How to dismantle pallets to obtain free carpentry wood.

Once you have your pallets (see Where and how to collect pallets if you have had trouble locating them), then the next stage is to dismantle them so as to obtain the maximum amount of quality wood for carpentry. In the following article I will be looking at how to do this in different ways depending on the type of pallet and the fixings used to put it together.

How to take pallets apart for maximum useable wood


The following is a list of tools I use to dismantle pallets.

Claw hammer
Lump hammer
Flat-bladed screwdriver
Bolster chisel
Wrecking bar/ pry bar
Crowbar  130cm
Crowbar    90cm
Lengths of  timber approx 50mm x 75mm
Nail punch

selecting pallets to use in carpentry
Note: I tend to carry the wrecking bar and the 90cm crowbar in the back of the car when I’m out looking for pallets because I frequently find pallets with vertical backs attached, used for the transporting of glass, bathroom and general furniture and these obviously need to be removed from the pallet so as to fit in or on the car.

Safety wear :
Work gloves
Safety boots
Safety glasses


Block Pallet aka Four Way Entry Pallet


parts of a block pallet

The first thing to do with your pallet when you’ve got it out of the car is look underneath it and see if the nails attaching the planks are visible - if they aren’t, great!

block pallet
This means that the planks (top deckboards/slats) are attached with short nails and should prise off quite easily. If you can see nails they will invariably be hammered flat to the underside of the stringer board. This means you’ll have to straighten the nail before prying the slat off - this will require a little more effort but if the wood looks good quality, it’s worth the effort.

How to take a pallet apart

For the former (straight nail) pallet you need to turn the pallet right way up and put the flattened tip of your prybar under the edge of the slat as near to the nails as possible, if  you have the longer crowbar then use it as a fulcrum by laying it on the pallet behind the prybar otherwise use a piece of timber. If you don’t use an introduced fulcrum then as you prise the slat off, your crowbar will be resting on the adjacent slat and may dent it or at worst, break it.

strategies for taking a pallet apart

I will not try to prise the outermost  and centre slats using this method as these are nailed into the blocks and are much more likely to break. For these it is better to lay the pallet on its edge and use the bolster chisel between the block and the stringer board. 

tips on taking palllets apart

When the chisel is hit with the lump hammer, you may feel the nails ‘give’ and the end of the wrecking bar may be inserted in the gap produced to prise the block away.  This will only happen on your ‘butter-side-up’ days and if you are fortunate to have this happen you will end up with the nails sticking up dead straight. 
how to take pallets apart for carpentry

You should then be able to knock these nails back through the slats so as to be able to use the claw hammer or the wrecking bar to grip the nail heads and pull them out.

stratefges for taking a pallet apart

If you are unsuccessful with the above method, then you will need to use a hacksaw to saw through the nails. Keep the saw blade against the face of the block so as to leave the rest of the nail protruding above the stringer board face. 

 How to take a pallet apart for maximum useable wood

Thus, when all the blocks are removed, the nails can be hammered on their sawn faces through the wood to raise the heads above the slat surface for the claw hammer. If the nails are not proud enough to be hammered through, then they can be driven through using a nail punch against the sawn face.

tips for taking a palllet apart

A more brutal method I have sometimes found effective is, with the pallet on its edge on firm ground, strike the lower edge of the block with the lump hammer, this will often move the block away from stringer board face, I have found this to be particularly effective when confronted with blocks made from composite (they look like chipboard). These composite blocks go to the tip/dump and should not be used in any project (or fire for that matter) as they are bonded with toxic adhesives.

strategies for taking a pallet apart for maximum carpentry wood

Finally, the protruding nails on all of the planks need to be removed using the claw hammer.

screwdriver an awl - tips on taking a pallet apart

With the pallets having the bent over nails holding the top deckboards in place, you need to straighten the nails using the awl and the screwdriver. 

 lifting nail point to take a pallet apart 
Push the point of the awl beneath nail and using the screwdriver as a fulcrum, you can lift the free end of the nail away from the wood. 

straightening nails to take a pallet apart

How to take a pallet apart for maximum carpentry wood 

Straighten it further with pliers or tap it vertically with a hammer. The nail can then be driven out from the underside until the head is clear enough for the claw hammer or pry bar to finish the job.

Because the stringer boards are so heavily nailed and of shorter length, I very rarely consider keeping them and that is why they are the surface against which I use the bolster chisel and the hacksaw..

