Introduction: Recycle Wood

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Recycling wood is a great way to get free wood, keep useful things out of landfills, and save a few trees. In areas with few resources, other than resourceful people, recycled wood is used for cooking, heating, art, toys, tools, furniture, and construction.

Step 1: Find Some Wood

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The first step is to find some wood. Most industrial areas will have stacks of pallets that they are willing to give you, wooden objects often are left on the street on garbage day, dumpster dive, see what washes up on the beach, or scavenge from that project you abandoned.

Step 2: Tools

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In a pinch all you need is a hammer and willpower. However, a crowbar is very useful, safety glasses will keep flying nails out of your eyes, and ear protection will soften the pounding sounds. If you want to get really fancy I also recommend a cat's paw and pliers for pulling out especially difficult nails, and a saw to cut around the impossible ones (none of these additional items are pictured because they are usually not necessary).

Step 3: Lift One Side

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Place the crowbar between the planks of wood in line with the nails holding it together, and lift. This should pull the nails partway out. I do not recommend trying to pull the nails all the way out with out first loosening the other side, pulling too hard may result in cracked wood.

Step 4: Lift the Other Side.

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Move the crowbar to the other side, and pull and loosen it. Switch back and forth until one side is free. If you switch more than three times you are not exerting enough force.

Step 5: Lever Out the Other Side

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Once one side is free you can use it to lever out nails on the other side by lifting the whole plank.

Step 6: Pound Out the Nails

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Flip the louse board over and pound the sharp end of the nails with the hammer. This will force the nails most of the way out of the wood.

Step 7: Pull the Nails Out

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Flip the board back over and use the crowbar to pull the nails the rest of the way out. Caution: the nails may fly when they spring out of the wood.
Repeat steps 3-7 until all of the boards are off.

Step 8: Breakage

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You may not have a one hundred percent success rate, but hopefully the wood was free to begin with.

Step 9: Breakage Part 2

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The board broke because this nail did not want to come free. Use the crowbar to pull out this stubborn fellow.

Step 10: The Last Board

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The last board is usually the hardest to remove. In some cases it may be necessary to pound the crowbar under the board with the hammer.

Step 11: Look at All This Great Wood

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Now that you have separated the boards and driven out the nails you have nice pile of wood. If the boards aren't as straight as you might like re-cut the edges with a table saw. If the boards are not as clean or smooth as you might like wash, sand or chisel the surface. Beautiful and unique coloration often emerges from found wood when it is sanded.


ZaneEricB (author)2013-02-20

NOTE: SAVE the nails! They are great for reassembly, and they are FREE!

jesse.hensel (author)ZaneEricB2013-02-25


jesse.hensel (author)2015-09-05

I also like old turned table and chair legs. I have some I have saved to make into new tables and chairs. However I have seen and can think of many additional uses. Turned portions might be used for vases, pepper grinders or candle holders. A series of mismatched legs could make a fun railing for a stairway, bed, or playpen. I have also seen turned legs sliced and embedded into flat surfaces such as flooring, furniture and boats. Let me know what you come up with.

blue chicory (author)2015-09-03

I have a bunch of lathe turned wooden chair legs and lathe turned wooden table legs and I would really like someone to get some use out of them since they are so beautiful and someone took the time to make them in the first place. I would like to pass them on to someone that could repurpose them to make new items. I have looked all over and noone recycles broken wooden chair parts. It's too bad. I hate to throw them away. Any ideas?

buck2217 (author)2015-06-27

I love to recycle wood but some of the pallets have all sorts of chemicals as preservatives so be careful esp cooking or burning in confined areas

Udon (author)2008-07-14

Hey. Great instructable. Well crafted. I wish I had more scrapyards near me. BooHooHoo.

swimspud (author)Udon2015-06-22

agreed! I can only find one scrap yard within 50 miles of Sacramento! where did all the great junk yards go to!

Fwedwick (author)2007-05-16

Sorry for being kinda random, but does anybody know what to do with chemically treated wood? I'm very hesitant about incineration or just chucking it in the trash. Thanks!

jesse.hensel (author)Fwedwick2007-05-17

What ever you do, please don't burn it. My father did a lot of backpacking when he was younger. One night he a group of homeless people invited him to warm himself by their fire. They were burning old railroad ties because that was the only wood that they had. The fumes were so bad that it made him sick and he still has nausea whenever he smells treated wood. I would recommend contacting whoever collects your trash as well as the dump it goes to. They may have a specific procedure for dealing with the nasty stuff.

swimspud (author)jesse.hensel2015-06-22

On construction sites, whenever we remove old railroad ties they have to be shipped to a special haz waste facility for processing. If your concerned about dumping anything that you think should not go into the trash (or cant be re-used) contact your local disposal company and describe what you have. They should be able to help you with proper disposal proceedures.

