Introduction: Pallet Coffee Table From Reclaimed Wood

Looking to get an industrial, vintage look in your house but can't find a contemporary table to suit your needs? Frustrated at the 249£ price tag of the Legion Pallet Table offered by Made.com and think you can do an equally decent job yourself? Enthusiastic to start your own project but don't know what you'll be facing?

I hope this instructable will give you an opinion on the scope of the work to make your own pallet coffee table.

Step 1:

First of all, the necessary materials:

You need to find a decent pallet, one which still can hold itself and is not too broken down. We personally didn't want to get a brand new one, as we thought that each scuff, patina and dent would add to the natural character and history of the pallet. Besides, we really wanted to make this project out of reclaimed wood.

We went to a pallet yard in the outskirts of the town where there was the possibility of choosing from hundreds of units. We eventually got an EPAL (Euro Pallet) measuring 120×80 centimeters (31.50×47.24 in), which cost us around 8$.

Step 2:

The pallet was really dirty when we brought it. Since it was going to be used in the household and needed to be free of splinters, I started by cleaning and sanding the wood.

Made.com states that they blast the used pallets for a thorough cleaning and textured finish. Historically, the most common medium used to blast wood is sand. However, nowadays everything from baking soda to walnut shells to corn husks is used to blast the wood and create a textured surface. Though I do have an air compressor and have tried sanding metal surfaces before, I do remember that the process was extremely painstaking and dusty. Imagine picking out sand from every crack, crevice, flap, fold, crease and orifice of your ...ahem... body. Not to mention the time you put into for removing the grains imbedded in your scalp in the shower. Not practical at all.

I began by wiping the unit with a rotating fiber brush I got from the local DIY store. It cost around 7$ and did a fantastic job of removing the dirt and grime off the wood. Keep in mind that when working parallel to the wood grain, as in the pictures, the fibers of the brush eat through the softer parts of the wood, leaving the harder rays protruding, which results in a ruffled and weathered, yet soft surface.

Later on, I also thought of using my Kärcher high pressure power washer (capable of delivering a 1.400 PSI water jet) to clean and texture the wood, but I haven't tested this idea yet.



Step 3:

I proceeded by prying off the slats and separating them from the blocks. The wood inadvertently does get damaged during this process, but in the end it's not a 5.000$ rosewood credenza you're working on and I think that every bit of scar and damage adds to the uniqueness of the product. Besides, these are mostly mating surfaces which will get stuck back together after the cleaning and therefore will remain concealed.

I proceeded by removing all the rusty nails and dismantling the slats one by one. Wikipedia states that these monsters are nailed with 78 special nails in a special prescribed pattern. Given the fact that ours had seen some repair during its lifetime, I think there were even more.

The nails used in the corner legs are about 12 centimeters (approx. 5 inches) long and require a great deal of strength to remove. The weight of a standard EPAL pallet is around 22,5-25 kilograms (55 pounds).

At the beginning I used a pincer to remove the nails after hammering them from the opposite side. Then I found out that it became practically impossible to remove the corner ones which were the longest and had a good hold on from all the rust. I eventually brought a nice crowbar which made the task much simpler.

Step 4:

Accidents like large pieces breaking off did happen along the way while removing the nails, but I didn't worry to much about them like I mentioned before, as I think that the mending process also adds to the beauty of the table.

I used standard white wood glue to bond the broken pieces together. Wood glue is water based (PVA, polyvinyl acetate), therefore it dries in 2 to 4 hours but the instructions advice not to machine the mended pieces before 24 hours. One great advantage of this adhesive is that it becomes transparent when dry and is very easy to remove with a chisel or sandpaper.

Good pressure is needed throughout the cure time which is why I clamped the pieces thoroughly.

Step 5:

After individually brushing and sanding the slats, I started combining the pieces together again. The treating of the wood actually took a considerable amount of time, but keep in mind that the level of fineness actually depends on your design and how fine you want the table to be. For example, we have a baby on the way which is why I spent a lot of effort to soften every corner and remove each splinter in the wood, as the least bit of hole, nook and cranny could eventually turn out to be a hazard for the little toddler.

