Introduction: Planter From Pallets, No Nail Pull Method

Picture of Planter From Pallets, No Nail Pull Method

A while back I had decided to build some vegetable planters out of old pallets. I mean, hey, free wood, right? I had originally decided to deconstruct the pallet by yanking out all the nails and reusing the lumber. However, to my annoyance, I discovered the nails were darn near impossible to pull. Every single time you ended up cracking the board you were trying to remove, reducing it to useless splinters.

After a few cracked boards I paused to curse and kick at the pallet, and then sat down and decided to puzzle out a different way of doing it without having to pull out each nail. And here is how it is done:

Step 1: Cut Slats Off the Support Board

Picture of Cut Slats Off the Support Board

First just cut the slats off with a jigsaw. Just cut them off from each side of the support beam. You'll end up with a nice pile of slats.

Step 2:

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Once the pallet is all cut up, you end up with a couple of support beams with pices of wood still nailed to it.

Step 3: Trim the Nails

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Now, you can pull those nails off, or do it the easy way and run it over the table saw. The blade easily cuts through the nails, and you can trim off any uneveness of the wood while you are at it. Be sure to wear eye protection.

Step 4: Cleaned Boards

Picture of Cleaned Boards

In short time you have a pile of nice clean boards.

You need all the support pieces from both pallets. Six in this case. No pallet ever seems to be made the same, so if your pieces are not the same length, trim them down to match. In my case I had a pallet about half a foot longer than the other one.

Step 5: Measure and Trim Boards

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Boards all trimmed to live up evenly.

Step 6: Cut End Pieces

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You want four long ones and four short ones, or half the size of the long ones. Actual length will vary with pallet, so just scale the smaller pieces down by a half.

Step 7: Add End Slats

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Find two slats of roughly the same size, and nail or screw them down on either end of the support wood. You do this first so you do not have a box that is two feet high on one end and then goes up crookedly a half a foot in the other.

Step 8: Add All Slats

Picture of Add All Slats

Just go right down the line and add the slats to the support wood. I personally used screws along with a squirt of wood glue. The wood glue helps because these cheap pallet boards love to crack, so if it does crack the glue will help old it in places.

Step 9: Add Slats to End Pieces

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Fill the slats on both the side and end pieces.

Step 10:

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Now just assemble the four peaces together. I just used long screws and some wood glue.

Ta-Da, a sturdy planter.

I do not have a bottom on mine, because I am filling it up with good dirt and letting the roots of the plants just work their way down. You can put a bottom on it easily enough, however.

This way is a lot easier than trying to get those impossible nails out of the pallets.


MitchW16 (author)2017-06-07

Hey guys I don't think anybody has mentioned about how the pallets are treated at the factory. The pallets that have the HT or heat-treated are the best to use for growing food. All the others are chemically treated which could be hazardous when you growing vegetables for consumption because the chemicals leach into the soil. Great plans though I am going to try it the last one I made was much more difficult

Carpenter Guy (author)2016-05-10

nice idea! When I pried out my nails from the pallet, I pry the board up a bit, then hammered it down. This leaves you enough room to get the hammer under the nail head.

Tater Zoid made it! (author)2015-06-05
joshadkisson made it! (author)2015-04-26

cutting vs. pulling nails is such a better idea! here's my take on it. thanks for the guide!

Matticus Finch made it! (author)2014-12-04

Drains great. Nice design that held up for 2 years. I Had to take it out when I moved but it was in good shape. Would last longer if you painted or sealed it.

arobinson17 (author)2012-05-16

Thanks for the tutorial! I did the same but used mine for some topsy turvy gardening check it out here:

I think it is going to work out nicely!

cart562 (author)2012-05-14

I thought I'd been told to watch out for nails when using saws like a table saw...guess I was right after reading everyone else's comments

tgersh (author)2011-12-11

Thank you so much for posting this! The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative will be using this design to build 500 raised bed community gardens in Detroit, MI. This guide will save us thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars. To monitor our progress check out our projects page. We will post pictures of the process.!projects

CementTruck (author)tgersh2012-03-27

Please make sure the pallets are not treated! You don't want this stuff to leach into your food supply.

