Over the summer I decided to make a trunk from used pallet wood and in trying to find a way to make it unique I ended up making a false bottom for it. The false bottom runs the length and width of the trunk and is about two inches high which I found was just enough to be unnoticeable at first glance (given the large size of the trunk) and yet still be adequate to hide a variety of items.
This project was pretty cheap in that I only had to purchase the hinges and stains (the latter being optional).
Dremel (With metal cutting/grinding attachments)
Knife/Screwdriver (I used a multitool)
Medium Paint Brush
2-3 Wooden Pallets
1 and 1/4" Screws
Black Spray Paint
Special thanks to ProRock for inspiration!
Step 1: Preparing the Pallet Wood
The first step is getting the right wood and cutting it to spec. I used a reciprocating saw to cut through the pallet's nails, freeing the boards cleanly and without having to pry them off which leads to a lot of broken boards and headaches. There are a few resources on how to do this safely on the internet so I will not go into it here.
I only use wood stamped with an "HT" which means that the wood was heat treated and not chemically treated. It's not likely that you will run into chemically treated pallets anymore but better safe than sorry. Also keep in mind what the pallets may have been used for (like transporting chemicals vs bird seed).
My trunk has dimensions of 38" width, 21.5" height, and 17" depth but you can cut your wood to any lengths desired.
After you have decided on the dimensions of your trunk, cut the wood to your desired lengths, then place them how you want them to fit and double check to make sure they will all fit together. After that, it's time to sand. I used a palm sander and only sanded each plank of wood lightly to keep some of the weathered look.
Step 2: Assembling the Outer Frame
Now that the wood is ready it's time to assemble the outer frame of the trunk. I drilled two screw holes at the ends of each long rectangle piece and two holes on the sides of each short pieces and screwed them together (1 1/4" screws) to make a rectangular frame. Do this twice, one for the top of the trunk, and one for the bottom.
After the frames are assembled place your bottom frame on the ground and place your floorboards inside to check the fit (If they fit snugly you know that you measured correctly). Once the floorboards are in place flip your whole bottom piece over (floorboards and frame) and press each board down to the ground (this will ensure your floorboards remain in place for the next step). After doing this, drill two holes and screw (1 1/4") on the two small pieces of wood used to keep the trunk off the ground. Now flip the whole bottom back over and press the floorboards down to where they will permanently be at the bottom of the trunk.
With the three floorboards secured together, it's time to secure them to the bottom frame. Drill three holes along the length of the base, through the frame and into the boards, followed by three screws (1 1/4"). Repeat on the shorter side of the frame. I found that it was easiest to get most of the screw in with a power drill and then finish the job with a hand screwdriver.
Step 3: Assembling the Sides and Attaching the Upper Frame
As I cut each piece to length I placed it along the bottom frame where they might possibly go. Pallet boards can have slightly irregular sides so you have to get creative with their placement and piece them together almost like a puzzle sometimes (I think this adds to the fun of it!). Eventually I had enough pieces and could arrange them well enough that it was time to attach them.
I used a C-Clamp to hold each side board to the bottom frame and then screwed them in place using two 1" screws per side board. Be sure to screw them in on what will be the inside of the trunk so they will not be visible. Also start laying the boards from a corner and work your way to the other side. If there is a small gap at the end (like in mine) don't worry about it, it will be covered in the next step with corner pieces.
Once all side boards are in place, fit the top frame around the top of all the side boards (it should fit snugly around all of them). Attach each side board to the top frame using the same method as the bottom (two 1" screws each).
Step 4: Corner Pieces
As stated before, when working with pallets there will often times be irregularly shaped pieces. Instead of discarding them I try to incorporate them into each project. I wanted the trunk to have an additional two pieces of wood on each corner, both for aesthetic reasons and to cover the small gaps from not measuring the side boards well enough.
Measure the space in between the top and bottom frames, this will be the length of wood you'll need to cut and fit. There will be a total of eight pieces to screw to the trunk (two for each corner) using two 1" screws each.
Step 5: Staining the Trunk
I decided to use two stains both from Miniwax: Golden Oak and Dark Walnut. Using a medium sized course bristle brush I applied two coats of the stains to the entire trunk (in different sections for added effect). Next I applied a coat of Miniwax Polyurethane. I used an abrasive pad to lightly scuff the surface and then applied another coat of polyurethane for a glossy finish.
Step 6: Building the Lid
I found that using two small boards and two large boards gave the perfect amount of coverage for the lid and even left an inch of overhang in the front for easy opening. I decide to use a board that had a natural bevel to it for the front of the lid too, adding to the rustic weathered look.
The assembly is pretty straight forward. Once each board is cut to length and sanded, I attached them all together using 1" screws and two small boards. I then stained and applied a finish to them like the rest of the trunk.
I purchased two large hinges from a hardware store but they were too long on one of the ends for the trunk so I cut them to fit with a metal cutting wheel on my Dremel and then sanded them down and drilled a new screw hole. After touching them up with black paint I attached them with the screws the hinges came with.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
I had some thick hemp rope lying around so I used that for the trunk's handles. I simply drilled two holes on each side of the trunk, fed an end of rope through, cut it with a knife, and tied it in a single knot.
The final touch is the hidden compartment at the bottom of the trunk. It's a pretty simple design as I just screwed in a piece of wood on each side of the bottom interior. They were about two inches high so the secret compartment would have about a two inch clearance. I chose this height because it's a little lower than the height of the bottom frame so it's pretty difficult to spot that it has a false bottom but it still provides a nice sized secret storage area.
Three boards (two large and one small) fit the space perfectly and one even had a knot in it which I punched out to use for a finger hole for easy opening.
That's all there is to it. If you like this Instructable send it a vote in the Secret Compartment and Doors Contest. As always keep building and have fun!
Runner Up in the