So you have a board removed from a pallet that, once removed, shows significant warping. Or perhaps you bought some lumber and you didn't notice an imperfection.

This is visible along the width of the board (curved) and the length of the board (bowed). Is it possible to try and straighten that board? This wood is already sub par to begin with since it was on a pallet in the first place.

The curve imperfection is usually lost when the board is assembled again to a project.

Perhaps this board is a lost cause and not worth the effort. Is it possible to try and fix a board with only one of those characteristics? Particularly the bowing as that is the harder one to hide depending on the span between screws and nature of the project.

  • This is a good question which applies not only to reclaimed pallet wood, but to any lumber. – rob Mar 23 '15 at 23:44

Your pallet board may not be worth the effort, but there are several techniques that you can try to salvage any warped board. The optimal solution will vary depending on how you intend to use the board.

Wikipedia has a nice primer on specific types of defects in wood which fall under the blanket term of warping:

common types of wood warping

  • bow : a warp along the length of the face of the wood
  • crook: (also called wain) a warp along the length of the edge of the wood
  • kink: a localized crook, often due to a knot
  • cup: a warp across the width of the face, in which the edges are higher or lower than the center of the wood
  • twist: a distortion in which the two ends do not lie on the same plane

Your strategy for dealing with a warp will vary depending on the specific type and severity of the defect. For less severe defects, you may be able to simply make the lumber square, flat, and straight.

In the best-case scenario, you joint one face and edge on the jointer, then rip the other edge parallel on the table saw and flatten the other face parallel with the first on the planer.

However, at each step along the way, you necessarily sacrifice some of the wood's thickness and/or width.

A board could be so badly bowed or twisted that there wouldn't be anything left if you tried to joint it straight. But if the components of your project require shorter boards anyway, you can crosscut a bowed or twisted board into shorter pieces, each of which may be flat enough that it does not require much jointing and planing to make it flat and straight.

Another option with a bowed board is to either resaw it or cut it into shorter sections (depending on whether length or thickness is more important, respectively), laminate the pieces (glue them together, one on top another), then joint and plane them. Just be aware of any internal stresses that you may be adding to the finished board, and try to avoid a glue-up that requires massive amounts of clamping force to close up gaps between the boards.

If you have a board with a crook or kink, you may be able to rip one edge straight, then trim and glue the offcuts onto the opposite side.

If your board is cupped, you have multiple options depending on whether it's more important to preserve the thickness or width of the board.

  • If the cup is fairly shallow, you can joint and plane it.
  • If the cup is severe and simply jointing one face and planing the other parallel would make the board too thin, you can rip it into strips first. Each strip will have a less severe cup then the original board, so you can joint and plane the faces of each strip individually, then joint the edges and glue the strips back together into a panel.

If you have some combination of defects, you may have to employ several strategies to get workable pieces of stock out of a warped board. Whichever strategies you use, make sure you are practicing safe techniques. Also beware of any internal stresses that may be released as you cut a warped board, as they can result in binding, fragmentation, and/or kickback depending on the tool.

Again, some defects are easier to remedy than others, and even once you've remedied the problem it may return depending on the properties of the board. It's good to be familiar with the differences between quartersawn, plainsawn, and riftsawn boards and each type of cut's inherent movement properties.

  • I was trying to fish for an answer like this for people looked for warped boards. Bravo sir. – Matt Mar 23 '15 at 22:26

If you do not need the exact thickness of the board you could just run it thorough a planer and or jointer to flatten it out.

But if the board thickness is exactly what you need then I have seen a jig, it was a few years ago, that used steam and weights to straighten boards out, but this seems like a bit of overkill to me to create such a large jig (particularly for garbage pallett wood). I know of no other simple tool that would straighten the board for you. Why not just toss it in the scrap bin for other smaller uses / projects and move on to another board you pull without so many imperfections instead?

If someone does know of another way I would love to hear about it too.

  • Agreed. Plane if possible, and i remember dad would steam boards of expensive woods when they were warped. I wouldn't recommend just forcing it on ... it would put extra stress on already (probably) weak wood. – Daniel B. Mar 22 '15 at 1:14
  • @DanielBall I figured there was a steaming answer but I didn't know if it had a practical application ecspecially since the wood in question sucks – Matt Mar 22 '15 at 1:58
  • I don't think it's worth it to spend extra time on scrap wood. It's there for the rustic feel, so it either fits or you find another pallet :) It's an effort vs. reward thing, and it's probably just easier to find a better suited pallet. – Daniel B. Mar 22 '15 at 6:18
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    I'm not sure a planer would work. A jointer would be best. See woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/258/… – dfife Mar 22 '15 at 14:07
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    Safety tip: don't use a thickness planer to plane edges if your boards are significantly wider than they are thick, unless you're ganging several up and running them through the planer together. Joint 1 face, joint 1 edge, then rip the other edge parallel to the first on the table saw and plane the other face for a consistent thickness. – rob Mar 23 '15 at 21:37

I had a bed rail twist on me once. I tried to wet it and then dry it while it was held flat. It didn't work. What did work was kind of embarrassing. I slipped one end into the hardware on the headboard, rotated the footboard until it would slip into the hardware on the other end, then rotated the footboard back into the normal position. That is, I used brute force to untwist the board. It's been fine for years now.

  • Nothing embarrassing about it. It's just like in the XML joke that you might know already: XML is like violence. If it doesn't solve your problems then you're just not using enough. – Andrei Rînea Mar 23 '18 at 23:44

Desperate times call for desperate moves. I am facing such a situation with two very unique boards I want to use for a table top, but they are hopelessly bowed. A Google search turned up a desperate solution:


I will probably attempt this in, perhaps, a more refined approach - wedges that match the wood and fill the cuts.

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    Welcome to WSE. Since external links can be lost over time, it would be helpful if you gave a description of what he does in the video. And by all means tell us how your attempt worked out in a comment or edit to your answer. – Ashlar Feb 22 '17 at 16:10
  • The "technique" is maybe worth re-writing the answer. I had to resort to this a couple of weeks ago for a bench top that warped up badly in the time between when it was glued up and when I was ready to use it. Drastic, but it worked well. – Greg Nickoloff Apr 8 at 15:46

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