Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to Break Apart a Pallet

Pallet projects have been popular up-cycle projects for quite a while.  There are so many reasons why too – low cost supplies, great distressed age to the wood, unique characteristics, durable outdoor materials.

I personally use them all the time to make signs, and have made a small handful of other projects with them too.  Type in pallet projects on Pinterest and you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of project tutorials using pallets.  It makes sense then that my number one question I receive from readers is how in the world do I break down my pallets.  If you’ve ever tried breaking down a pallet by hand, you know they are extremely durable and do not break apart easily.  It’s not a simple task if you’re trying to use a crowbar and mallet.

The way I break down pallets is quick and easy.  I personally prefer this method too because you’re able to obtain the entire full 48” length of the boards including keeping those nail heads on the ends that give it such character.  
easy way to break down a pallet
Here’s my must have list for easy break down:

Reciprocating Saw (this is the gem that makes it easy!)
(I use a DEWALT 10-Amp Compact Reciprocating Saw [affiliate link], I recently upgraded from the 4amp which is a great beginner one.  Be sure to purchase 9” blades that are specifically made for “wood with embedded nails)
3M™ TEKK Digital WorkTunes™ Hearing Protector
3M™ Tekk Safety Eyewear
Work Gloves

If you’re going to be sanding your wood:
3M™ Sanding and Fiberglass Valved Respirator (perfect for hot summer days)
 3M™ Advanced Abrasives - 120 Grit how to break down a pallet
Here’s how much I love all of you that are asking how I do this.  I made a video (ack!) that quickly shows my step by step process for breaking down a pallet.  It’s my first video I’ve done for the blog…gulp.
How to Break Down a Pallet–

We cut through one side of the pallet boards from top to bottom using a reciprocating saw.
power tools, tutorial, pallet, video, reciprocating saw,
power tools, tutorial, pallet, video, reciprocating saw,

It’s easiest to start on top and work your way down, and you’ll find you’ll easily be able to go from one board to the next in a smooth pattern. 
Even if there is a board you won’t ultimately be using (either too damaged, stamped, or not the right size) I suggest still cutting the side nails so you can easily get to the next boards with the saw.

Then switch to the other side and do the same thing. You can do both the front and back boards on each side so you don’t have to continuously go back and forth.
power tools, tutorial, pallet, video, reciprocating saw,
Compared to the side supports, the middle support nails are a little more difficult to cut away.  I’m right handed and find it easiest to cut away the boards so the board I’m cutting away is on my right side.  My husband doesn’t feel this is necessary so play around with what makes you most comfortable.  I like standing on this side because I am able to see the blade as I’m cutting and be sure I am not angling it into the board.
The angle can be tricky to cut through the middle board so just take your time and do an “up and down” action as you cut through each nail.
power tools, tutorial, pallet, video, reciprocating saw,
Once you’re done you’ll have a pile of full length pallet boards ready for your project!
power tools, tutorial, pallet, video, reciprocating saw,, 3m, safety gear
Safety Warning:
Always take safety precautions any time you’re using power tools with safety goggles and noise canceling headphones.  The second you think “it’s just a quick job” – accidents happen.
It’s also very important to wear a respiratory mask any time you sand wood, but especially with pallet wood.  You don’t want to breathe in any of the sawdust you’re sanding off. 
120 grit is a good texture for pallet wood.  It doesn’t need a smooth finishing sand (unless you’re creating a table top for example). 

Pallets are a great way to obtain wood for any project, I strongly suggest doing some research on the warnings of using pallets however.  There may be many reasons you don’t want to use pallet wood as it may be treated with a variety of chemicals, or used in unsanitary ways.  A great way to be sure the wood you’re using is to give it a thorough clean prior to use with either a bleach wash, or high pressured wash and scrub.

The products under 3M DIY that I've used can be found in your local hardware store and has a full line of safety gear for this project, and many others. power tools, tutorial, pallet, video, reciprocating saw,, safety gear, safety video, video

Be sure to check out 3M on 3M DIY Twitter Page, 3M DIY Facebook Pageor for more DIY ideas.

I’d love it if you’d share this post and pin it and spread the news about the easiest way to break down a pallet!

This post is a collaboration with 3M DIY but as always all opinions are my own and I only recommend products and company's I love myself. To keep up-to-date on projects, products and sampling visit


  1. You did a great job! I love when bloggers post videos of themselves--adds more than just a face to their blogs.

    BTW, didn't you have a baby just a few months ago?! You look fabulous!!

    1. Thanks Erin!!!! Appreciate the compliments :) I get so nervous in front of the camera it's ridiculous haha

  2. Awesome job! On the post and the video! Sharing!

  3. Great job! You should not be nervous in front of the camera. You're a natural!

    1. Oh goodness, I was shaaaaaaaaaking (not the best when handling power tools too ahhaha) I would FAIL at DesignStar Camera challenges hahaha

  4. Great job! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Great job on the post & video!!! I hate breaking apart pallets!!! But I love working with them on projects.

  6. I use the same technique except I use a pry bar to loosen the cross pieces so I don't accidently cut the wood, just the nails.

  7. You're amazing! Love the video, friend! We just found two pallets that a neighbor was tossing out and we haven't ripped them apart yet. I think we'll have to try your technique!

  8. Oh love this! Thanks for the video as well - you made it look so easy. I also happen to have this same saw in my garage - I know what I am doing this weekend!

  9. Wow - you should have your own DIY show, Pamela! Your video was fantastic! And you are great in front of a camera too!

  10. Great tutorial! You are so adorable :) I loved hearing your voice (accent) and seeing you guys in action!

  11. Okay, your voice is adorable. DID YOU JUST HAVE A BABY. How the eff are you so tiny.

    Hate you. Love the tutorial.

  12. When I try to watch the video it says it's private and when I go to your YouTube channel it says the video is "unavailable".
    I'd really like to see the video too as I enjoyed the post!
    Is there somewhere else I can view it?
    Lisa H.

  13. Great job! Love the tutorial! I have been meaning to get a saw for mine. I thought about a sawzall but may just go with this! Thanks


Love hearing back from my readers, you make my day! Thanks, Pamela of PBJstories

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