The standard Euro pallet was too large for our living room, so we kept the length of the table firm and shortened the width. All I did was simply cut the three slats from both ends which hold the five top ones together.

With the help of a large clamp, I held the pieces together and glued the three transom pieces in place. Afterwards, I glued the remaining six blocks and the two skids in the bottom.

Step 6:

For the finishing, again keeping the baby in consideration, we chose a German brand water-dilutable, colorless priming and top-coat lacquer. Clou products are quite pricey, but they have low pollutant content and have therefore been awarded the "Blue Angel" in Germany. They are safe to use on furniture intended for children and on toys made out of wood. This 0,75 liter can (0,20 gallon) cost around 18 dollars.

Overall, I applied 3 coats on the bottom of the table and 4 coats on top. I sanded lightly with 240 grit sandpaper between coats for better adherence. The nice, balmy and matte finishing of the lacquer also provides a protection against minor splinters and roughness of the wood, so take your time and apply thin (Applying the coats too thick will cause the lacquer to crack due to rapid drying and shrinkage), numerous layers to give the wood a nice, matte, whitish-transparent finish.

Step 7:

After the numerous coat of lacquers were finished, I positioned the castor wheels and marked the holes for drilling. I bought two wheels with brakes and two without, all four which cost 65$. The diameter of the wheels are 15 centimeters (6 inches).

I used hex wood screws to install the wheels. The machine heads of the screws add to the robust and industrial feel of the concept.  Drilling the holes and installing the wheels was quite fast compared to the whole sanding and painting process. The use of a box wrench made it quite easy, though soaping the screws is always a good idea.

Step 8:

And the finished product!

Now, you may notice that the table has darkish stripes and stains on the wood. First of all, let me point out that this happened unintentionally. I believe the water based lacquer I used caused the wood to bleed out the natural compounds present in the fibers. I'm not an expert on wood and can only identify a few common wood types, but after a little research on the internet I came to believe that cedar might have been used for the making of this pallet.

It is said that colored wood such as cedar and redwood, and in some cases other common softwoods, can show a condition known as "cedar bleed" or "cedar staining." This can appear anytime from shortly after painting to months later. Cedar is well known for it's durability as an exterior wood and it's resistance to insect and fungus attack. This is generally attributed to the presence of tannins and other substituted phenol compounds in the wood. Unfortunately these are also the compounds that contribute to the cedar bleeding. These materials are partially water soluble and become more soluble in alkaline water such as water that runs over a masonry surface onto partially or un-coated cedar trim.

I'm not discontent about the finishing, but for those who would want avoid such an outcome, opting for solvent based varnishes could be a better idea.

The preparation of the wood for priming is very time consuming, depending on the finished product fineness you require, but definitely worth the effort.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Comments

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nyawira17 made it!(author)2017-03-28

The hardest part was sanding it. Mixed white and grey paint to give it an old feel, havent finished it 100% but absolutely love the look.

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SashaG14 made it!(author)2016-06-21

thank you so much for knowledge ! I had a lot fun to make this! I was going step by steb, just change a little bit of design! also my pallet wasn't perfect flat, that's why I added small wood planks between caster wheels and pallet on two sides! here is the picture of this coffee table that I didn't finish 100% with little gaps that I have to fix! anyway BIG THANK'S

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legomastermojoi made it!(author)2016-06-10

that is so interesting i love the look of the stained wood

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ErkmenZ made it!(author)2016-04-16

Coke guzel

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Aurora+CO+Locksmith made it!(author)2016-03-06

Respect

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lglira made it!(author)2016-03-06

Thanks for the instructions

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zkcelikbas made it!(author)2015-11-16

"50 Things to Make with a Pallet" listesinden geldim, fakat garajda 34 plaka araba ve masa üstünde çay bardaklarını görünce çok şaşırdım. Tebrikler proje çok güzel olmuş. Ayrıca oturma odası sitilinize de bayıldım.

