I like to work with wood. My grandfather was an architect and carpenter, my dad always worked with his hands and built things for me. Growing up, I had my dad’s tools at my disposal. Then I had tools at school (which, as an adult now, I wish I’d utilized more fully when I had access to them!). And now I have tools of my own. Not as complete a set as I’d like, but enough to do some fun things. This project had a good finish but a few lessons learned. Hopefully this will help you if you want to go down this path too.
I used to work in an industrial office park, and one of the other businesses had a bunch of old pallets sitting outside of their door collecting snow. I contacted them and they said I could take as many as I wanted. For free. Nice!
Once I realized they didn’t fit in my trunk or backseat without what would probably be some severe damage to my car or my body, I came back with a sawz-all and cut them in half. Then, I brought them home and they sat on our back deck for months. Thank you, Husband, for your patience.
Somewhere along the way, I became interested in making a coffee table out of these pallets because I had seen one online and it looked beautiful.
That became my mission with these pallets. We also had two full pallets leftover from large deliveries of tile, and those were in the “to-use” pile as well. Though, due to my “it’ll get done at some point” mentality, I must thank my husband for forcing me to work on this project until completion because now it’s a beautiful piece in the middle of our living room.
This materials list below is (mostly) specific to the type and finish of table we made. I’ve seen many where they didn’t sand, fill, or finish the wood, and if that’s how you want to do it, you won’t need many of these things. Take this list as a starting point and do some research to figure out what’s best for you.
- Pallets – lots of them.
- It helps before you start to figure out the size of the table you’re making and therefore how many planks you’ll need. I didn’t do that. I flew by the seat of my pants. Make your life easier and do a little planning.
- Make sure the planks you’re planning on using are the same thickness – this was a problem with the boards we used. It required a lot more effort to make the table top flat when the boards were 1/8″ higher than some of the others.
- Do your best to get pallets without broken pieces. Those are a waste of time.
- If you’re not planning on sanding them down, beware of the look of the wood you’re getting. Newer ones will have more of a uniform color. Older ones will have dirt and markings which you may or may not want. Make sure whatever wood you get doesn’t look like it’s infested with bugs.
- Wood/Materials to make a base and finish the edges
- We used four 1″x4″s around the edges.
- We made a base out of scrap plywood and 2″x4″s.
- Tool to Take the Pallets Apart
- I initially tried to get the planks separated from the pallets by using a crowbar and a hammer. This resulted in my being incredibly unhappy because it did not work as I’d hoped. I moved to a sawz-all (reciprocating saw) and it cut straight through the nails which made my life easier. I left the nail heads in the wood (you can pop them out if you don’t want them) they gave the wood some neat detail where the nail heads remained.
- Saw – Chop, Table, or Hand
- We have a relatively inexpensive chop saw from Harbor Freight Tools that was very helpful in cutting the boards at an angle once they were off the pallet. If you don’t have a chop saw or table saw, you can use a hand saw, though it will take a bit longer and may not be as precise.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of precision wood working with your chop saw, I suggest getting a better model. Ours isn’t 100% precise on the angles but it does the trick.
- Nail Gun/Hammer + Nails
- We have a pneumatic (air pressured) nail gun and it attaches the planks to the base quite easily with little visibility of the nails. If you don’t have one of these, a claw hammer and finishing nails should work just fine.
- If you want the nail heads to show to give it a bit more “industrial” look, you may want to use a drywall nail or a roofing nail (depending on how thick your boards are). These have more of a head on them and will be more visible in your finished product.
- We used painter’s tape to hold the boards in place as we nailed them. If you want an extra layer of security, or don’t want to use nails you could use adhesive on the back between the plank and the base.
- Belt Sander
- This is my new favorite tool. And I’ve used a lot of different tools.
- This is something you won’t need if you’re not planning on sanding the planks.
- This is something I definitely needed due to the difference in height on the boards. It was so much faster than a palm sander or a planer. I tried both. They were frustrating.
- Wood Filler and Putty Knife
- Stain/Varnish/Finishing Material
- My initial thought was resin because I knew the top wouldn’t be 100% level. Once I realized I didn’t want a glossy surface, I went with a Minwax stain/polyurethane combination. I normally like to do things the hard way, so I was going to get the stain and poly in separate containers. My husband showed me how much cheaper it was to do it this way, so I gave in.
