pried off the extra slats and 2x4s to make the other sides of each. Then I was able to double up the 2x4s to add some height to the crates, positioning the forklift notches in the 2-bys so that they formed little handles on each side. Then a quick sanding to ensure they’re splinter free, and it was done.
Were I doing it over again, I might have completely disassembled one of them so that I could cut it small enough to completely nest inside the other. But that’s not a big enough issue to warrant a re-do.
And just lookie how nice they show off that lovely veg:
If any of y’all’r curious about some of the other projects we’ve tackled with pallets, here’s a sampling:
- Building a shed workbench from pallets.
- A pallet turned into a vertical planter.
- Pallet porch swings!
- A sturdy dog ramp from pallets.
- Easy guitar stand from pallets (punk-rock Titus Andronicus engraving optional).
- Make a liquor cabinet in an hour with pallets.
- An inset fireplace shelf.
- A sturdy homemade bike cargo rack.