How to Prepare Pallet Wood

Pallets are a great source of cheap or even free lumber and the preparation process is not very difficult.


A few hours




Less than $20


Pallet wood is incredibly trendy in the woodworking and DIY worlds. The lumber is cheap or even free, and you'll find a variety of wood species. I've found pallets made from maple, pine, oak and poplar. The process of preparing pallet lumber is a fairly easy, but takes some patience. Grab your flat bar and mallet and prepare the wood for your next project.

Tools Required

  • Flat bar
  • Hammer
  • Jointer
  • Miter saw
  • Planer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Table saw
  • Wire brush

Project step-by-step (7)

Step 1

Take apart the pallet

pallet preparation featured

Pry off the cross boards using a flat bar and rubber mallet. The goal is to remove the deck boards without pulling the nail heads through them. Most pallets are made with spiral shank nails, which are meant to stay put. So work carefully, trying not to damage or split the deck boards.

Step 2

Hammer out nails

pallet preparation 2

Back the nails out with a hammer and then pull them using the claw or pliers. Carefully inspect to make sure all the nails and nail heads are removed so they don’t damage your cutting tools. A rare earth magnet helps locate hidden nails. If you find any, remove them with a rubber mallet and punch.

Step 3

Clean the boards

pallet preparation 3

Pallet wood is typically dirty. To protect your jointer and planer knives, clean any dirt and grit off the boards using a wire brush.

Step 4

Flatten one face

pallet preparation 4

Draw pencil lines across the concave face of the boards and flatten that face on the jointer. When the lines are gone, you’re done.

Step 5

Straighten one edge

pallet preparation 5

With the flattened face against the jointer’s fence, straighten the concave edge (if there is one).

Step 6

Plane to thickness

pallet preparation 6

Draw pencil lines across the other, non-flattened face and plane the boards until the lines are gone. The deck board thicknesses will vary, particularly after flattening the first face. You can leave them different thicknesses or plane them all to the same thickness.

Step 7

Rip and crosscut

pallet preparation 7

Rip the boards to width on the table saw with the straightened edge against the fence. Cut off one of the ragged ends on the miter saw and crosscut the other end to length.