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?

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    You should above all look for "CN", "TW", "KR" and "KP" on the stamp and avoid them like the pest, since these palettes are the main carriers of anoplophora glabripennis and anoplophora chinensis (which are a pest). If you accidentially bring one of these home or into your worshop, you're screwed. If that happens, the best thing you can do is move somewhere else... :-)
    – Damon
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 18:46
  • @Damon Those would be country codes correct? (KP = North Korea?) Do you know if those countries following IPPC standards? If they don't my answer still applies. This would serve as a good warning regardless.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 18:49
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    Yep. Although they should, I wouldn't rely that they follow any standards very closely, even if they have a stamp which says so. Worded different, I wouldn't trust someone who counterfeits designer shoes or an expensive watch in not putting a label making a false claim (such as heat treated) on a palette. And indeed, if they were properly heat-treating palettes, you wouldn't find longhorn beetles as blind passengers (which you do, however). So, for me personally, anything that has a 2-letter code from one of the "biggest offenders" is no go.
    – Damon
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 19:44
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    China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea are pretty much "well known" for prevalence (but the Japanese are most finicky, so although the beetles do occur, I would trust Japanese palettes to be bug-free). Indeed this official source (in German, sorry) does not name Japan at all, although this one does. It also names Myanmar and Vietnam, but you're unlikely to get a palette from there. Also, interestingly: "USA (Hawaii)".
    – Damon
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 18:23
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    Another source which I can't find now, too, named Vietnam in addition to China and Korea, China being notable insofar as false Chinese health certificates on plants (demonstrably false, since they contained anoplophora spp) and false stamps on palettes were found on large scale (around 5,000 cases) in the Netherlands and in Germany in 2009.
    – Damon
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 18:26

1 Answer 1


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.

Simple Inspection

There are some basic things when looking at a pallet that will let you know if it is even worth considering bringing it home.

  • Overall condition: In most cases you would only want a pallet where most of the boards are in good general condition. Visual inspection will reveal most of the common issues like splits, cracks, deep gouges.
  • Assembly: This mostly depends on your project and tenacity. Looking for how the pallet is assembled as far as number of nails and/or staples as well as their placement should play a factor. If you are trying to conserve as much of the board as possible then too many nails risks the yield you might get from that pallets disassembly
  • Stains/Smells: Assuming you are not lucky enough to know where you pallet came from, smelling the pallet and looking for stains might give you insight as to what it was carrying. You want to avoid oils and stains as they might be chemical residues


Something you might locate, while eyeing a pallet for take home, is the stamp. Sample below from Wikipedia.

Pallet Stamp

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: Heat Treated
  • KD: Kiln Dried
  • DB: Debarked
  • MB: Methyl Bromide Fumigation

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.

Stamp-less pallets

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.

Colored/Painted Pallets

Blue CHEP Pallet

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

  • 1
    I just learned a lot about pallets.
    – bowlturner
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 13:27
  • @bowlturner I love them plus I'm cheap so it works out well.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 13:28
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    Overseas pallets occasionally are made of woods considered rare or hard to find (but not valuable, mind you). So if you are a collector of wood samples of different species, pallets are worth a peek. Mind the nails!
    – ewm
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 13:46
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    @ewm In that same regard if you are looking for those a good place to check is automotive shops where parts typically come from overseas
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 13:59
  • Silly question, but if you see an unpainted pallet sitting on the ground outside or leaning against the back of a building next to the dumpster in an alley, do you just grab it or do you ask first?
    – rob
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 16:37

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