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BrendaG26 made it!(author)2015-11-04

My sister and I build this beauty in three days... very proud of ourselves... first DIY project

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sjohnson64 made it!(author)2015-11-03

I use a reciprocating saw to slice through the nails and remove the boards from the pallet. It makes things go a lot easier. I still have to remove the nails of course.

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sjohnson64 made it!(author)2015-11-03

Where did you buy the fiber brush? I looked online but can't find one.

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IanM34 made it!(author)2015-08-19

Cheers mate. Grateful for the instructions. Went really well apart from standing on a pallet nail (they're a bit gnarly).. All good though, and I'm limping less now. Well happy with the results.

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LeonS5 made it!(author)2015-07-30

How did you rejoin the slats?

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owenscamillian made it!(author)2014-09-14

Where do you find a rotating fiber brush?

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keremulu made it!(author)2015-01-17

I got mine from a local DIY store in Istanbul, called Bauhaus, but I believe you can find one online. I checked Amazon and they carry just about the same product I used, it goes as "Dico 50-4 Flap Nyalox Flap Kit 4-inch Assorted Nyalox Flap Brushes, 3-piece". They come as a set of three different grits; the blue being 240, the orange 120 and the grey as 80. I think this would suit your needs perfectly.

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DocM1 made it!(author)2015-06-06

Does your brush come with a round head as well? I'm not sure if I can mount those on my drill since all my other bits are hex.
Thanks

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dlowe5 made it!(author)2015-03-22

Very nice industrial feel.

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ctheodorakis made it!(author)2015-03-08

Hi, i made this pallet table folowing the same steps that you did but
without the wheels; definitely the hardest part is sanding the wood but
it worth it. thanks

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djentlynow made it!(author)2015-03-08

Very fun project! Used "one step" stain and poly (had to do 2 coats). My girlfriend and I made it for her mom.

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haris.awang made it!(author)2015-01-16

My wife found this pallet near her workplace. Apparently it was left there out in the open for two weeks. So we took it home and will start a project similar to yours very soon. I believe the size is the same as your original pallet (1200mm x 800mm). Thanks for the photos and the steps.

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JeremyS5 made it!(author)2015-03-01

wow thats actually a very nice pallet. should turn out good

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dawncwoodworth made it!(author)2015-01-26

I think the bleeding adds to the charm of the distressed wood. You did a great job. Beautiful finish and the wheels really pulled it together. Thanks for your I'ble! Wonderful job.

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Kraplax made it!(author)2014-11-01

took me a while to make one, but it turned out really nice

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boilthemonkey made it!(author)2014-03-25

Thanks for the tips! I made mine with 12" steel pipe legs from Home Depot and a black cherry finish. Also: I flipped the top pieces over so the nail holes in the wood didn't show up. Took me about 30 hours, but I haven't done any woodworking since high school.

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MyKrusl made it!(author)2014-02-24

Great job bro! I like the finish you put on it. I'm definetly going to need to try that out on a couple if things that need a finish on it around the house.

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jayeshshinai made it!(author)2013-08-27

I am building this right now! Just making a few changes to the design though. ill post the pics and probably an instructable soon too! I think ill add casters to it like you did..

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Mugsy+Knuckles made it!(author)2012-09-18

I have found that the best way to dismantle the palettes is with a sawzall. Cut the slats free from then stringers and then pop the nail heads out with a nail set and a hammer.

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keremulu made it!(author)2012-09-27

You're right Mugsy, I did use an angle grinder (unfortunately I don't have a sawzall) to cut one or two of them after having separated the slats a bit, but the problem is that once you cut the the 5 inch nails which are used on the blocks, it's practically impossible to remove the pieces left stuck in the blocks.

What you say is perfectly true for the shorter nails, once you cut them it's easy to drive them out with a punch.

I also had this inexplicable urge to free the pallet from all rusty, dirty metal materials, which is why I really tried to completely remove each one of them out, without risking to leave any pieces of nail in the wooden blocks.

But then, I'm coming to see that the pincer was a little out of place as it damaged the wood a lot. I would heavily recommend a crowbar which makes the removal of the nails much much easier (hence the perfect advantage of a much firmer fulcrum and lever).

