Thursday, April 5, 2012

How to take a pallet apart

There are many different ways to take a pallet apart. I'm fairly sure that I tried all of them. I'll describe a few of them. Each method has it's strengths and weaknesses as well as intended outcomes. First, a material list.

*Pry bar - By far the most useful and employed in every technique I've used. The best ones have the flatter pry heads. The reason being, they can be more easily wedged under close fitting nails than their fatter head counterparts. They cost anywhere from $7 to $25.

*Claw Hammer - This would be your second most needed pallet rending tool. It is great for removing nails from stringers, pounding your crowbar under pallet slats and reverse pounding nails out of slats. These can run from $6 to $60.
*Circular Saw - I have used methods that don't require this tool at all but if speed is more your thing, this is a must have. In the end, I used this tool as much as the first two. It moved my project along more quickly and left me with far more intact slats (though the slats will be a few inches shorter as a result. These will run you $40 to $200. A simple handsaw can do the same job if you are willing to put in the elbow grease and will cost much less if you have to purchase your tools.

*Fence Pliers - Now we are getting into really optional tools. I had this one on hand from various fencing projects I've done around the acreage. This cost anywhere from $17 to $25.

Pallet Buster - This tool is entirely optional. It is a great tool if you have a lot of pallets to take apart and are more interested in the stringers than you are in the slats. This will pull slats off fast but it will almost always break them apart. Yes I purchased one and I used it but I preferred keeping the slats intact so I only used it on pallets where the slats were already pretty well destroyed. I loan it out a lot to people that break up their pallets for firewood so I don't feel as bad about this rather frivolous (and not very thrifty) purchase. This very specific tool will run you $50 to $75.

Just so you know what I'm talking about when describing the different methods used to take pallets apart, let's name the different pallet parts. I'll keep it super simple. I'll just talk about slats, stringers and extra support boards.

First things first. I highly recommend all the usual safety equipment such as:

- Hearing protection - Banging hammers on pry bars is EXTREMELY loud and you'll lose your high frequency hearing quickly if you neglect to follow this one.

- Eye protection - Banging hammers on anything can cause debris to fly around. You don't want any of it in your eyes. None of this is worth impairing or losing your vision over. Also, unless you have hammers and pry bars that are tempered/designed to hit metal to metal, there is always a chance your tools could shatter so ALWAYS wear eye protection.

- Gloves - You are working with wood so splinters and general roughening of your skin will occur unless you wear gloves. WARNING: Do not wear gloves when working with power saws! It's bad enough if you somehow get a finger in the way of a rotating blade. It will slice through your flesh like a hot knife through butter but if you are wearing gloves, they material will get caught and pull more of your fleshy fingers and hand into the carnage!

Method 1 (hammer and pry bar): Pull off extra support boards(if they are on your pallet) with your claw hammer. To keep things tidy, I suggest removing the staples immediately. These treacherous little things are accidents just waiting to happen if you don't. 

Now, wedge the curved end of your pry bar between a slat and stringer. Get the head of the pry bar as close to the nails as possible and strike the lowest section of the curve with your hammer. This will push the pry bar under the slat and allow you to leverage the slat away from the stringer. In order to keep the slat as intact as possible, you may want to do this a little at a time at all nail points across the slat. The more evenly you release the slat from the stringer, the nicer your slat will remain. 

Repeat this process on all slats. Using this method, all of the nails should still be in the slats once separated from the stringers. Again, I suggest removing the nails immediately for safety. Slats also store in neat piles much better once nails are removed. Just flip the slats over and pound the pointed ends of the nails until they are out.

Nails and staples, you can expect to collect a lot.
Method 2 (circular saw): Using the saw, you can cut right along the inside of each outside stringer. Set your blade depth to just past the depth of a slat and cut from one end of your pallet to the other. This method allows you to skip prying the slats from both of the end stringers. You end up with shorter slats but many more will remain intact. You can use a saw guide and get very nice straight  cross cuts on all of your slats. You can use a drywall T square, draw a line and cut along it or you can just eyeball it. I used the latter to speed up the process since I wasn't concerned with a super straight cut.

Use the first method on the middle stringer to pry the slats away from the stringer. Your outer stingers will be covered in small pieces of slats still connected by nails. I just used my hammer to hit the slat bits off and then used the pry bar to pull the nails out. You could used the claw portion of your hammer to pull the nails out but you have a ton more leverage if you used the pry bar.

Method 3 (pallet buster): If the condition of your slats don't concern you, this is your tool. All you have to do is place the fingers of the buster under the slats on either side of the nails. Then apply downward pressure and off the slat will pop (likely in several pieces). Then you just pry out the nails with your pry bar and you're done.

Once you've taken apart your pallets apart, you can now use the materials you've reclaimed and begin your recycle projects.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the good description of the pallet breaker tool. I do want my slats, and I was considering a purchase of this tool to see how well it works. I think I'll save the $60, as my 21-inch Stanley pry bar and a hammer both do a great job.

    One more tool I'd suggest, as I'm starting to break down some reclaimed pallets myself... Good, sturdy SAWHORSES! They'll save your back, for sure...