Introduction: "Live Edge" Pallet Wood Cookie Wall Art

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

This piece is a table top or bench top idea that has been kicking around in my head for years and it evolved into what you saw me build in this video. I decided to go larger scale for a wall hanging piece for my friends over at Carolina Shoe using their logo "Carolina" to form the inlay and puzzle piece holding the 2 halves together. There are 2 materials joining together in the center at the Carolina logo and also at the inlaid bowties that are shaped to represent laces. On the bottom is a beautiful end grain slab of Ambrosia Maple Burl and on the top is a lamination of about a dozen different species of pallet wood into a random pixelated pattern. The piece is mostly meant represent the merging together of natural materials with manufactured processes to create something beautiful, just like you see at the Carolina Shoe factory where this piece will live. There's some other deeper things in there too, but I'll let you dig those out for yourself.

Also! Thanks to Carolina, I'm going to be giving the smaller brother of this piece away (photos in the last step). CLICK HERE to enter into the drawing.

Step 1: Tools & Materials


> Pallet wood

> Maple end grain cookie slab

> Wood glue

> Epoxy resin

> Tung oil finish

> Wood for french cleat


> ISOtunes bluetooth hearing protection

> Thickness planer

> Pipe clamps

> Glue spreader bottle

> Miter saw

> Table saw

> Wood rule

> Table saw fence clamps

> Screw clamps

> Router

> Big router bit for flattening slab

> Bandsaw

> X-Carve CNC machine

> Belt sander

> Circular saw

> Palm router base for handheld CNC work

> Arbortech TurboPlane power carving disk

> Arbortech Contour Sander

> Random orbital sander

Step 2: Gathering Materials

So it all starts here, shopping at my favorite store. The Element gets fully loaded up, roof rack and all! I also swing by an actual hardwood store to pick up a giant maple wood cookie that you'll see more about later.

I'll spare you the excruciating task of tearing apart the pallets (I wish I could do that for myself), but the basics of it is that I pull the pallets apart, save all of the slats, and clean them of any nails. Then I just organize all of the slats together from widest to skinniest so I can group them in groups of slats adding up to just over 3"

Step 3: First Glue-up

I pull each of the groups of slats out of the pile and put them on top of my pipe clamps where I apply wood glue to the face of each of the slats.

Then the whole group of these is clamped together in the pipe clamps, except glue is left out between each one of the 3" sections so that they can be separated later... but it's just one giant mass of toxic wood for now (I can feel the syphilis rubbing off on me now).

After letting these set to dry for the night, I gently remove them from the clamps and separate them into each of the "pallet sticks".

Step 4: Clean Up the Pallet Sticks

All of the sticks move over to the miter saw where I square off both ends of them. Some of the slats are longer than others so this evens the ends up before I send them through the thickness planer. They are then sent through the planer cutting what is now their ~3" dimension down to a consistent width across all of the pallet sticks.

At this point, the sticks only have 2 rough sides left. One of them is cut off of each of the sticks by setting the table saw to the exact width of the stick before I cut it. This then gives me a reference surface when I cut the pieces all down into strips. The strips are random width between about 1/4" and 1/2", this is done by varying the width of cut somewhere between those 2 dimensions while I cut through a different stick each time (I think that kind of makes sense). Well, I keep cutting the sticks into strips until I run out of sticks to cut.

Now the last sizing operation for these piece (pallet bacon?) is to cut them to length which will correspond to the thickness of the end grain slab that will be the final form. The slab that I got my hands on is 4" thick, so I cut these pieces 4" long since I'm going to have to flatten both slabs down later anyway.

It ended up being so many pieces that worked into a bit of a rhythm... maximum efficiency engage!

Step 5: 2nd Glue-up

I use my trusty glue bottle again so spread glue on one face of all of these piece (pallet wafers?) and then put each section in the clamps. This was a bit of a tricky glue-up because of all of the small pieces, so what I ended up doing was clamping the 2 pipe clamps together to give me a straight edge in that plain and then slamming the pieces down to my bench with a mallet to get them flat in the other plane.

These are set to dry for a few hours and then I remove them from the clamps. Note that they are different lengths, I determined this by laying out the pallet wafers on top of the slab where I'm looking to match and this determined the shape and thus the length of each of these sections.

Step 6: 3rd Glue-up

Each of these sections is sent through the thickness planer too to smooth out each of the faces that I'm gluing up in this step and then *EVERYONE SAY IT TOGETHER NOW* "I apply glue with my glue spreader bottle, stick the pieces together, and install them in the clamps" great job team.

