All pallet projects require the safe starting point: a neatly broken down pallet. We'll show you how to take apart pallets the safe way so you can get started on exciting DIY projects.
There are hundreds of projects you can do with pallets, and finding those pallets for free or very little money generally isn't difficult. Once you get the pallets home, you have to take them apart so they can be repurposed — and that's where risk comes in. People try hammers, pry bars, screwdrivers and all kinds of tools to break down pallets, and they often get hurt in the process. Plus, it's labor intensive and time consuming. By the time you account for the damage to the wood, you have a frustrating afternoon and not much to show for it. Here's how to take pallets apart the safe way, so you reduce your risk of injury and minimize damage to the wood you want to upcycle.
How to Take Pallets Apart the Safe Way
1. Choose a reciprocating saw
With a reciprocating saw, you can cut through the pallet much more easily than you can with a hand saw. You also won't have to spend hours trying to pry apart each individual piece of wood. Most pallets are built to last (i.e., not designed to come apart easily), so trying to pry them loose and then pull out the nails can take hours. Make sure you choose a good reciprocating saw. You want one that plugs in rather than one that's cordless because the battery life won't be enough to help you cut up a lot of pallets. By not skimping on the cost of your saw, you can cut up all the pallets you need to and still use it for plenty of other projects.
2. Get the right blades
Even with a good reciprocating saw, you still need the right blades. You want ones that will handle double duty, in that they will cut both wood and metal. That way, you can focus on getting the pallet apart as quickly and easily as possible. You also won't need to change blades, which can make the process of taking pallets apart faster. It's possible that you could break a blade, though, so you want to have a few extra so you don't end up not having what you need when you need it.
3. Prop the pallet up vertically and secure it
Trying to cut up a pallet that's laying on the ground is frustrating, and it can be dangerous. If you have a way to secure the pallet, standing it up vertically is the best option. Then you have more access to everything and can also see where the cuts need to be. Some people tie the pallet to something, or secure the base of it with blocks or anything else that's heavy, solid and won't move easily. What you use to hold the pallet steady is up to you. If you have a friend or family member helping you to hold the pallet, be very sure they are away from the saw blade and that they protect their eyes with goggles.
4. Cut through the nails
With the pallet in a vertical position, cut through the nails that hold the slats to the frame. This is the fastest, easiest, and safest way to take a pallet apart, and can be done in just a few minutes. While a bit noisier than prybar methods, it's also going to be the most effective, so you can get the pallets apart and start using the wood for your project. Since the pieces of wood fit tightly together and the blade of the reciprocating saw just slides between the pieces and cuts through the nails that hold them together, there aren't any nails left sticking out to cause damage or injury.
If you're using the pallets for any delicate types of projects, or for anywhere children might be playing, you'll want to double check that there aren't any sharp nail edges or splinters. Those can be filed or sanded down easily if necessary, but for most projects that use repurposed pallets it won't be an issue. Just be sure to take proper precautions when you're operating the reciprocating saw and working on your project, such as wearing gloves and using safety goggles. That way you can have your reclaimed pallet wood and go on to create a great project from it, or store some of the wood for the next time you have a wood project in mind.