The Original Pallet Shelf Tutorial

Submitted by Ana White on Wed, 04/14/2010 - 20:04
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The original tutorial to recycle a discarded pallet into a very useful wall shelf. Featured on Please be certain that your pallets are clean and do not contain hazardous materials.


Normally I don't let much get in the way of a creative spark. When I get an idea, I go for it. And I've had a great idea since last week, but one big giant thing was in the way.

Who knows how many thousands of pounds of masonry rock for the face of our house was right in the way of my next DIY project. That, and taxes.

Well, taxes, kids, dinner, husbands, housekeeping AND this gigantic pile of concrete.

What to do? Well, I could ask the RAM (Real Alaska Man) to move the concrete. But that's just not right. And even I, the firm believer in natural exercise, thought this might be a little much for me and Grace to handle. I tried - I couldn't even lift one box.

So I waited. I waited until Wednesday, when the delivery truck comes with our organic produce, our groceries for the week.

There's our groceries for the week, delivered right to our doorstep! Oh, the things I can do with a moose in the freezer and this box of produce! And no, I didn't bum the pallet jack off the driver.

Instead, I bummed a pallet off the driver.

And although I was very thankful, it did not have as much character as the one's under the masonry rock

See the blue and green on the bottom pallet? Yes, these pallets will get put to good use after the masonry rock is put to good use. And I wasn't complaining about my absolutely free pallet. After all, when someone gives you something, you shouldn't complain. You shouldn't immediately chop it up either, with a 1 and 3 year old watching. I at least waited for the truck to leave the yard.

Do they make safety glasses for infants? Sawsall. Yes, the tool is not creatively named, but very effective. A handsaw would have been just as effective, but I didn't have the time. Not with my two helpers standing in the snow holding their ears.

Then we went in the garage and took a quick measurement of the openings on the bottom of the pieces I had chopped up. Roughly 18". And I knew the sides were 2x4s, so I grabbed some scrap 1x4s and cut four pieces at about 18".

Then I grabbed my nailer and put some 1 1/4" nails into the edges to form a bottom on the pallet pieces. I also nailed down a few loose pieces from the pallet. And then I brought the pieces inside and plopped them down on the floating shelf from yesterday (my husband has asked me not to poke any more holes in the wall just for fun).

And then grabbed a few random items and . . .
photo by Ana White, Reclaimed Wood Shelves designed and built by Ana White
Made myself a reclaimed wood collector's shelf . . .
photo by Ana White, Reclaimed Wood Shelves designed and built by Ana White

No, I actually made myself TWO free reclaimed wood shelves, in about five minutes (for both shelves) out of reclaimed wood with a 1 year old and a 3 year old watching, in the snow.

And when my husband came home, I got the ultimate compliment . . . "Whoa, where'd you get those?"

It took longer for me to explain the whole story to him than it did to actually build (can I use the word build here?) these shelves. Of all the projects I have completed over all the years, this one, these simple shelves, was by far the most dramatic results for the time investment and the money investment. And this project is very useful, think about kid's books, bathrooms, spices, even my wine bottles and ballet flats could fit in there! And this project is green - it's made from reclaimed wood and takes someone's trash and turns it into a treasure. Or at least a beautiful place to hold your treasures.

I can just imagine this:

Reclaimed Wood Pallet Shelves. Hand selected and hand cut, each shelf is unique and bears the character of years of use as a shipping pallet. No two shelves are the same, and may have shipping markings, unique discolorations, or non structural cracks, all telling a story of mysterious travels and precious shipments. All shelves have authentic original nails, and are FSC certified.

Skilled artisans hand cut each shelf from a pallet. Sold unfinished, your shelf will continue to develop in character over time. $329. Some Assembly Required.

And yes, this shelf has character. Lots of character. I love the stamp on the end, the cracked board on the front, the rough cut notch out, the authentic nails, these are the details that could be very expensive if bought. But you are smarter than that. You are not going to buy what you could build for free.

photo by Ana White, shelves designed and built by Ana White
photo by Ana White, shelf designed and built by Ana White
So how to build? Let's summarize.

1. Reclaiming Wood. Score a pallet, the more character the better.

2. Cutting the Pallet. Cut the pallet up on the supports, you should be able to get at least two shelves out of one standard pallet. If you have to transport the pallet, you could cut it before hauling, getting it to fit into just about any station wagon.

3. Cutting the Bottom. Measure the length of the opening on the bottom of the pallet and cut a 1x4 board to fit in the opening. For a standard pallet, this measurement should be about 18". You will need 2.

4. Bottom. Fasten the 1x4 boards to the bottoms of the shelves, I used nails, but you could use screws.

5. Hanging. Either attach a picture frame hanging kit to the back and hang as you would a picture frame, or screw through one of the back boards directly into a stud in your wall to hang.

And of course, you could paint or stain as desired. And I want your photos, how you used your free Reclaimed Wood Pallet Shelves.


Treva (not verified)

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 20:50

Two days too late! I almost grabbed a nicely patinaed pallet on trash day from my neighbors. I decided I was maybe going a little too far with my "upcycling". I finally decided to let it go as I had no immediate use for it. Now I am kicking myself. Next time.

elei (not verified)

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 21:13

my sister used pallets to line the reception area for her wedding. my dad cut points at the top and painted them white to look like picket fences. these shelves are cool

aklatina (not verified)

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 21:13

00000hh I used to work in a warehouse and saw these come and go and tried so hard to think of what i could do with one, best i thought of was some planter boxes that didnt look half as nice as those cute shelves! nice job!

Shell (not verified)

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 21:18

Haha I just googled yesterday stuff to make from pallets since we always have them laying around. I was too ashamed to ask you if you could actually use that wood for stuff.

Landry (not verified)

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 21:26

Does anyone know definitively about how pallets are treated? I've come close to starting quite a few pallet projects, but have shied away because of reports that many (most?) are chemically treated with toxins.

I would love to find out otherwise so I can build these amazing shelves tomorrow!!

Frugal Mamma (not verified)

Thu, 06/14/2012 - 07:48

Pallets are treated in one of 2 ways - heat or chemical. Laws in US require 2 stamps on the wood to identify how they are treated. Heat Treated pallets contain HT (meaning no chemicals are used to protect the wood from bugs and rot). Chemically treated pallets have MB on them indicating the use of methyl bromide. If possible, you want to stay away from using these in your home, especially if you have kids. There are additional concerns using pallets for ANYTHING that will come in contact with your children or food. Pallets used in shipping foods may contain listeria, e.coli and salmonella as the wood is porous. Methyl bromide is used to kill bugs (as when shipped from one country to another) but does little for bacteria that causes food bourne illness.

Bottom line - I love pallet projects and use them where appropriate, but never for things my children or my food will touch. A sign? Fine. Wall art? Great! A cutting board or toddler bead? ABSOLUTELY not. Not ever.

Katie (not verified)

Thu, 04/15/2010 - 01:06

That is such a great project! I have several (like 100, literally) pallets in a burn pile right now. Running out to rescue them!

Rachel (not verified)

Thu, 04/15/2010 - 01:38

THIS IS AWESOME! I think I could even do this! to score a pallet for myself...:)

Peggy (not verified)

Thu, 04/15/2010 - 01:44

Wow what a great idea! Another reason to find some pallets... Once I find a local source we will be in like Flin (we just moved from Nenana to Indiana. So do you know many in Delta? Friends of ours moved back after being gone a few years. The Helkinn's. small world, huh? I started reading your blog before the move but never got around to reading old posts to realize we were so close! I must admit I could now kick myself! Keep up the good work!!)

Back to the pallets... I see these book/magazine racks, garden signs and a compost bin in our near future.

Who do you get your organic produce from? Sorry just curious. We have friends who are trying to eliminate the once a week trip up to town for produce from Fred's so I thought I could pass it on to them.

Once again thanks for all the great ideas, plans, and work you put into this blog!!

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