Fwedwick (author)jesse.hensel2007-05-18


bo88y (author)Fwedwick2010-04-19

Old railroad ties aren't the worst offenders in the toxic-fumes department. Pressure-treated wood of the greenish variety that has been treated with CCA  (copper chromium arsenate) gives off worse fumes than creosote-treated ties. Arsenate is form of arsenic. Don't burn it! It's fairly stable in the unburned wood as long as it's not burned (though there can be patches of unabsorbed green chemicals on the outside of wood that is fairly fresh from the factory-- wash your hands if you handle it). CCA-treated wood is stamped to identify it, but don't assume that otherwise inidentifiable greenish wood isn't treated. CCA was replaced by more benign chemicals in recent years, but I don't know how these fare in the toxic-smoke department.
---CCA wood is great for outdoor projects, though, especially for the bases of things that sit on the ground. Tool shed floors, and so on. I'm a bit skeptical about whether or not anyone actually became ill from it during the decades when it was used for playground structures. To be on the safe side, if you're using CCA wood for projects that kids will use, confine it to the parts that rest on the ground.
---The disturbing trend among safety-advocates away from focussing on actual, demonstrated hazards, and toward potential dangers or dangers that might occur under some hypothetical circumstances makes it hard to know for sure what to worry about. People have used CCA-treated wood for years on decks and playgrounds, but I never heard of anyone getting sick from unburned CCA-treated wood, and the literature in support of the ban is full of terms like "risk" instead of "illness" and a lot of speculation about potential dangers of arsenic levels that are slightly higher than guidelines beneath CCA-treated structures. The stuff is dangerous to handle in its liquid form, for sure, and plant workers have become very ill. But the literature on the danger of the installed product is full of hype and sensationalism and speculative language, and notably lacking in evidence of actual illness caused by the wood itself.
---Finding ways to recycle CCA-treated wood keeps this non-biodegradable stuff out of landfills. There are zillions of old decks made from it.  This kind of wood tends to split and to corrode fasteners, so use self-tapping, coated construction screws made for use on treated lumber.
---Another safety tip: though treated wood dulls saw blades faster than regular wood, don't economize here. Dull blades generate smoke, while sharp blades generate coarse sawdust. The smoke is toxic, and will make you feel a bit nauseated, but the coarse sawdust keeps the chemicals encapsulated in the little chunks of wood, and these drop to the ground instead of going airborne.
---Damn, wouldn't the world be a better place if safety advocates and investigative journalists hadn't compromised their credibility with decades of alarmist hype, misleading sensationalism, and junk science?

finnindian (author)2011-08-03

In the past I use to soak the pallets in a river or pond for a few days and this helps lossen the boards form the nails.

alejandroerickson (author)2011-06-23

Here is how to dismantle a fragile pallet without splitting it.

weird (author)2010-11-19

I work at a print shop. We go through lots of pallets. They are great for makeing smaller things. I can sometimes get 3/16" plywood at 24"x32", or 12"x32"x3/4" pieces. I've been using the wood to make bird houses.

desotojohn (author)2010-06-07

I use a small tack puller to pull the nail heads high enough so I can get them with a pry bar.

doughnutguy1 (author)desotojohn2010-10-04

I just bought one today for $2.81. Yay for tool sales :D

 Everything's good but I would highly recommend the use of a metal detector it will save you allot of money in blades.

Hiroak (author)2010-04-25

Cool, my neighbors just had a house fire, only a very small portion of the house was affected, but the insurance company told them they have to level it and start over,  so I will be making trips across the road for some free wood.  House deconstruction is a great place to get good building material. 

Revolverkiller (author)2010-04-24

those twist nails in pallets stink! use a hacksaw to cut the planks off the 2x4s if thats all you want to use

chiefgtx (author)2009-05-27

I converted my entire basement into a wild west saloon using recycled pallet boards. the video can be seen on youtube under "my home saloon". hope you like it.

thedubbedmime (author)chiefgtx2010-04-19

i like it. what did you finish the bar with? i like that shine and color.