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Mugsy+Knuckles made it!(author)2013-07-24

I have spent more time working with palettes and have decided the best way to take them apart is a tool called "the duck bill deck wrecker". I can now pull them apart in minutes without splitting the boards and then hammer the nails out at home at my leisure.
They have them cheap on amazon. It changed the game so much that I am saving hours and hours on preprocessing now.

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claudg1950 made it!(author)2013-05-27

I'm concerned that soap will rust the screws. I would use wax, grease or some dense oil instead.

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joshme made it!(author)2013-04-27

I have finally finished my table! It looks a lot like yours, although I think it lacks some of the finer touches. I learned a lot and have some tips to share. For the casters, the cheapest I found were from NorthernTool.com where 4x 6" locking swivel casters cost me about $70 with shipping. Unfortunately, I didn't consider the size of the plate on the casters, and as a result the plate ended up being too wide to fit on the wood skid. It hangs off, and I had to insert my lag screws at an angle to make it work. I also only used 3 screws on each caster because of issues fitting them. Note that using 6" casters still makes this a pretty short table at ~13" tall. Most coffee tables in stores are around 17", so if you want to keep the cool look but make it a bit taller I recommend looking for hairpin legs. You can get them cheaper than casters online, and in a variety of heights.

I'm disappointed with the stain I used. I went with Minwax water-based stain since the water-based stuff is way easier to work with. Unfortunately, it looks a bit splotchy, even after a coat of pre-stain conditioner, and it looks almost more like paint than stain on the end pieces of wood. The water based polycrylic looks a bit too plasticy, too. Next time I'll probably go with some type of oil finish, or maybe even wax.

I wish I had sanded more before staining. There are pieces of the wood that are still a bit splintery, which is unfortunate.

If I think of more tips I'll post them here in the comments.
I wanted to say THANK YOU again for such a great instructable! This was my first major project like this, and I hope to do more in the future.

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joshme made it!(author)2013-04-27

Oh, one other tip: Next time I would probably stain and varnish the wood slats before assembling.Then you can touch up later as needed, but this has a couple benefits: (1) it's easier to work with the slats when they're not assembled, (2) it was hard to get the stain into the little crevices between slats, and (3) since any smudges of wood glue prevent the stain from sticking well, staining before gluing will have fewer irregularities.

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kaisergb made it!(author)2013-03-30

Beautiful finished piece and good instructions. Thank you.

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lhsu1 made it!(author)2013-03-15

I think your table is awesome and I would love to make an attempt this summer. I have never built anything besides Ikea furniture. So please bare with me with my inexperienced questions. In your instructions, you glued the table together. Does it need to be reinforced with nails? Or is the glue strong enough to hold it all together? Thanks!

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keremulu made it!(author)2013-03-24

Hi Ihsu,

Many thanks for nice comment. Any questions are welcome and I will gladly answer yours. The answer to whether the table needs to be reinforced with nails is a definite 'no'. I actually did it, but chose completely to omit the process from the instructable since I thought it would be misleading. After having glued the pieces together, I drove in 5 inch nails through every block with great effort. What I had in mind was to assemble the pallet as close as it would get to the original and I also thought that the nail heads would show themselves on the surface of the woods.

First of all, the bonding surfaces here are so large and wood glue is so strong that I don't think any force would be able to separate the slats from each other in one piece. Period. If you don't trust wood glue, use polyurethane glue or epoxy, but believe me the white wood adhesive I used is more than enough to do the job. Before I took the pallet apart, the joints were quite loose, flexible and they were also squeaking. Now, it's just a single piece of solid furniture.

After I drove in the nails, I came to see that they were pretty deep in from the surface, the holes had been enlarged from the brushing I did. Still, no problem since the heads where still visible. This was before the lacquer. During the lacquering, I noticed that the liquid was puddling in the dented parts of the wood. In the end, after the numerous coats I applied, a smooth filling of lacquer covered up all the nail heads, making the whole point of using them irrelevant (As I said, no structural use from the nails and after the lacquering, no decorative use either). Don't get me wrong, I do like it the way it is, it's just that the effort I went through showed to be pointless.

I’m sure you’ll put together a fantastic pallet furniture in the upcoming months. Cheers!

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smont29 made it!(author)2013-02-21

Great piece!

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joshme made it!(author)2013-01-05

Thank you so much for this detailed instructable! Beautiful table, and wonderful instructions. One question: I didn't see much discussion of the rounded edges, and your photos seem to go from sharp corners to rounded all of a sudden. How did you round those out - was it a rotary tool, router, or some type of sander?

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keremulu made it!(author)2013-01-24

Hi Joshme,

Many thanks for the comments. You're quite right about the edges, I seem to have omitted the rounding process. I used a robust belt sander to soften the corners a bit, again mostly because of concern for the baby in the house. He hasn't started to crawl or discover the world yet, but I'm curious as how much the table will turn out to be 'baby friendly'. I'm just trying to comfort my conscience with the fact that I put in a great deal of time just to sand and soften the wood.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend using a rasp or heavy grit belt sander for eating away the wood. However, I've seen that the belt sander does not do a great job in sanding flat surfaces, again as it eats away too much material and gets out of control.

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JasonE made it!(author)2013-01-06

Nice work - can't wait to start on my own!

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Orkekum made it!(author)2012-12-23

Why is it a good idea to soap the screws? Sounds so screwed

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keremulu made it!(author)2012-12-23

Driving screws can be a challenge, especially in hard woods even when you pre-drill a pilot hole. While soap will help you drive a screw cleanly, there are a couple of other options. Beeswax is one popular choice and paraffin is another. It basically provides lubrication and greatly reduces the force you have to apply to drive them in.

Here in my example the magnitude of torque is considerably enhanced with the lever arm of the box wrench, so it still was not so difficult to screw them in. You would definitely feel the difference though if you were using a screwdriver. Too few people use this trick these days and it really does help.

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Orkekum made it!(author)2012-12-24

Hmm, i will have to try it out, Thanks!

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HicksCustomFurniture made it!(author)2012-12-23

Superb result from an old pallet and a lot of elbow grease. Fantastic table!

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keremulu made it!(author)2012-12-23

You are most kind, thank you very much...

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MaskMarvl made it!(author)2012-11-21

Awesome looking table! Love it... :)

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agis68 made it!(author)2012-09-20

excellent recycle product and very good job done. Did you and chemical treatment to the woods of pallete to avoid any unpleasant insect?

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keremulu made it!(author)2012-11-08

Many thanks. Truth is, I didn't do anything apart from sanding and hadn't given much thought to the chemical treatment of the wood. I've coated the table so many times with lacquer that I'm hoping any bugs or insects would be sealed underneath. I hadn't noticed any flight holes from wood boring insects while working with the wood either, so I'm quite comfortable with it.

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agis68 made it!(author)2012-11-08

I hope you've done the right thing and be lucky at this issue....Usually woods even these from local store they need a chemical treatment for termites and some kind of worms. The vernice is not good enough. The basic treatment is shellac diluted in alcohol in dilution of 1:2 or 1:3 (1 part of dark or white shellac and 3 parts of alcohol) you cover about 4-5 layers. let dry and all is ok....you may this anytime you wish , (before any intrusion)

be happy

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MissDaisy made it!(author)2012-09-20

WOW, we'll done Keremulu !!!

I love to use and make anything with recycled material. And to think, we actually have a palette in our garage... hehehe. Showed your project to hubby and planted a few seeds :)

I love the rustic look and the casters to be able to move it around when needed. I also love the high gloss finish. I'm sure your wife is pleased and happy with the results. I know I would be.

Congrats, and am now following you... Hoping to see more of your inventions :)

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keremulu made it!(author)2012-11-08

Thank you very much, she really is happy with it. It's been around three months now since we've started using it and we like it more and more each day. I'm very glad to be of inspiration, I'm sure your husband will do a great job with your pallet too.

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tholopotami made it!(author)2012-09-18

Very nice work! Varnish and rounding the corners added a lot to the final result.