I let that dry for the night and then remove it from the clamp (are you getting a hang of the pattern yet?). We seem to be getting a glitch in the system so I think it's time to move on to a different step that doesn't involve glue...

Step 7: Flattening the Slabs

The slab that I got is straight off of the chainsaw and also has been sitting to dry for a while, so it's not 100% flat at this point. I built this quick flattening jig out of some plywood that mounts to my work bench. It's something I designed to be very minimalist and adaptable so it just mounts to my bench with clamps and when I'm not using it, it nests up on the wall hanging on a screw. I just measure it with a straight edge to make sure that each of the "L" shaped rails is parallel with the bench surface and each other and I go to town with the router.

The bit that I use in my router is just a massive 1-1/8" pattern straight bit from Rockler. This bit isn't really meant for this operation, but it's a nice big bit that hogs off a lot of material and proved to work perfect for what I needed. The depth of cut is just set by measuring the low spot in the slab in reference to the flattening jig and then setting the bit to that depth.

I then simply turn into a robot and flatten the slab by moving across the width of the slab over and over again until I cover the entire length of the slab.

Rinse and repeat for the pallet "slab" until this is also cut down to the same thickness as the maple slab.

Step 8: The Cookies Are Dividing

Surprise! My sanity wasn't off enough to make just one of these, but even more to make 2 of them! This will give me the opportunity to demonstrate how to do the letter with 2 different methods (with and without CNC). The smaller cookie is small enough to fit on my CNC so I will use that to cut the inlay on that piece, and the thicker cookie is too big for my CNC so I'll do that one entirely by hand.

Step 9: Cutting the Letters in the First Cookie

I start with the smaller slab, I only want to use half of it since the pallet "slab" will make up the other half, so I cut the cookie in half on the table saw. This is a bit tricky since the cookie is obviously round, so to avoid killing myself, I screw a piece of plywood onto the piece of the cookie I don't want and this gives me a straight reference surface to run along the fence.

Now for grain continuity, I carefully line up the cutoff piece so that I can cut the Carolina Shoe logo type out of it to use for the inlay. Sometimes it's nice to have robots to do all of the work for you, now if I could just get my hands on a pallet disassembly CNC...

To relive the letters from this piece, I cut them free on the table saw. This proved to be quite interesting because the letters decided to break up because of all of the small cracks in the slab... should have seen that coming. Worst. Puzzle. Ever.

Next I use my CNC again to cut the accompanying pocket in the pallet wood slab and install the letters (or pieces of the letters) in place with glue and a little bit of persuasion. Then once the glue is dry I can just sand the letters flush with the surface using my belt sander.

The CNC in my shop is an X-Carve made by Inventables, you can learn more about it HERE

Step 10: Preparing the Large Slab for Inlay

Now onto the exciting part, the big boy slab! I determine where I want to split the slab and then clamp a level to the top as a straight edge and use my circular saw to cut it. After flattening, the slab is a little over 3" thick, so none of my saws have the capacity to completely cut through it. The circular saw does most of the work and then I finish the cut with a handsaw. Does it feel wrong cutting this really expensive and awesome cookie in half? No, I think the pallet wood has made me immune to being able to feel emotions.

Then again, I need to snag the piece of the cutoff cookie that will be the lettering to make sure that the grain is continuous between the 2 pieces. Since I'm doing it by hand this time though, I rip that strip off with the table saw (and finish the cut by hand again). This piece is then cut down to 1/2" thick so that I can cut the letters out of that.

To transfer the Carolina logotype onto this piece of wood, I print it out (mirrored image) using my laser printer. Then my soldering iron with a flat pattern bit in it is used to heat up the toner and transfer that onto the work piece.

The letters are then carefully cut using the bandsaw. A scrollsaw would be perfect for this too, but I don't have one of those, so it's not really perfect for me. Just takes a slow and steady hand cutting just up to the line and smoothing the cut out by carefully running the piece sideways along the blade.

Step 11: Cutting the Inlay by Hand

Now it's time to cut the inlay pocket into the big pallet cookie. I set all of the letters into the appropriate location and use black spray paint to mark out the exact locations of each of the letters. This will also give me a faint black line around the letters when I get them installed (which you'll see more of later).

Then I just flood the piece with light, put some jambs on in my headphones, and concentrate harder than I've ever concentrated, wouldn't want to screw this piece up now! I use my palm router with a 1/4" bit and then an 1/8" bit for the finer detail. I also have a special base plate with handles that I use for operations like this for maximum dexterity.

All of the curved lines are brought in perfectly with the router and then the straight edges are made perfect with a chisel.