Discojess (author)2009-03-30

Thank you SO much! I needed some tips, I was struggling with the hammer. I used a chisel because I don't have a crow bar, and it helped a lot. I was VERY close to giving up and going and buying wood, when I realized my project would be like 100 bucks in wood, and I grudgingly returned to my chore. Then I thought to look it up, and your instructable came up. Awesome! i'll post one soon with what I build, a planter bed :D

completegeek (author)2008-09-01

I've been doing the same thing for a while. You can make some pretty elaborate stuff with just old pallet planks.

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-03-23

Would love to see you add this to my new group.
Hope to see you there.
Home Repair, Refurbishment, and New Projects

othertonywilson (author)2008-02-20

If a business allows you to take apart pallets, be nice and pick up the nails... Most people don't like it when they are driving a delivery truck, and they get a flat tire... or a sore foot.

incorrigible packrat (author)2007-11-19

Nail pulling tip: If you pull the nail partway out, then stick a scrap of wood under the crown of your hammer or prybar, you can pull the nail the rest of the way out, more easily, and with less tendency to bend or fling the nail. Construction tip: The "superbar" or "wonderbar" or "whateverthehellyouwannacallit-bar", makes a crude but serviceable chisel, when you're building crude but serviceable projects. Just put the blade of the rounded end on the thing you want cut or split, hold the flat end, and pound on the curved part with yer hammer.

CADMan64 (author)2007-05-30

Good instructable. One additional tip is to look into getting a metal detector for wood (ie Little Wizard Aprox $20). Yeah, it's $20 but will be cheaper in the long run instead of replacing saw blades, drill bits and possibly planer blades or jointer knives. They can be found on-line or in good woodworking stores.

A cheaper alternative is a toy metal detector, usually sold in children's spy kits and the like. I got one from the dump that I use as a stud detector. Most likely the exact same circuit as a professional unit, albeit in a less robust, and probably garishly coloured package. Those without dump access might try yard sales or thrift stores.

freedive57 (author)2007-08-09

Nail removal: Helps to have a variety of tools: several sizes of crowbars (bigger is heavier and more work to pick up but once you have used a 2 1/3 foot bar you'll use it as often as you can). Catspaw - you hammer it onto the nail below the shank to grip the nail. Vise grip pliers - lock onto the nail and use it as if its the head - (put the claw of the prybar below the pliers to get more grip on a nail). With the small prybar shown, if the bar has a good grip on the nail, if you position the bar just right, you can pound on the free end of the bar and it's like driving the nail in reverse - the energy of the hammer coming down whacks the bar into pulling the nail. Consider a "wrecking bar" also called a "San Angelo BAr" - pointy end and chisel end, 6' long and heavy but you will be astounded at the leverage you can exert with it. This will require some inagination to visualise... Try pounding things apart. If the board you're trying to get off the pallet is unsupported (hold up the pallet on either side of the target with blocks) and the board is on the bottom, try to pound the board down away from the pallet - rain blows on it. When you run out of leverage, use another block under the fulcrum of the bar. Pine splits like crazy - its not you. Consider leaving the nails in if its not necessary to remove them. Often the head of the nail is designed to pop off when pulled. That's when the locking pliers come in.

_soapy_ (author)freedive572007-09-06

I'd not go putting a hammer to your prybar, you'll end up hurting yourself, or breaking an otherwise perfectly good tool. It's far too springy to be hammering! If you are having trouble levering, drop a thick walled pipe over the end of the crowbar, to give you another foot or two of lever. To double (or even more) the effective force on the nail, stick a block or another tough tool close the the nail, under the bar. This will massively increase your success, especially with a small bar. You can, of course, simply use your ninja skills and kick the carp out of the wood. If you really can't get anything to budge, you could cut the board, then lever it using itself. However, normally, you can get the boards apart by flipping one pallet over and putting it on another, then stamping on the unsupported board, driving it down and off the top pallet. (The double sided pallets are remarkably tough, and you won't get it apart like that. Generally you'll smash the wood on these first.)

freedive57 (author)freedive572007-08-09

To avoid splitting wood, think in terms of pounding the pallet apart. Don't crank on the wood. Pound on the whole piece all at once, distribute the force by using a block to pound on and spread out and transmit the force to the board. You're actually fighting all the nails at once. A proper height work surface is important - about waist high or a little lower for me. Must be VERY sturdy! No wobbling allowed. Be very safety conscious! Stepping on a nail sticking out of a board can ruin your month. Nails can fly out as they are released so wear safety glasses (I have been whacked in the face by nails that release suddenly and flip out of the wood with a lot of force).

Aira.vj (author)2007-08-09

I'm trying to do this with a pallet but I'm having trouble with some of the boards. The pallet I've been working on is very sturdy and the two boards on the edges as well as the board in the center are nailed in to large blocks of wood in addition to the boards running in the other direction. (Like this one.)

