Introduction: Make a Rustic Shadow Box, Pallet Lumber

This guide will teach you everything you need to know to make a great rustic shadow box.  You can use it yourself or even give it as a gift.  All the ladies in my life love them, my wife, mom, mother-in-law, grandmothers, etc.  If they don't have a few of them they are always asking, if they have a few they want more!!

Here is the best part of this project... it can be done for very little money.  Just a little bit of elbow grease!

If you like this, but really just don't want to make it you can always visit my Etsy shop at

You will need the following to complete this project:

- One pallet 
- Saws power or strong arm
- Pry Bar
- Hammer
- Nails
-Glue  (optional)
-Sandpaper (optional)
- Finish (optional)

Step 1: Choose Your Materials

A quick word on pallets, most places will give them to you for free.  Always be sure to ask first!

Pick up a few that are clean and not too broken up.  Also check carefully for the tag, see the picture the one with the HT on it is the one you want.  This means the pallet wood was heat treated, not chemical treated. 

Step 2: Dismantle the Pallets

There are several good instructables and other sources for the many methods that can be used to dismantle the pallets.  Some methods are better than others, no method is going to be super easy, this will require a little bit of work.  I use a hammer and pry bar to free enough long boards to make the tops and bottoms of these boxes, then use a circular saw to just cut the center sections out of the rest of it.  this leaves a small piece of wood with the nails still in it stuck to the think upright supports... its ok you will not need those pieces.


Also wear safety glasses and gloves while beating the pallet apart.

Step 3: Cut the Pieces to Size

I ripped the pieces to 2 3/4 inches on the table saw, you may skip this step and use the boards in the width they came in if you want.  However this step will make sure you have a good flat edge on one side of the boards to register against the wall and to measure for square cuts on the rest of it.

In the first picture the guard is not on my saw, this is just for the photo, Please use all safety equipment with your tools... including eye protection.  As we are ripping a rather narrow piece of wood use a push block, don't cut off your fingers.

After ripping to the desired width, plan the cuts for length.  You may be able to cut off cracks if you take a moment to see what you have to work with.

I used my miter saw to make the cuts to length.  You may use a handsaw or even your table saw for this.

Cut two pieces 23 3/4" long.   This is the top and bottom.
Cut two pieces 10 1/5" long.  These will be the sides.

Step 4: Salvage a Broken Piece

If you cut out your pieces it is possible that some of it will break off if you missed some cracks, or got a little bit overzealous while dismantling the pallet.  This is OK and easy to fix.  

Gather up the broken pieces and put a little bit of glue on them, tape them back together tightly and let them sit for about an hour.  You can work on other steps of this project while you wait.

I used tightbond glue and painter's tape for this, you can use practically any wood glue, or white glue.

Step 5: Assemble the Outside of the Box

You have options when it comes to assembly.

I have put many of these together using a little bit of glue, hammer and nails.

Now I use glue and a nail gun, if you don't have a nail gun use the hammer and nails.

Make sure you use a square to get it nice and square, or don't, for a small project like this you can probably eyeball it just fine!

Step 6: Cut and Assemble the Inside Dividers

Cut the main center divider first, this will be approximately 22 1/2", you can either measure the inside of the box once you have the outside together, or measure it while you cut out the other pieces.  Just make sure you subtract the thickness of the two sides from the length of the top and bottom.  You can do this without measure if you stack them together as seen in the photos.

Now decide how many dividers you want.  I went with three on the bottom and two on the top for this box... but you may want to go with a different configuration.  

The dividers for me ended up being about 5 inches long.  This will vary depending on the thickness of you wood.  Place the center divider in the box and measure to be sure.  

You will need:

- One center divider about 22 1/2"
- A handful of small upright dividers about 5"

Step 7: Put It All Together

Place the center dividers in the box, spread them evenly,  you can carefully measure, or you can go with just close enough.

Use a small dab of glue on the end of each piece.  Put a few nails through the joints and they are done.  If you are using a hammer and nails or have a nail that the gun doesn't fully seat... I suggest a nail set.  You can get 3 of them in different sizes at any home center for a few bucks and you will use them again and again.  This is a good investment.

Step 8: Sand and Finish

Lightly sand this project with some 100 grit sandpaper.  You are not trying to get this smooth, we are going for a rustic look, but we don't want to get splinters!

You can stop and call it finished at this point... or you can go one step further.

You can used some kind of oil or wax, both are super easy to apply.  

Do not rub oil or wax on this with a paper towel... as it is rough you will end up with a project covered in bits of paper towel fuzz.... it will take forever to get it off!

Now hang it on a wall with two nails, just nail em in at an angle and set the box in place.  


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