I keep seeing projects being build from pallets and pallet wood. Can I just take any pallet or are there safety concerns?
What do I need to know about pallets in order to use them?
These can usually be easy to come by. Plenty of businesses view them as scrap and are glad for you taking them away. Pallets are a favorite among up-cyclers as a (usually) free source of material and its unique look and feel. That being said there are several points to consider when collecting pallet wood.
There are some basic things when looking at a pallet that will let you know if it is even worth considering bringing it home.
Something you might locate, while eyeing a pallet for take home, is the stamp. Sample below from Wikipedia.
If a stamp is not present it does not mean you should not use it. Having one makes the decision much easier as to whether or not you should take it.
Stamps, similar to the one above, would exist on international pallets and are subject to certain standards. These standards are adhered to by many but not all countries. For the stamp do be official it must bear the IPPC logo. The stamp contains other components but the main focus is the letter code that identifies the wood treatment.
HT and KD both involve a heating process to control pest and fungi. MB is the stamp you want to avoid as it means it was chemically treated. In many cases it is considered a health risk and should never be used.
It is common place for pallets that have not left the country. These can still be used but more caution is required. Great for most projects but you should still consider possible risks if the project would be in contact with children or food. The points mentioned under Simple Inspection would be pertinent here once again.
Image from shipleytransport
You, no doubt, will run into orange and blue pallets. These are used as rental pallets and were designed for long life. As such it is likely that they have come into contact with chemicals. Another point is that these pallets usually have a deposit or reimbursement fee associated to them. Companies have a vested interest in these pallets in order to get that deposit back.
The lonely pallet
No doubt you will find a pallet all by it's lonesome beside a dumpster and it passes all tests and you want to take it home. You could probably just take the thing but don't assume that because of where it is that it is garbage. If you can ask someone its would be a courtesy. For all you know that is where someone else agreed to pick it up.
Don’t be discouraged but informed and aware when looking for pallets. There are lots of pallets out there so it should't be hard to find useful materials. Plenty of uses for pallets from building birdhouses to wine racks to a clubhouse to a real house. Happy hunting for that source of wood. A more comprehensive write up on this topic, as well as project ideas, can be found at 1001Pallets