Recycle Pallet Wood Into Turned Art




Introduction: Recycle Pallet Wood Into Turned Art

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 Discussions

    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.

    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...

    Thank you. I'm excited. I didn't even consider the possibility of building one.  How did you tap out the threads to mount the carbide cutter?  If you don't want to bother with the pictures, I can probably use the pictures online at their site as a reference.  

    yeah, there is a bit of an expense at first unless you know someone with metal working tools. The carbide bit and the screw come together for around 20 bucks. I had to buy a solid carbide 4 flute 5/8" roughing end mill, purchased locally for around 40 bucks. but this tool if used properly will last and make a few of these Lathe EZ Carbide tools. When it comes down to it, you really dont need the end mill. you could go right on top of the barstock, as long as the bit sits nice and flat on top of the barstock. Take a look at "EZ wood tools" on google to get the exact specs. but I was ANAL about the first one and wanted to come as close as possible to the real thing. after you get the bit, buy a 1.5" copper coupling and a nice long thick chunk of hardwood.

    also you asked about the tap for the screw. I will assume you dont have any taps and tell you to take the screw to a hardware store, or an automotive store and match up a bit, and tap for it. make sure you tell them what you are cutting (stainless steel) TAKE YOUR TIME TAPPING IT! and for the sake of not hijacking this awesome instructable Ill contact you by message with pics.

    Soz if i'm butting in, just wondering if you are asking because you are thinking of getting a chuck.

    In my experience of both independent and scroll chucks would be that its not a wise move to turn air with an independent chuck, is you do a safety helmet an body armor would be advised as a couple of pounds of timber fair shifts when it zings out of the lathe if the tool catches, it almost impossible to get a good solid hold on the piece on independent wood chucks especially if its irregular, they seriously need the work piece supported by the tail stock.

    I have a scroll chuck now that is ultra safe and they jaws are dovetailed so they get superb grip of the work pieces, I almost lost a finger to my evil independent chuck when polishing a work piece the jaws are so evil its unreal, I now have a Record Nova chuck and the worst it has done has been slightly scuffed knuckle.

    The accident happened when i was polishing and the pad snagged on some tacky wax due to the pressure i was putting on it and the friction jerked the pad in and my finger into the chuck, it happens fast, i reckon the jaws hit me about 50 times before I go my hand away.

    When I got the scroll chuck I purposely brushed my thumb lightly on the chuck at 2000 rpm which I highly recommend that no one tries but i can say that it was just a tickle and didn't mark the skin at all.

    Not a problem at all; safety is first priority when working with any kind of power tool. I do use both scrolling and independent chucks on my lathe and oy vey is the independent chuck ever a pain. Unfortunately it's the only fast way to set up for non-jigged, off-set turnings. :\
    As far as safety equipment goes, I'll pass on the advice that was passed on to me by an old-school wood-turner: "A full-face shield is pretty good but a full-face shield over a catcher's mask is even better. Might wanna put on the chest shield too."
    Yes, I fear the inevitable fly-out that one day shall come to pass but I still get in there and do the work. :))

    O, one other thing that might come in handy for independent chucking; I keep a supply of extra-heavy guage rubber bands in the shop specifically for slipping over the backs of the jaws after a piece is locked in. They'll still give you a nasty bruise if you get in there accidentally, but at least you won't get cut.

    That is a good idea, i still have my independent chuck but since i got the nova chuck I have never needed to use it since, must look for some inner tubes that are a nice fit for it, I just found the independent would always crush the wood and then it would slip and if you don't crush the wood it would slip even quicker.

    Impressed indeed, I got a Nova chuck now myself and must try my hand at turning some air, that is an impressive piece from a pallet block, but then if you check my ibles you will see that all my blanks are from old fire doors.