I am cleaning up pallet wood to be used for miscellaneous projects. Right now I prepare the wood with minor variations on this process. The wood I get varies depending on what pallets I end up with. More often they are softer woods.

  1. Wash if required.
  2. Use a rasp to remove porous/weaker wood from the plank.
  3. Use a low grit sandpaper with a belt sander
  4. Use a medium grit by hand
  5. Use a high grit by hand.

It seems that no matter how much I sand and clean the wood that it contains a lot of burrs (If I can call them that). Eventually I will stain and varnish these projects and that will be all for naught if little bits of wood are always stuck everywhere.

I am not sanding enough or not using a proper technique. Since I am using pallet wood it is already not the best cuts of wood to begin with so is my issue my wood choice?

  • Since this bobbed back up with a new Answer, have you managed to work this out or are you still getting the problem to some degree?
    – Graphus
    Mar 7, 2016 at 20:27
  • @Graphus I suppose to some degree. I keep feeling wooden furniture and it has a smooth feel to it. That is mostly the finish but some of the things I have finished are still not as smooth (before the finish) as I would have wanted. I recently got a set of scrapers that might work for me that I got long after I posted this. I feel that might be the most help here. If you have something to add I would be welcome to the advice.
    – Matt
    Mar 7, 2016 at 20:50
  • I don't really have anything to add that would really function as a good Answer, but I did want to assure you that you should be able to get a completely smooth surface, on rough-sawn and/or weathered boards there's normally pristine wood under the rough surface. I would do the bulk of the smoothing by planing, but you can definitely get there by sanding only — many people use wide-belt sanders for exactly this purpose. A pass or two under 80 grit, then one @ 120 or 150 and a final pass @ 180 or 220 and the wood should be perfectly smooth, nearly ready for finish application..
    – Graphus
    Mar 8, 2016 at 16:36
  • @Graphus Thanks for that. I made this question before I had access to a planer, which I adore now, but I still sand my smaller boards as they are not fit for planer so sanding (and soon scrapping) as still a part of my life. .
    – Matt
    Mar 8, 2016 at 16:48
  • Wish I had a planer too! It's one of the few compromises to a handtool-only approach that a lot of guys think is completely justified, since dimensioning stock completely by hand is slow and demanding work. "I still sand my smaller boards as they are not fit for planer" in case it's of help I'll post a link to my Answer to What is the minimum length I can thickness plane? from the early days.
    – Graphus
    Mar 8, 2016 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


I have worked with old fences and have achieved a "new" wood look by planing. The problem is that, after planing, you only have a small amount of wood to work with. You might run into the same problem. But...just pass it through a planer and it will look quite new.

Be careful running pallet wood, or any reclaimed wood for that matter, through a planer. If you miss removing just one of the nails, you may end up needing a new set of knives! I've got an inexpensive metal detector/stud finder that I use for this purpose.

  • 2
    Be careful running pallet wood through a planer. If you miss removing just one of the nails, you may end up needing a new set of knives! I've got an inexpensive metal detector/stud finder that I use for this purpose.
    – Doresoom
    Mar 18, 2015 at 16:01
  • I have had the same problem!
    – dfife
    Mar 18, 2015 at 17:34
  • Hand-planing might be safer. Also, hand or machine, direction of grain affects how clean a surface you'll get.
    – keshlam
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:22

If you can, check the moisture content of your material. I usually find that problem when the wood has a very high moisture content, say 15-20% and higher. A simple test is also feeling how cold the wood feels. Wet wood feels colder than dry wood.

  • The suggestion here would be that I should sand it after it has dried?
    – Matt
    Mar 19, 2015 at 15:43
  • 1
    Yes, that should be the case. I have had that experience before. Sometimes the grain gets raised so bad on wood once a finish is applied, that a careful sanding is needed after the first clear coat. The clear coat hardens the wood so to speak, so it can be sanded smooth. This may be the case for you if you get it smooth while raw and the grain "pops" again when a finish or stain goes over it..
    – Jack
    Mar 19, 2015 at 16:33

I've finished reclaimed wood by sanding as you describe, and then buffing.

So, specifically:

  1. Use a belt sander with 80 grit followed by 120 grit
  2. Random orbit sander 120 grit followed by 220 grit
  3. Buffing wheel (in a hand drill) with Tripoli based buffing compound (tallow lubricated)

This results in smooth wood that still has some of the worn, reclaimed, shape.

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