Master Beorn (author)2012-03-10

Good friend of mine lost three fingers to a table saw kickback. It's a scary machine.

fegundez1 (author)2012-02-24

if you need pallets go to any air conditioning installer they will have piles! if you also are lucky enough to be anywhere there are restaurant food supply companies they usually have the mini half size pallets, even better

woodreaux (author)2010-04-15

Ah lads,

There is a tool available(or make your own) for pulling the boards apart, they can then have the nails tapped a bit and pulled out with a conventional crowbar. The tool looks like a two pronged fork with about a 4 foot handle. The tines of the fork are bent so the 2x4s can be straddled perpendicular to the slats and the slats lifted  by prying down on the handle. Maybe northern tool (dot com) has them if you want to look. I love re-purpose-ing stuff!

moosetooth (author)woodreaux2011-03-03

pfiddle (author)2009-05-21

Hi guys - I'm SO impressed that you Americans are using screws. In the construction trade in Europe we used to make fun of Americans and called nails "American screws". Well done. Really. Pfiddle

static (author)pfiddle2009-05-25

"American screw", that's funny. But I can't understand the implied bias against nails though. Nails are a time honored fastener. In their proper application they do the job at hand well with out the over kill that the use of screws is becoming here in America. My guess is that cut wire nails can be manufactured with less energy and material input than screws. Perhaps screws are for those who can't hit a nail squarely? ;)

DIY-Guy (author)pfiddle2009-05-21

Here in the united states of America, lots of pallets I see have these wire-fed nailgun style twisted (screw like) nails in them. Has Europe started using this incredibly fast and strong method of connecting pallet slats yet? They are nearly impossible to pry out of dry wood.

I've had good results wtih cutting the nails flush with a flexible metal cutting blade in my demolition saw (also called a Sawz-all in some places). For people in the united states, these can be found on sale for $19.99 instead of the usual $40 or $60 USD at Harbor Freight Tools. The motors eventually burn out, but so do the motors on the $160 "professional" brands! For throw away tools once they're worn out, I prefer very cheap tools from China. But I'd never buy a cheapo table saw! A well built table saw (mine's made in USA) will last for decades with simple maintenance.

pfiddle (author)DIY-Guy2009-05-22

How right you are. Yes in Europe (and here in Ireland) we get these "wire-nails" clever but a bugger to undo. I saw off the ends - I think it's too dangerous to cut through 'em - and burn the ends in my stove - good kindeling.When the ash is collected I drop a magnet on a string through on a string and collect the metal for recycling. Some of the "nails" can be reused but only in pre-bored holes and I tend to use them to keep up wire and such. Hammer in a bit and as the "nail" bends trist and use to support cable, plants, bird house etc. I agree about buying cheapo tools. We tend to live in a throw-away society and that's not a good-earth policy. Cheapo tends to be dangerous to operator AND watcher-on as many get hurt by flying debri!! Peter

DdraigGoch (author)2009-05-22

This looks to be a really nice 'ible. Thanks for the basic idea, but I, too, shall be avoiding cutting nails with a table saw. I'll go for a jigsaw and extra hard, lots of tpi blade. Thanks - now all I have to do is find spare dirt!!

hickarus (author)2009-05-21

that's totally nuts! just get a dedicated metal cutting blade for your jigsaw and cut them that way. I've tried to pull those nails, too, and believe me they're not meant to come out. I guess that's why they ship those things all over the world with thousands of pounds on them. You have to cut them. And better than the jigsaw idea is a sawzall which can use great metal-cutting blades and lop them off in a jiffy. Just don't use the table saw...even with a carbide blade because those teeth will chip off just the same. that's just plain crazy: OUCH! definitely. nice looking box, however.

pdub77 (author)2009-05-21

be careful where you get pallets. i work at a grocery store and the pallets we get are returned to the supplier. they own them and stealing them is considered theft (hence the word 'stealing'). truth be told it's not that hard to 'borrow' these in the dead of night, but that is between you and your conscience. there are legal ways to get pallets, though. some stores do not send them back. find one of these. asking a manager removes responsibility from yourself. just be careful and respectful of other people's property.

Spokehedz (author)pdub772009-05-21

Look for scrap yards. They get tons of pallets in with the junk they collect.

Mikey D (author)2009-05-10

Good idea. For the Nay sayers out there... A carbide tipped table saw blade will have very little problem cutting through nails (UNLESS they are hardened nails like concrete nails or spiral flooring nails - then you will have issues!) It is unlikely that the pallet company used hardened nails as they are quite costly. Industry has been using carbide tipped circular saw blade for decades to cut steel - please check out the Milwaukee Dry cut saw – cuts through steel like it was oak! (Yes I know there are many different grades of carbide designed for many different applications – but all carbide is going to be harder than a mild steel nail) The major danger here is a loose nail kicking back at you. The tooth spacing matters little as long as you keep your feed speed under control. Do NOT use a plywood blade. They are typically steel blades (no carbide teeth) and will dull immediately. As long as you feed slowly and do not shock (impact) the carbide (and no loose nail snaps back at you or the blade) there should be no lost teeth and minimal dulling. I have used table saws to cut non traditional materials for years (1 inch aluminum plate was the best!) and you can be very safe if you control the saw and material properly. All that being said, it is still a tad bit dangerous and a face shield and push sticks should always be used. Keep up the good recycling work! Mikey

carpespasm (author)Mikey D2009-05-21

Something of note though even in this scenario: pallets are often re-used, and you can never tell what kind of nail might have been used to patch it up. Maybe the majority of nails are mild steel, but you're still chancing finding that screw-nail in your pallet stack. It's just so much easier to pry off the little scraps with a hammer than do this and risk injury I can't see using it. There should be enough people going on about this step though to make it obvious now I think. Anyway! Whatcha gonna plant in that swank box?

NikonDork (author)2009-04-23

You had me up until you mentioned using the table saw to cut through nails. I work at an amusement games company and we have a fully stocked wood shop with lots of equipment. The only piece of equipment I still fear is the table saw. Oh I'll use it when I have to, but when I read that sentence (cutting nails that are in a board with a table saw) it sent chills down my spine. Ive seen a coworker almost loose two fingers because he didn't notice an inch and a half staple inside a piece of plywood that he was ripping on the table saw. For that step, I believe ill use a pry-bar and hammer :)

neffk (author)NikonDork2009-05-21

It's true that the table saw can cut nails, but it's (somewhat?) dangerous and it's bad for the blade. Buying a new blade is expensive enough to make me think twice about abusing my equipment. I like the idea of re-claiming wood, but I don't know if I'd follow this recipe in this particular detail.

webman3802 (author)NikonDork2009-04-24

I agree, at best, you might successfully cut through the nails, seriously dulling your blade in the process. Depending on the blade you have, it could kick back, shatter the wood, shatter the nail, bind the blade burning out the motor, or worse.

The good news is, with these thicker sections, you're less likely to crack the wood, other than the thin scraps you don't care about anyway.

weblamer (author)webman38022009-04-24

Eh, with a small-tooth saw I have zero problems cutting through the nails. In fact in one board i actually cut a nail in half down the center as i was cutting a piece. Possible for it to get stuck in a larger-tooth saw, I suppose. but I personally had no problem. As for dulling the blade, sure. But i'll put up with that for not having to yank the horrid nails out.

NikonDork (author)weblamer2009-04-24

Well that's true. With a plywood blade (finer teeth) you could zip through some nails. However cutting material thats not plywood with a plywood blade, the blade is more likely to bind. Id rather be inconvenienced by a few stubborn nails then be inconvenienced by a lifetime with less then ten fingers...or worse. lol! Sorry I'm not trying to dump on your 'ible, I actually dig the planter's design. I just worry about some of the readers of this site who are not too familiar with power tool safety

pfred2 (author)NikonDork2009-05-11

When I break down stringer pallets I use a circular saw myself to remove the outer two stringers. It cuts down a lot on deck boards splitting on me, and is fastest too. Two things I do though, one I clamp down the pallet. I don't want the pallet to move then the saw to bind on me. Two, I only extend the blade past the saw shoe as much as I need to to cut through the deck boards, and no more! This reduces the effective saw tooth rake angle to the work, and minimizes the saws tendency to hog into the work. Then I have a custom tool I made to pop the pallet deck boards off the center stringer but that is another story ... Claw hammers and crowbars are passe. For blocking style pallets I use hydraulics to explode them, but stringers a circular saw is the pro way to go.

Soulpressure (author)2009-05-21

That is extremely dangerous, the nails could easily cause the carbide teeth on the saw to break off and go flying like shrapnel. Seriously I have had surgery to remove them from my hands and skull.

EmmettO (author)2009-05-21

If you have a sawsall, you can get a wood and nails blade that will work just fine. It's safer too.

Keith Colsell (author)2009-05-16

This is the way I deal with pallets. I throw them flat on the ground. I get a reasonable size drill bit in the electric drill and I drill down on top of each nail. The bit slides off the head of the nail and down through the wood. When I've drilled all the nails I can see I pick up the pallet and drop it down on one corner, using a bit of force. I turn it and drop it on each corner in turn. The pallet starts to fall apart, because there is very little holding it together. The advantage of using this method is that you end up with longer pieces of wood. The disadvantage is that you end up with small holes in the wood, but I don't think that is a problem really. It is also a good work-out, the effort spent on thumping the pallet on the ground is worth it because you get more usable wood. Any broken stuff goes in the 'burnable' heap. Pick up all the old nails with a big magnet on a string. You can dump them in the local recycler with your tins or whatever,just don't drop them on your drive! I use the wood for all manner of things, fencing, compost bins, edging for garden beds, a hen house, even a garden seat.

getitdone (author)2009-05-14

Using old pallets for planters is great and pulling the nails is very difficult so this is a good method. I have some concern about chemicals leaching from the pallets into the soil - even if the pallets aren't treated lumber, no one knows what's spilled onto them. Sounds good for non-blooming plants but not a great solution for veggies.

aperkins01096 (author)2009-05-09

Excellent instructable. Having no circular saw, I was glad to see the hammer and claw alternative to the remaining nails. I've been looking into an improvement for my container gardens - this is a great jumping-off point for a cold frame. Thanks again for sharing!

pfred2 (author)aperkins010962009-05-11

How can you admit that in public? You need an improvement in your tool collection! Heck I could throw a circular saw at you if you got close enough. I mean really now! But seriously pallets are put together with these things called pneumatic twist nails that if the stringers are oak, and they can be often, are impossible to pull out with just a hammer. The heads have a habit of popping off and there is hardly enough nail shank to zig-zag them out even. I made some raised garden beds myself this year, and I'll have to admit I went down to my local big box store and just bought 2x6s to make them out of.

aperkins01096 (author)pfred22009-05-12

Hee! Okay, I DO have a circular saw, just have an unhealthy "respect" for the wanton destruction they can cause if someone taps you on the shoulder at the wrong moment. There's a nice blade available for reciprocating saws that cut through the headless nails nicely, too. Construction sites often have piles of wood that they don't need and happily give them away. Sometimes their length's a challenge, but they can make decent raised beds.

diy_chad (author)2009-05-07

That's a really bad idea. You were having trouble with the slats splitting, right? You've, already taken care of that problem by cutting them. Now just use a pry bar and a hammer to get the little pieces off...... you aren't using them right? Once you get the nails out, THEN run the boards through the table saw. Great looking box.

mrthumbtack (author)diy_chad2009-05-09

When I read "blade easily cuts through the nails" I cringed. Plan on buying a new blade if you decide to try this.

pfred2 (author)mrthumbtack2009-05-11

Plan on having already bought a cheap "beater" blade before you begin! If you shop around you can get a carbide tipped blade for around $5. Go to a home center and see how much $5 buys you in wood, then I'll see you at the checkout counter with an elcheapo blade!

Tubehacker01 (author)diy_chad2009-05-09

You're absolutly correct!!! XD

thepelton (author)2009-05-11

I have been salvageing wood from old pallets for over thirty years. They make a good free source of wood for a lot of projects. What I was doing was either using the pallets whole like you did, or cutting out the sections between the crossbars, which made good short pieces, and avoiding the problem of either pulling the fasteners or cutting through them. After a while, you can easily recognize nice pieces of hardwood in pallets. Probably about a quarter are hardwoods.

fthrjack (author)2009-05-09

It might take much more time, but to reduce the chance of boards cracking on you, drill a pilot hole for each screw, just use a small drill bit than the diameter of your screw. Not only will it make tightening the screws up less likely to crack the wood, but it makes it easier and neater :)

fthrjack (author)2009-05-09

Please DONT do that! you will ruin your blade, and if you are really unlucky end up with a few teeth embedded in your face (metal ones not the ones you already have!) Great box though, im definately going to build some of these, just happens to be a pallet company accross the road from my allotment :)

Spaceman Spiff (author)2009-05-09

Nice Slats

Mr. Rig It (author)2009-05-08

Nice Work!

erniesthings (author)2009-04-23

I think I'm going to make a compost bin out of the couple of pallets I've acquired.

lemonie (author)2009-04-23

I've wanted to do something useful with (non-returnable) pallets for a while, instead of burning them. I like this - good stuff. L

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