Recycle Pallet Wood Into Turned Art

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Introduction: Recycle Pallet Wood Into Turned Art

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this instructable is about how to take a chunk of pallet wood and turn it into a bowl/vessel on a lathe.  this is not a "how to turn" instructable; there are lots of those out there as well as plenty on how to build your own lathe if you don't have one.  this is simply one way i like to re-use pallet wood for artsy-fartsy projects.  enjoy!

the first step is to find a pallet with blocks separating the two sections of slat and not boards; though it is certainly possible to harvest the boards/slats as well and glue them into a turning blank as well.

Step 1: Prepping the Blank

step 2:

now that you've got a blank, you want to square it up roughly.  i use a my miter-saw to do this.  once you've got a square-ish piece of wood to deal with, find the center with either a center-finding jig, the dividing head that often comes with a combination square, or you can "zoom in" on rough center with the normal head on a combination square as well.

mark the center, use a compass to draw a circle about that center and drill the center out for a screw-chuck on the lathe.  at least, that's how i do it. 

i also like to take the "square" blank back to the miter saw and knock the corners off so i start turning with a rough octagon rather than a square.  anyone who's ever turned wood before can tell you this takes a lot of the initial "chop" out of roughing down the piece to a cylinder.

Step 2: The Fun Part - Turning the Vessel

mount the blank on the screw chuck in the lathe and begin by turning the bottom.  my lathe is set up such that i first turn the bottom of a vessel and rough out the sidewall, including a tenon (or mortise depending on the wood and size) on the bottom for turning the hollow when i flip the workpiece.

before i go on, i'd like to state i'm a self-taught turner and still a pretty rank amateur.  that being said, the lathe tools i use primarily are as follows:
- parting tool
- round-nose scraper
- 3/4" spindle gouge
- 1/2" bowl gouge

after roughing out the bottom and sidewall, i like to remove the blank from the screw chuck and remount it 180 degrees the other way with the chuck jaws gripping the tenon i turned on the bottom.  i get the piece spinning again and finish up the sidewall before i begin hollowing out the vessel.  this allows me to work the outer most part of the wood while it still has a lot of mass in the center (isn't physics fun?!?).  once happy with the shape of the outside, i hollow out the vessel until i'm happy with the thickness of the walls and bottom.

after the turning, i like to sand the piece while its spinning with the following grits of sandpaper: 36, 60, 100, 150, 240 respective.  on occasion, i will also burnish the workpiece while its spinning with a piece of dowel stock of a harder density than the workpiece.  workpieces with knot holes pose an interesting challenge.  if you work a knotted out piece, your tools need to be SHARP!!!

Step 3: The Finished Item

once happy with the finished surface on the lathe, i take the piece off, usually oil it or finish it some other way depending on its intended use(s), and burn my signature and the year in the bottom with a soldering iron pyrography point.

i like this piece because it retained some nail holes from its previous life as a pallet as well as the added artsy-fartsy-ness, and challenge, of turning a knot hole.  hope you like it; if not, such is life - all i'm out is a little time and a chunk of pallet wood  :)

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    41 Comments

    sweet, gave me some ideas for those blocks instead of burning them... so, now i will have to work in the cold but have some nice objects :D

    Nice - i have a lathe, i have pallets -- what am i waiting for?

    The "blemish" is an integral part of the look. If you look at books of artistic bowls, they have normal holes, fungus, checks and splits everywhere. It's pretty difficult to get a piece of wood to turn or carve that is completely free of those blemishes. And it's not like Montana mindsmith can use that cup/bowl for drinking or food. The wood has been treated, so it's poisonous. I think you did a beautiful job. I've been reading a lot about turning and carving vessels the past two weeks. It's very hard. I'm in the middle of carving my own bowl. I used a right angle grinder with a Lancelot attached. I looks like a circular chain saw. What an awesome tool!! My hat is off to any one who can turn or carve vessels. Again, Montana, beautiful job!! Thanks for taking the time to make an i'ble.

    This is great! how long have you been turning?

    about three months now. hardest part is learning how to sharpen those "fingernail" profiles on my gouges. thanks much!

    Yeah, i hear ya there. I have had my lathe for almost three years now and i still cannot sharpen that profile either... I bypassed it by learning to cut with my own grinded tools. You dont need that fingernail grind. Some of the best turners out here make their own tools out of old files and such. So dont buy into the hype of a toolname. But i will add, "EZ Wood Tools" has a carbide turning tool, i bought one and after i saw the simple design i made two. They are the best cutting tool i have used, they take all the guesswork out of tool height, and angle. The tips last a long time and you never need to sharpen them! Keep em comming!

    Hey, I was thinking of buying an EZ rougher this week. But if you'd consider doing an instructable on how you made yours, that would be awesome.

    Old power hacksaw blades make a fantastic thin parting tool that is good for decorative lines and also parting of, I posted an Ible on how to make it. I have a nice 13mm slide bar from a printer that has potential to mount a carbide tip on

    I dont have any pics of that build... Just the finished product.
    If you look at them, you can see that there isn't much to them.
    Its 1/2" square stainless steel bar stock and a handle with their carbide cutting tip. Ill look and see if i can find the pics somewhere...