To install the letters this time, I apply glue to all of the pockets and use a wood screw clamp to push the letters into place. This gives me a lot of leverage with the long jaws so I can push them into place in what proved to be some very perfect and tight pockets (thank you, me). The clamps are also better than a mallet because it's a lot more gentle and won't destroy things. Once dry, these can then be sanded down flush as well.

Step 12: Power Carving!

Now I can't just glue these 2 cookies together and call it good, that wouldn't be as interesting and it's not the Jackman way, so I take it one step further. When cookies like this are drying, they often will crack because they shrink so much. The cookie that I got didn't have much for cracks because it was dried slowly, but I decided to artificially make my own as a "feature". This is also why I included that bark defect on the top corner of the piece that you see here. I sketch out a rough profile and also extend that line all the way around the pallet cookie so I can give that a "live edge" to match the maple.

Both cookies are rough cut on the bandsaw leaving about a 1/4" from the line so that I can bring it down to shape with some power carving. I use the Arbortech TurboPlane disk in my angle grinder to shape both pieces to my desired shape.

The TurboPlane has some really sharp teeth on it so it leaves behind a surprisingly smooth surface, but any little wood fibers or roughness that is left behind is smoothed out with their Contour Sander. It's another angle grinder attachment that functions like a random orbital sander but has a small rubber head that is flexible so it fits into the profile of the live edge.

Step 13: Gluing the 2 Halves Together

I just needed to get the crack of the shape refined before I glued the cookies together so I did that and left the square corners on the other half other pallet piece. This helped with clamping when I glued the 2 pieces together. After the glue dried I did the same power carving operation to fine tune the shape of the left side of the cookie and merge the 2 pieces together.

Step 14: Cutting and Installing the "bow Ties"

Now when you have a crack in a slab, the traditional way to stabilize it is by inlaying wood bow ties. The bow tie shape functions as a way to lock the slab together so when it tries to expand and contract throughout the seasons, the bow ties will lock it in place. That being said, I decided to modify the traditional bow tie shape by creating the visual of laces since I'm making this piece for Carolina Shoe and they make work booths (the metaphor is probably more obvious than I'm giving it credit for). So the small slab is again cut on the CNC and the "laces" are inlaid into it.

On the big piece, I again traces the inlaid pieces out (this time with a pencil) and cut out the pocket by hand with a palm router and 1/4" straight bit.

The shape is refined with a chisel and the lace "bow ties" are glued and installed in place. Once the glue dries, this inlay is also sanded smooth with the belt sander, like you might have expected.

Step 15: Epoxy Flooding

There are some small cracks left over in the cookies (mostly in the smaller one) so I fill them in with epoxy resin. First, I apply tape to the back side of each piece wherever I can see light peaking through so the epoxy doesn't leak all over my workbench and then I flood the surface with epoxy.

After the epoxy cures, I sand the surface down flush. I then sand through the grits of sandpaper which is much easier than it sounds. Sanding end grain is not something I would wish on my worst enemy, with such a bit slab, this ended up being an operation that lasted many hours.

Step 16: Installing the Fench Cleat and Applying Finish

Then there is just 1 step before applying finish. Since these are going to be wall hanging pieces, we obviously need a way to hold them up on the wall. The small one is easy since it's fairly light, so I just do a keyhole for that one, but the larger cookie is quite heavy and needs something more robust. For this guy I cut a pocket out of the back of it with a straight bit in the router an a fence so I can get a straight line (and refine it with a chisel). This pocket is 3/4" deep and will hold a french cleat that I'll install later.

Finally I get to apply the finish!! Just look at all of those different colors of wood, I'm just in love with the random pattern and apparent texture that it creates. I use tung oil for this because it always does the best job at pulling out the color from all of the different species of wood.

After a half dozen coats of finish, this piece is ready for display! I screw the french cleat into the back of the piece with a few screws. The french cleat is just a piece of plywood with a 45 degree cut on the bottom side of it that matches up with an opposing 45 degree cut in the french cleat that is attached to the wall.

For demonstration purposes, I install the French cleat on my shop wall and install the cookie in place. And by "demonstration purposes" I mean that I might just leave it there forever, sorry Carolina!

Step 17: Glamour Shots

Then it's just time for the obligatory photo shoot session during golden hour. This is the bigger of the two pieces with the more chaotic shape. (you might notice I actually traced the line of the inlay with a fine tip sharpie to help better define the line)

And this is the smaller cookie with more of a traditional round shape. (I'm giving this one away to one of my fans, thanks to Carolina Shoe!)

Thanks for checking out the build. Now allow for me to provide the full Jackman experience, checkout the build video!


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