- If you go this route, you’ll also need steel wool pads in varying degrees of roughness. I used Homax brand (though I don’t know if this is better/worse than anything else) “0000” very fine grade steel wool.
- Disposable Rubber Gloves for working with the stain
- Heavy Duty Work Gloves for working with the sander (I used my gardening gloves… they worked just fine, but I’d rather use something like this)
- Stain brush/Foam brush to apply the stain
- Respirator to save you from dust and fumes
- Eye Protection – the ones that look like sunglasses are fine, but I prefer these
1. Figure out how large you want the table to be. (I guessed. It luckily worked out. Don’t do it that way.)
2. Create a base for your table – not including legs yet – though be aware of where you want to add your legs. We created the base by cutting a piece of plywood to size and reinforcing it around the edges and through the middle with 2″x4″s.
3. Draw a line wherever you want the boards to meet. We did one line down the middle to give us a guide line to create a chevron pattern.
4. Remove the planks from the pallets. This is easiest to do with a sawz-all. A crowbar and hammer did nothing to help.
5. Before you cut anything, lay the planks on the base to get a feel of where you want them to go and to make sure you have enough pieces. Once I knew which boards I wanted on which side, I cut the angled edge to make it easier to lay out.
You’ll see in this photo some of the pieces I was laying out were too short, so I had to cut more planks from remaining pallets.
6. Once you are set on your placement, start at one end and alternate between cutting and nailing. We cut one and nailed it in, and moved on to the next board, also alternating between left and right sides. This helped keep the center line in tact.
In the photo above, you can see the beauty in the variations in the dirty, old wood. If you want to keep it looking like this, don’t sand it very much or at all. Most of this is dirt that sanded away quite quickly.
7. Once the planks are nailed down, add the side rails.
In the photo above, you can see the gaps in the wood. Some people are ok with this. I thought I was until I saw it put together, and decided to go for a smooth finish.
8. At this point, if you’re going to continue to work on the wood, break out the sander, your work gloves, your respirator, and your eye protection. If you’re not going to sand it, and you’re not going to further treat your wood, skip to step 16.
9. Before using the wood filler, use the belt sander briefly to take off the flyaway pieces and the top layer of grime. If you have access to an industrial planer, use it. The girl who wrote the post that inspired me to do this had access to one which made the table top absolutely level. If not, try your darndest to make it as flat as possible. I was constantly running my hands over it to see where the uneven spots were.
This photo is after a first sanding but prior to puttying. See the shiny nail heads coming through?
10. Once you’ve given the table top a good sanding, break out your gloves (either pair is fine in this case), putty, and putty knife and go to town. You may want to put on your respirator as well depending on how much the putty smells.
11. Let the putty dry, then do a thorough sanding with the belt sander. Start with a larger grit (80-100) and work your way down to a finer grit (200-220+).
12. If you need to go over some spots again with putty, do so. Keep puttying and sanding until you’re happy with it.
The picture above shows the table after puttying and sanding, prior to stain. Notice how there are no gaps.
13. Break out the rubber gloves, glasses, respirator, stain, and brush. Enjoy watching your untreated wood turn into a different color right before your eyes.
I used a natural stain to help fit this piece in with the rest of the wood in the house.
14. Once that layer dries, use the steel wool all over.
15. Stain. Wool. Stain. Wool.
16. Now for the legs. We used pre-made hairpin legs from TableLegs.com which were perfect and gave us the mid-century modern look I love. It also helped reduce some of the bulk that this table can have if you use wooden legs. You can use whatever materials you like to give it the look that’s right for you.
NOTE: If you use raw steel legs, you’ll need to either wax or coat them with clear spray paint, or they will rust.
Cracking: In this dry environment, the air sucked all of the moisture out of the putty and stain and caused some hairline cracks in the puttied areas. I haven’t gone back to fix this yet, but when I do, I plan to re-sand, re-putty, and re-stain using a product that moves with the wood.
Stress On Corners: Once we attached the hairpin legs, the screws put some stress onto the corners and pulled one of them apart. When I go back to fix the cracking throughout the rest of the table, I’ll do the same on this corner.
Ugly Underside: We didn’t take into account how the underside of the table looks, and not like anyone’s looking at it, but if they do, it’s not pretty. If you want more of a professional finished table, take into account what you’re doing when you make the base.
Pallet Wood Can Be Beautiful!: I was surprised after sanding how beautiful the grain in some of the pieces were. You’d never know it from the first photo to the last.
Enjoy – I hope your table is a success!