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Tips for Cutting Up and Working With Wood Pallets

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Alan enjoys woodworking and has a special interest in rustic home decor. He has been involved in woodworking for over twenty years.

Tips for Cutting, Removing, and Working With Wood Pallets

Tips for Cutting, Removing, and Working With Wood Pallets

Tips for Cutting, Dismantling, Reusing, and Working With Old Wood Pallets

Nailed It!

Using a reciprocating saw to cut around the nails is the quickest, easiest way to harvest small pallet wood planks. Pallets are built to last using hard woods and special nails. Those nails normally have a ringed shank, making them very difficult to pull out. The nearly indestructible quality of pallets is great for cargo shippers, but not so great for someone wanting to use some of that beautiful pallet wood for a project.

Pallet wood key holder: Pallet wood has a rustic look with tons of character.

Pallet wood key holder: Pallet wood has a rustic look with tons of character.

There are many methods out there for harvesting pallet wood, but none of them are quite as easy as this one. If all you need are smaller pallet planks for your upcoming project, there is no reason to try and pull pallets apart. It is very labor intensive, and it often cracks the pallet wood in the process.

First, make sure you have all of your materials ready.

  • Pallets with plenty of unbroken planks.
  • A proper saw, preferably a reciprocating saw.
  • Saw blades that will cut both wood and metal.
  • A clear, sturdy floor space in which to work.
  • Personal safety gear like gloves,safety glasses, and proper footwear.

Then just follow these simple steps and your pallet wood project will be well on the way to completion.

The Easiest Way to Harvest Pallet Wood

  1. Choose a pallet with several nice looking planks.
  2. Place the pallet on solid ground and use one foot to hold it steady.
  3. Use a reciprocating saw to cut the planks away from the ribs.
  4. Collect the freshly harvested pallet wood planks.
  5. Sand pallet wood planks to remove any splinters and grime.
  6. If necessary, cut the plank ends square for easier use.

Easiest Way to Remove Nails From Pallet Wood

The obvious solution to the always problematic pallet nails is simple, remove the nails from the equation! Use a reciprocating saw, or what many people call a 'sawzall,' to cut the pallets apart. This method avoids the nails completely, but does only produce smaller pallet planks. If your project calls for boards around sixteen inches or smaller in length, then this is the method for you.

Four Section Pallet Wood Crate

Four Section Pallet Wood Crate

Best Saw to Use on Pallets

A reciprocating saw with a good blade is definitely the right tool for this job. Choose a blade that works on both wood and metal, as striking a nail during the process is not uncommon.

A jigsaw could also be used if a reciprocating saw is not available. Never try this method with a circular saw, as kickback of the tool is inevitable. This is an important safety issue, and should be respected.

A reciprocating saw blade made for wood or demolition work does very well with pallets. After twenty plus years of woodworking, I have come to prefer DeWalt blades like these. They last much longer and do not bend as easily as the cheaper blades.

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A pruning blade is fast, but makes a little rougher cut. As these initial cuts are not normally the final cut, this is usually not a problem.

You'll need a reciprocating saw to dismantle a wooden pallet.

You'll need a reciprocating saw to dismantle a wooden pallet.

Saws for Cutting Pallets Apart


Reciprocating Saw

Easy to use, powerful, fast

Costly tool

Jig Saw

Easy to use, no kickback

Less power, slower

Circular Saw

No pros

Dangerous, kickback, not advised

Cut Out Pallet Planks

Cut Out Pallet Planks

How to Cut Pallet Planks

Most all pallets have planks across the top and bottom, with larger wooden ribs between the planks. The planks are nailed to the ribs in a perpendicular fashion.

  1. Start by laying the pallet flat on the ground with the best planks facing up.
  2. Put one foot on the pallet to hold it steady. Be careful to keep your foot far away from the saw at all times.
  3. Cut each plank right next to the ribs, leaving the nails and small pieces of the planks attached to the ribs.
  4. Use the photo below as a guide. The red lines show where to make the cuts, and some parts are labeled in green. The planks are what we are after here.
  5. After cutting each plank away from the ribs, the harvesting work is done! Collect all of the pallet wood planks and throw the nail filled ribs in the campfire.

How to Dismantle a Pallet

Cut the Pallets On the Red Lines

Cut the Pallets On the Red Lines

How to Prepare Pallet Wood for Reuse

When the pallet cutting is finished, the resulting planks can be used right away. This usually creates a very rustic look. This includes rough cuts on the plank ends and major splinters.

To make the pallet wood a little easier to work with, take two simple steps:

  1. First, sand the pallet wood heavily to remove grime and splinters. Pallets are made with very roughly cut lumber, and the splinters are plentiful. A good sanding will make the pallet wood much easier to work with.
  2. Second, cut the ends of each plank square. A miter saw works great for this step. The pallet wood planks will be smoother, safer, and squared off. That means easier measurements and cutting for the upcoming project.

Staining Pallet Wood

Once the project is finished, stain the pallet wood for a real professional look and feel. The stain will also make the freshly cut ends blend in with the more weathered surfaces. I prefer a lighter stain, as the darker stains tend to cover up most of the grain. Finish up with the clear coat of your choice and enjoy your new rustic home decor!

Pallet Wood Key Holder

Pallet Wood Key Holder

Why Pallet Wood?

Reciprocating Saw Safety

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Alan (author) from West Georgia on April 07, 2019:

Pallet projects can be labor intensive at times, but I'm glad it worked out well in the end. Thanks for the comment.

RTalloni on April 04, 2019:

It took some convincing but my husband finally agreed to a pallet project last fall. He was glad he had the reciprocating saw and was surprised at how nicely his project worked out.