Where & How to Collect Pallets - Identifying untreated wood, safety and good housekeeping

Pallets - The Low-down - Where, What and How?

So you've been round to your local big chain supermarket and they've told you all their pallets are reusable. Well this maybe true for them but not for all pallets. In Europe consigned/reusable pallets are painted a specific colour, which designates the company who owns them. Funnily enough sometimes bits of these blue and red pallets actually turn up on building sites in scrap wood but they are the least useful of all the pallets and I would never use them. What you are looking for are the unpainted untreated pallets. 

 Always carry ropes, gloves, a wrecking bar and a red flag!

The pallet shown above is a very unusual one in that it is an 'in-house' pallet made of untreated wood for the specific purpose of transporting a display stand for an exhibition. It was put out for me after use.

For a specific job you may also require thicker or longer timber so you should have a whole range of pallet providers in your recuperating itinerary. Pallet collecting is logical. Firms which transport/manufacture/sell large and heavy items have substantial pallets. So a few of the companies I collect from, for example, are swimming pool manufacturers, exhibition stand makers and a double glazing and joinery firm. All these are small family type businesses. I know the people who own them and/or the foreman. I didn't start out knowing them I just saw the pallets and went in and asked.

The upright from a plant transporter pallet.

Using five of these uprights I created the sides of the greenhouse frame below.

The Five Euro Greenhouse

I have a film, which shows the detailed construction of the 5 Dollar Greenhouse

Another thing I always do is tell the providers why I want the pallets and I also get e-mail addresses to send pictures of the finished item. I also give  links to my youtube site so they can see the films. That way my pallet donors get feedback on the transformation of an eyesore and nuisance which was hanging around their parking lot. There is another side to this too, many of these businesses are only too glad to find I am recycling this resource. As intelligent, thinking  people, they are only too aware that their waste is ending up in landfill and/or is being burnt in open fields and they are, to say the least, not very comfortable with this idea. So in repurposing and reusing pallets you are, helping yourself, helping others and helping in the longterm to conserve the planet.

Cracking the pallet codes

Understanding pallet 'seals' is an important factor and something you need to mug-up on before you set out on your first collecting trip. There are many sites including Wikipedia, which will explain these but I'm posting this here to give you an example of what you are looking for.

This 'seal' will be located on one of the pallet blocks:

The 'wheat stamp' denotes IPPC compliance, confirming the pallet to be made of de-barked wood. Useful if you were unsure whether the wood was real!

DK -  the country code i.e. in this case Denmark.

8C - the pallet manufacturer.

S5 - the treatment company.

HT - Heat Treated = Gravy!

All wooden crates and pallets in 74 countries of the world have an International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) seal on them. These denote several things but the most important are the bottom two letters - you are looking for pallets with no chemical treatment. In the US fumigation with methyl bromide, coded MB, is more common than in Europe, where heat treatment (HT) is the norm. However, treated pallets do occur in Europe even though you will find several sites informing you they don't! In the case of chemical treatment you will also see the resultant discolouration. Many garden centre suppliers, for example, dip items or conveyor spray them and their carrier pallets simultaneously and you will see immediate evidence of this in the blue-green 'dye' infusing the whole pallet.

Here's something we haven't seen before on pallets but is very welcome. It's the eco label for managed and sustainable forestry. Read all about it here: http://www.sacert.org/woodmark/pefc

Happy Hunting!

All the best and thanks for dropping by and if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share, ask questions or comment.

Cheers, Andy

© Andy Colley 2014


Detailed comprehensive information  on how to dismantle pallets to obtain maximum usable carpentry wood...read more


  1. More important info, and I thank you!

    1. No problem, glad it was useful.
      Thanks for dropping by.
      Cheers, Andy.

  2. how do you get the nails out out of the pallets after using a hacksaw

    1. All I do is use a nail punch to drive the remains of the nail far enough to lift the head above the plank surface. I then use the claw hammer or nail pliers to pull it out, there is very little resistance. If you do not have a nail punch or thin flat-faced punch, then a heavy nail with the point sawn off will suffice.

      Thanks for visiting and for your question.

      Regards, Andy.

  3. Hmmmm, fancy a working holiday to the Spanish desert? :)

  4. Loved this article! So informative! What is the music you used in the video? I love it!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and found it useful. The music is 'Nimba' by Green Earth Forever which I never tire of hearing and believe me when editing the films I hear it many times.
      Thanks for your comment. Best Wishes, Andy.

  5. What's the best way to keep the wood from splitting when prying?

    1. Hi Lee,
      The wood usually splits at the nail head because the nail is bent over on the under side of the pallet. I would straighten this out before attempting to pry the plank off (I show this in the film).

      If the nails are not bent over and the planks are splitting I would saw through the nails to remove the planks and then remove the last bit of nail by driving them out with a flat-faced punch (I've used a 6" nail with the point ground flat in the past).

      At the points where the nails pass through the planks and into the wooden blocks, I know that these nails are at least 3" (75mm) long, so I tackle this by turning the pallet upside down and pry the blocks away from the underside of the pallet. Often hitting the block on the side with a small sledgehammer will be enough to furnish a gap large enough to put the pry bar in. Once the blocks are removed, the nails can be knocked through so that the heads are clear of the top of the pallet face and the pry bar can remove them. Failing this I use a bolster chisel to cut through the nails, or cut through the nails with a hacksaw. The remnant of nail left in the wood can be removed by using a punch to drive the head above the wood surface.

      The other reason the wood splits is that the pry bar is not positioned correctly, either there is too little of the bar pushing against the plank or the fulcrum for the bar is incorrect.

      Ultimately, you'll find some pallets where the planks split no matter how careful you are so give them up as a bad job or see if you can use the much shorter length that is not nailed and just saw it from the rest of the pallet. Often these planks have checks and shakes in them and are just not going to be of much use except as firewood - remember most pallets will not be made of high quality timber.

      Hope this helps, if you need further information just get back in touch.

      Thanks for visiting the blog. Cheers, Andy