The boards nailed into the blocks are incredibly stubborn and refuse to come out no matter how much force I use. If I use too much, the boards break rather than having the nails give way.

Do you have any suggestions on how to get these boards out without damaging them? The nails are hammered in very deep and are not protruding at all - is there any way to get the nails out? I'd hate to waste all that extra wood.

Thanks! Great instructable!

_soapy_ (author)Aira.vj2007-09-06

They are probably annular shank nails. These are real buggers to get out, as they have bumped rings all the way down them, and they are designed to never come out, even under continuous load and vibration - so a bit like a screw's holding power in a nail. You might do best to deadhead the nails, and pull the boards through. Use a drill (if you are good) or a sander or grinder to remove the heads, then pull the boards apart. Or use the saw idea above, but that will cause far more wastage.

Mr. Rig It (author)2007-09-02

I found a simple, faster, easier way and you don't bang boards to pieces. Get a reciprocating saw with a metal blade and cut the nail between the boards. Then use a punch to drive out the nail heads. Unfortunately you will still have nail parts in the spline of the other pieces of wood. I do this to pallets. I usually don't use the 3 splines for anything but fire wood anyway. Opps Well I just read someone else does this same thing, oh well I had to put in my 2 cents.

peterrabid9 (author)2007-08-16

I'm glad people are catching on to this, and I hope there are more ideas for reused everything in the future. This is free material, kids! If you're willing to skimp and pass on having a Sauder or Ikea home-built product, this is a perfectly affordable and reasonable alternative, AND you can build it any way you need it! Find below links to stuff I built around the house for as little as the cost of a box of screws (also reusable) and some blood, sweat and tears.

bentm (author)2007-05-17

One can reduce splitting planks by turning the pallet on end and using either a reciprocating saw or a circular saw w/the right blade to saw the nails off. Then drive the stubs out with a nail set. This of course leaves the spacer full of nails--so if they're what you're after, DizzyDave has the right method. Getting pallets from a shipping port is the way to go--you can find lots of semi-ethical nice woods.

Office Viking (author)2007-05-16

Great instructable! I love using old wood for furniture projects. If you have access to a wood planer, you can remove as much of the distressed look as you want. Only if ya feel like it, check out my latest project here under the headline "Pimp My Table".

Pkranger88 (author)2007-05-15

I started doing this a couple years ago and found that I can get virtually all my oak for just my expense in processing it. If you're going to do this to use the wood for finish carpentry, it's a waste of time unless you have access to a planer, surface sander or some other "milling" type machines. Most of these pallets by the way, use a hardwood base. YES!!

philorr (author)2007-05-15

Don't forget to save the hardware as well. Salvaged nails, screws, nuts & bolts always seem to come in handy for something, and can be easily bent back into shape if needed.

dizzydave (author)2007-05-14

Pallets also come in hardwood too...i made my poker table entirely out of pallet trick i realized, if you want to save yourself 2/3 of the time, is to just use your circular saw to cut off right next to the nails on either end, then use your crowbar on the middle section. It'll save you a lot of frustration from splitting the wood when you run into stubborn nails

jesse.hensel (author)dizzydave2007-05-15

Circular saw is also a valid method, but often I need the longer pieces of wood, and I like to waste as little as possible.

yourtvlies (author)2007-05-14

Nuts. I totally started to take apart an old futon frame just last night to salvage the wood. Sometimes great minds really do think alike.

ChewieB (author)2007-05-14

Softwood makes great kindelling to start fires but low density softwood creates a LOT of ash and will block chimneys that were designed for logs and coal. Ask my chimney sweep :) I like to add recycled pallets to the end of a BBQ to make a roaring blaze to warm people up at the end of the evening.

Bignerd100 (author)2007-05-14

I live near a port and some of the stuff from South America comes on pallets made of exotic woods like mahogany. One of my customers works there and he made tung & groove flooring for his home out of the stuff. Because it was used for a container floor it had a great distressed look.

bdl (author)2007-05-14

In some cases, it may be better to punhc the nails through the wood rather than pulling them out. This does leave a cleaner finish and you don't get crowbar dents on the surface. Great idea though. I use a ton of this stuff for all sorts of projects including turnings.

dantheflipman (author)2007-05-14

Awesome instructable, i will be needing some wood soon for a project :D

About This Instructable




Bio: Perhaps I am the heretical harbinger of the New Archaic, perhaps I just like wood.
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