A Femme’s Guide to Improvement: The Multi-Purpose Wooden Pallet

by L M

I don’t know what you guys did during the Hurripocalypse, but over at Handy Femme Central in Brooklyn there was cake-making, movie-watching, and lightweight demolition.

Oh yes, you read that right. Demo. I finally managed to act on my wishful thinking and drag home a wooden shipping pallet. You know the type: They’re always stacked outside stores, waiting for whoever hauls them away to haul them away. The same type of pallet you’ll see in “upcycled,” “repurposed,” “reclaimed” projects everywhere, done by people who seem reluctant to call them “OMG FREE WOOD FROM THE SIDEWALK” projects.

These things are made to bear a ton — literally — of weight, and, as such, can be a bit hard to take apart. Get one that’s not too gray, since that’s a sign of dried-out wood that will crack and splinter pretty easily. You either need:

  • a claw hammer
  • lots of elbow grease, and
  • time


  • a claw hammer
  • a wood chisel
  • a rubber mallet
  • optional: a crowbar

If you’re just using a hammer, there’s one step. Wedge the claw below the nail, and pull. This is super hard to do, because pallets are held very tightly together by long, screw-tipped nails. Good luck with that.

If you’ve decided to be reasonable and spend ten bucks on a chisel and a rubber mallet, this is how your process will look:

1. Use the mallet to drive the tip of the chisel between the wood.

2. Work the chisel back and forth to pry the boards apart a little at a time. Be gentle, or things will start to crack.

3. Turn the pallet so that you can see the nailheads. Using the mallet, lightly pound down the wood next to them. There should now be enough room to easily get the claw of the hammer under the nailheads and pull them out.

Keep at it until you have the entire thing taken apart. You’ll want either a small handsaw or a little cordless saw to cut the boards down to whatever length you need them. The cordless is totally worth the $35 investment if you’re into this type of project — $25 if you get a refurbished one from Amazon like I did.

Now you have wood! (Rimshot!) Sand it as much as you want to sand it. Here are some quick projects driven by my need to make things more civilized:

1. A frame for your dog’s bed.

This is about as Shop 101 as things can get, as it’s really just a frame for the sides of the bed. I sawed two boards into four pieces, two long, two short, to make a rectangle. I then sawed four small blocks from the thicker boards found in the middle of the pallet, making them as long as the width of the boards for the bed frame; you can eyeball it or be superprecise and use measuring tapes and levels and carpenters’ pencils, which is true for all three of these projects. (Guess which I did?) Nail the widest side to the ends of the shorter boards first, and then nail on the longer boards, as pictured above. I used 1–1/4” common nails — the type with a wide head, as opposed to finishing nails, which have a tiny head — for this and the catbox below.

The driftwood finish you see in all of these is fast, cheap, and fool-proof: Get a 2 oz. sample of a medium gray paint from your local paint supplier. Sometimes they’re free, sometimes they’re $4 for the fancy-pants Benjamin Moore stuff. Mix this with a quart of cold water and you’ll have a quick-drying wash. Apply a coat or two with a brush or sponge, and you’re done. Beagle ball not included.

2. A box for your cat to play in that doesn’t clash horribly with every décor imaginable.

You can either build your cat a crate, using the frame above as a template, or start with an old crate you may or may not have already had on hand. You hoarder.

Three steps:

Get some sisal twine (about $4 for a generously-sized roll) to make a built-in scratching post. Tie it around a board on one side of the crate, and wrap. Wrap wrap wrap. And then wrap some more. Knot it in place when you’re done.

Cut three small boards the width of your crate. Nail them together on the bottom using a crossbeam, as shown in the bench project below. Use two nails to fasten this little platform/lid to two of the crate’s corners. (Nail it to the wider boards used to hold the crate together, rather than to the crate boards themselves, as they’ll split.)

Throw away your crazy cat’s old box.

3. A bench for your entry hall.

You can either use 2” common nails for this, or, if you have a drill, screws. Decide how long you want your bench to be and cut three boards to that length. Cut four support beams from the wider boards found in the middle of the pallet, and nail or screw your boards to two of these, as pictured below. From those same wider boards, cut four legs for your bench. Fasten them to your other two support beams — mine are shorter for the legs because I ran out of wood — and then fasten that to the seat boards.

Now sit on it.

Questions? Clarifications? Hit up the comments!

Previously: Caulking Your Disgusting Bathroom.

Lucia Martinez reads too many old poems and tries to be a lady.