Pallet Wood Desk

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Introduction: Pallet Wood Desk

About: 21st Century Womble

Howdy everyone

Long time fan and user of the site, inspired by so many others here I thought I ought to start sharing too.

This is my first ible and covers my turning most of a large pallet into a sizable and solid computer desk with minimal tools and minimal expense. I had varnish and fixings sufficient for completion lying around but even if you had to buy I'd guess total cost of £5 or so.

I'm old school and still use desktop PCs so made a computer shelf too, but laptop using types could give it a miss or change around if needed.

Step 1: Tools and Materials...

i) 1x large pallet - mine came with slats 2.4m long, 90x12mm approx, plus some 75x35mm approx supporting timbers.
ii) Drill/screwdriver
iii) Screws of appropriate sizes
iv) Saw
v) varnish I used water based varnish with a medium stain as it was what I had lying around but you could go for whatever with this
vi) counter sink bit (optional)
vii) sandpaper - useful to have some coarse (60 grade) as well as some finer grades for finishing. Power sander was useful but sanding block proved equally effective.
viii) PVA glue
ix) dustpan and brush

Step 2: Dismantle Pallet.

I happen to have an awesome wrecking bar from lifting my floor previously which is ideal for dismantelation. There's plenty of excellent instructables about how to achieve the same effect if you don't have a massive tool.

Get rid of old nails pile up wood and think deskly thoughts.

Step 3: Construct Uprights...

This is where I got carried away and forgot to take pictures.

Fortunately my carpentry skills could be imitated admirably by a monkey so you can see how I've built everything using simple techniques and screws.

Firstly decide how tall and how wide you want the desk to be.

I cut the thicker bits of pallet wood to form 6 uprights and 6 cross pieces then built 3 identical sections as shown in the picture. Cut to length depending on the timber you have and desired dimensions.

To fix together I just drilled in through the uprights and counter sunk the screws, mounting one cross piece at the top of each, and the other just above ground level. 


Step 4: Add Desktop and Support

Having made your 3 uprights check how wide your computer is if you want a computer shelf, alternative options would be a drawer or a nondescript shelf. 

If you are building one, stick your left hand uprights together with gash timber at the desired width, then with help of a friend or a friendly wall to lean against, start to add your desktop.  I started front to back, making a good effort to keep my less than straight timbers as close as possible at all times before screwing down.

You can of course just make the shelf 1st time around, but I found this gave me some flexibility to start with so I could adjust things around.

As my slats were 2.4m long, I cut them in half to give me a 1.2m desk with minimal waste, but again dimensions are up to you.

I countersunk the screws on the desktop to give me smoother finish, then did the same cutting shorter lengths to make my computer shelf.

To make the desk sturdy I added a diagonal support at the back, some supports under the desktop itself and a piece and a horizontal slat across the front for stability and aesthetics - all best shown in the photos.

Step 5: Fill Gaps...

Sweep up some coarse wood shavings from your efforts thus far and mix with PVA to make a spreadable paste. This makes great cheap woodfiller that roughly matches your wood and fills the bigger gaps and hides most of your countersunk screws.

I came back at a later stage to finish the job in a later step - fill it twice, make it nice.

Step 6: Sand, Sand, Sand...

Having filled the wider gaps as best you can, get your preferred sander (block or powered) with 60 grade sandpaper and get cracking. I used 120 grade for a final once over.

Focus on the desktop as that's the bit you'll most notice. The uprights only really need a quick once over really. Once varnished I went over again with finer sandpaper and it gave a nice (if a touch rustic) finish.

Whatever you do wear a mask. Woody Guthrie taught us this valuable lesson:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_6GhaA0AXg

When done sanding you may notice some wee holes or roughness in the joins. At this point mix some PVA with the dust on the surface and rub it in the gaps. Filled twice and made nice. You'd probably need to sand again, but not much.

When done give him a nice wash with soapy water.

Step 7: Varnish Away...

I had good quality water based varnish and it went on like a dream. 2 coats then a light sanding with 240 grade paper around the edges to make more tactile, then a final thin coat.

Step 8: Use and Enjoy...

Rustic but practical and looks great for minimal cost and minimal new materials.

More pallet base projects on the cards.


Thanks for reading all. Good luck with all your future projects everybody!


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    35 Discussions

    what is the finished height of this desk

    thats a really good table ive gotta make one

    That looks so great, hard to believe it used to be a pallet.
    I think the main key to your success is the varnish.
    Some of that procedure is cryptical to me: could you elaborate on that "light sanding with 240 grade paper around the edges to make more tactile", please?

    6 replies

    What I mean is really just a light sanding with a block. As the varnish is water based it tends to bring out the grain in the wood a touch. The varnish hardens any hairs of wood that stick out and light sanding with fine sandpaper before last coat just makes for a shinier and smoother finish.

    Let us know if I can clarify anything else. More pictures at the critical stages probably would have helped and will be noted for future ibles.

    Aaah, but of course, thank you! And, yes, now that you ask, I found one more thing: you mention you "counter sunk" the screws. I assume that's a method to hide the screws (since I can't see'em on the uprights) which sounds exciting?
    How'd you do that, and did you use regular screws?

    countersinking: make a pilot hole for the screw, then use a countersinking bit (you can buy them really cheap in DIY shops) to enlarge the opening of the hole, this makes a space the right size and shape for the screw head to sit into leaving the screwhead flush. then get your screw in. screw heads that aren't domed are usually intended for countersinking, they have a cone shape on the underside of the head.

    Oh, but yes, I know what countersinking is, then! I misread one of the fotos and assumed countersinking was some supersecret method to make screws disappear entirely. But thanks for the excellent replies, fellas!
    P.S. I'm a cheap and lazy git and enlarge the holes with the same drill by pull it almost all the way out and then bending it sideways and circling around the hole while I continue to drill. Doesn't work well with all kinds of wood but if you're careful and make it a little smaller than the screw's head it works out fine.

    I drill the pilot hole for the screws and then use a .25 inch spade point bit you make a larger counterbore, then fill that with a dowel later to hide the screw entirely. this has a disadvantage, you can't remove the screws later, but it's prettier than exposed screws.

    Here's a visual depiction of the pilot hole + countersink bit result that djsc describes. This can also be achieved without a countersink bit if you drill a very shallow hole on top of the pilot hole with a regular bit that is as wide (or slightly wider) than the head of your screw.

    Great recycling project. I'm a fan of your glue/saw dust mixture. Clever.

    Many pallets are made from hard woods like oak and maple. You can make some nice things from fine hardwoods like those. Good project. Thank you for sharing.

    I got to admit that this was one sweet project. I had forgotten how beautiful the wood from some of those pallets look when sanded and varnished. I taught woodworking for years and used old pallets for small projects, but never something this size. Like I said. IT CAME OUT BEAUTIFUL.

    Another good source of interesting pallet wood is from motorcycle shops. As most motorcycles are made in Asia, the pallets are often made of tropical hardwoods that can be beautiful when finished.

    I live a couple of blocks from a company that sells and installs glass products. The pallets in which the glass plates come are wonderful for projects, and the glass company is happy to have someone come by and cart them off. The framework that surrounds the edges of the glass is generally made of 2x material, with widths of up to 12" and long axes of up to 13'. The framework facing the glass face are generally made of 1x6 material.

    They featured a very similar thing on Superscrimpers lately where they made a coffee table.... your instructions beat them hand down (they barely even mentioned sanding it off afterwards!), and your finished result is 10 times better! Nice one.