Now, the only things left nailed together are the blocks to the bottom deckboard. Often these bottom deckboards are in poor condition as they are the workface when the pallet is moved around and hence are often split and dirty and not suitable for most projects.

  how to prise a pallet plank from a block 

I have found that the block can be moved enough to provide a gap for the pry bar by the simple expedient of striking it on the side with the lump hammer. Alternatively, if you have a workbench with a vice on it, you can clamp the block within its jaws and using the deckboard as the lever, lift it off the block. I find this technique particularly useful when collecting the nail-free blocks I use in the insect houses.



DIY insect hotel as a utility box cover

 You can find this project 'An Insect Hotel as a Utility Box Cover' here


Stringer Pallet aka Two Way Entry Pallet

Stringer pallet parts - taking a pallet apart

The stringer pallet is often much easier to dismantle as the top deckboards are nailed into the stringers normally with shorter nails than those into the blocks of the block pallet. 

How to take a pallet apart - Stringer pallet

Removing the top deckboards is the same as previously described except, sometimes, I have found that no matter how careful you are, the nail heads pull through the deckboard and remain in the stringer. 

How to take a pallet apart - difficult nails

how to dismantle a pallet - nailsstragegies for nails - dismantling a palletHow to dismantle a pallet for carpentry wood - nail removal
Tips taking a pallet apart

Remove the nails from the stringer using the pry bar. For some reason I frequently find the nail heads shear off when trying to remove them. If this happens and you still want to use the wood, then clamp each protruding shank of  nail in the jaws of the vice and use the stringer as the lever to pull the nail free. All but the most stubborn nails will succumb to this.

How to take a pallet apart - Stringer

That is all there is to it! You end up with loads of useful wood at a fraction of the cost. I will just repeat what I said in my previous post on choosing pallets, for your own benefit you should only use non-chemically treated pallets.

ippc logo wooden pallet

One note of caution: I have needed to smooth the surfaces of the planks for certain projects and I have sometimes found tiny pieces of wire around the nail holes which can foul the plane or tear the belt in a sander. These pieces are from the pallet manufacturing process where the nails in the nail guns are held together with a wire which comes adrift in the nailing process. So, it is always worthwhile to visually check the wood and then go slowly at first with your tools until you’ve established there is no such contamination in your wood.

how to dismantle pallets to obtain free carpentry wood

Now if you'd like to, sit back and watch the film: 

Thanks for dropping by and please feel free to share this article, comment, ask questions and if you'd like to be assured of getting the next post, then sign up to follow this blog.

All the best, Andy

© Andy Colley 2014


  1. Good article,over the years I've become quite good at taking pallets apart,I built our chicken coop out of pallets,and the greenhouse,they are great source of usable wood,it's shame a lot of places just skip them or burn them,very handy if you have an allotment as well.

    1. You're so right.
      By a strange coincidence I've also built our hen houses and greenhouses from pallet wood.
      It is amazing that otherwise this resource would just be wasted and it's perfect for these types of projects.
      On this site, all my projects are done using recuperated materials.
      For the last three years we've been using a dry toilet system made from pallet wood, you can find it in the blog, really useful if you're working in the garden, plus it has cut our water consumption dramatically.

      Thanks for your kind comment.
      Best Wishes from Normandie, Andy.

  2. That’s a very helpful post. Thank you for sharing that, and allotting your time to write every step and safety reminders concerning pallet making. Pallets can be used anywhere in the house, and because of the information you have provided, everyone can do it their own way. I’m excited to read more articles from you. Keep doing well! More power to you!

    Helene Raymond @ Trade Squad

  3. Hi there, I'm running a little project focused on air quality in London and our volunteers are currently creating a booklet on how to make your own vertical garden (green wall), we;ve been looking for a good image of a hammer pulling nails and yours is perfect. Would you mind if we used it for the digital (maybe printed) publication? Naturally, the photo will be credited to you & the blog. Please let me know if you'd like more informaion: thank you!

    1. Hi Sandra,
      There's no problem with you using the image. Sounds like a great project your involved in. As you may have seen from my posts and Youtube films I'm a keen advocate of repurposing stuff, especially pallets but I've not yet tried a green wall.

      If it would help I could send you the original jpeg image - just let me know.

      Best wishes from Normandie and wishing you every success with your project, Andy.

  4. Hi Andy, thanks for getting back to me, yes a high res image would be great! My email: