I hope this instructable will give you an opinion on the scope of the work to make your own pallet coffee table.
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$.
Made.com states that they blast the used pallets for a thorough cleaning and textured finish. Historically, the most common medium used to blast wood is sand. However, nowadays everything from baking soda to walnut shells to corn husks is used to blast the wood and create a textured surface. Though I do have an air compressor and have tried sanding metal surfaces before, I do remember that the process was extremely painstaking and dusty. Imagine picking out sand from every crack, crevice, flap, fold, crease and orifice of your ...ahem... body. Not to mention the time you put into for removing the grains imbedded in your scalp in the shower. Not practical at all.
I began by wiping the unit with a rotating fiber brush I got from the local DIY store. It cost around 7$ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.