By now you’ve probably seen the Pinterest pins and Facebook links showing all the amazing things you can create out of pallets. There’s benches, patio furniture, wood signs, flooring, backyard sheds, wall paneling, and more. Then you scoured the back alleys in search of free pallets stacked behind local businesses (you can also check Craigslist and other social media pages that advertise free items). You even managed to cram your new find into the back of your car and unload it at home. But now what? How do you even begin to break that pallet into useable wood? There are a few different ways you can break apart pallets depending on the use you have in mind.

Consider the End Goal

Typically pallets are made with 2×4 or similar centerpieces for support. Crossing those, boards are mounted to create a flat surface for whatever load they were intended to carry. Before making any cuts you’ll want to consider what you plan to use your pallet wood for. If you primarily want to remove and use the flat front boards then you’ll want to focus on keeping them in good condition as you remove them. For some furniture pieces, or to make a magazine rack, your goal will not be to remove the boards but to make cuts through the thickness of the pallet. Whatever your goal, it sounds easy peasy until you actually try to take a pallet apart. They are structurally sound and secured.

Technique One

The first technique is a physically demanding one: breaking down a pallet using a crowbar and hammer. The advantage is that it keeps the boards intact while removing nails that could later rust and ruin the look of your project. To do this, place your crowbar near the end of each board. Tap it into the space where it meets the center 2×4 and pry it apart.

This can create enough pressure to split your boards, so work slowly. You may need to trim the end off your board if a split is unavoidable. Repeat the process until all boards are separated and removed.

Technique Two

While the manual method is effective in maintaining the integrity of the boards, a faster, more efficient, and less strenuous technique is through the use of a reciprocating saw. The key is to use the correct blade for the job. If you are cutting through nails, make sure you’re using a saw meant for metal. Similarly, a wood blade will be more effective when cutting wood.

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