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What is the easiest and best way to remove nails from old pallets so as to not damage the wood?

I was thinking along the lines of using a hammer to drive a flat head screw driver in there and prying them away. Any one with a more professional suggestion?

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If there is one thing I'm proficient at its pallet teardown. You have lots of options. It does all depend on the style of pallet you are working with and it some cases its wood composition (hard, soft, pine, oak.....).

Pallet Styles http://www.albionpallets.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Pallet-Types.png

For argument sake lets say you are not using the close boarded types.

Just a hammer

Some pallets rely on gravity to hold them together. Putting the pallet up on its side and hitting boards from the bottom can also work. This is truer for staple assembled boards but it can work. Also helps if there is a block of wood to absorb the direct impact and distribute the force more evenly.

Pallet Wrecking Bar.

In some of the more open pallet styles a great way to save as much wood as possible is to use a pallet wrecker tool. You can make your own and there are several now that are commercially available. They all work on the same principal. I had a welder make one for me with some spare angle and square iron I had lying around.

Pallet breaker tool

In your searched you can find plenty of variations of this tool. This works great at putting even pressure as close to the nails as possible to pry the board away from the pallet. Super Important make sure if you use something like this that you pry the board from the outside then the middle else you risk a board flying towards your face (seriously. I have smacked my face a couple of times thinking it wouldn't happen). Also, its hard to describe but you need to be sure you place your body on top of the pallet to counter the force you will be putting on it while you use a bar. You want the pallet, minus the board you are removing, to be immobile as much as possible.

Using Weighted Blocks

Before I made my own tool I used the technique from this video. It involves raising the pallet off the ground and resting a block of sorts under the board you are trying to remove. Then, dropping a large heavy object beside that board to push the pallet down thereby raising the board that was propped. Note: Your need to be very careful with your back doing this as there is a lot of heavy lifting. LIFT WITH YOUR KNEES!

Referencing the picture below you can see the brick underneath the board to be removed. The large block of concrete will be dropped on the smaller brick on top of the pallet (beside the board to be removed). That brick prevents the concrete block from damaging the pallet.

Man with block

Tools to have on hand regardless

Mostly because you will have nails left over somewhere

  1. Long pry bar: Removing nails from runners and stringers is much easier if you have more leverage. I use a 5 foot pry bar and they pop right out.
  2. Vicegrips: For when you have stubborn nails or if you pop the heads off when trying to remove them
  3. Crescent Impact Nail Puller: Another approach for stubborn nails. Very likely with hardwood pallets.
  4. Saw Horses: Might seem obvious but if you manage to get boards of clean nails can come with them. Using a hammer and some sawhorses is nicer to your back.

Cop out.

Depending on the quality of the boards and how "nail happy" the assembler was lots of people just use a circular saw for the outside (close to the runner or stringer) to get the boards out. Still have to address the nails in the middle using one of the above methods. Your yield will be shorter boards but your risk for splits and cracks goes to null.

This video boasts easy pallet disassembly by just using a reciprocating saw to cuts the nails out entirely. This would leave nails in the stringers and boards so you need be careful of the next tools you use with that wood.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=211rNoWrZ-Y

  • HAHAHA simply awesome! I see that I already have all the necessary equipment lying around in my backyard... (breezeblock, bricks etc.) – McGafter Mar 25 '15 at 13:48
  • @McGafter I used paver stones and a cinder block :) – Matt Mar 25 '15 at 15:19
  • ... Why didn't I think of recip saw? The major disadvantage would be removing the now-headless nails from the inner/bottom boards. A slam nail puller such as the Crescent 56 might be the best way to deal with extracting those... Or just chop out the nailed sections, as before. – keshlam Apr 4 '16 at 1:32
  • Typo: "composite" was intended to be "composition", I think. – keshlam Apr 4 '16 at 11:57
  • @keshlam Not sure, I thought it made sense. You think that makes more sense for me to change it to composition. They both speak about materials... – Matt Apr 4 '16 at 12:00
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Clawfoot hammer works just fine. Failing that a pair of pincers, pinch the nail as close to the wood as possible and then move front and back around the contact surface of the claws.

The big problem is getting a grip on the nail heads especially when they are in deep.

You can pry the boards apart by inserting a lever between them and wiggling. This way you can separate the boards entirely and hammer the nails out from the other side.

  • Your last point is a good one but can be a folly attempt with multiple nails. – Matt Mar 25 '15 at 15:18
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Here is a good video showing how to get nails out that have pulled through the slats and are stuck in the inner runners (which is a common problem). He suggests gripping the hammer in a vise and using the superior leverage of the long piece of wood itself to pull the nails. He also suggests hitting the nail head once with the hammer before pulling to break the adhesive that is often found on these nails.

Izzy Swan's video on removing pallet nails

This is one of many videos by Izzy Swan. Here is a list of his videos just on the subject of pallet wood. He has many more on a variety of woodworking projects.

Izzy Swan's pallet projects

  • His YouTube channel has plenty of useful tips and tricks when it comes pallets and wood working in general. I watched a few and was impressed. – Matt Mar 26 '15 at 1:25
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After asking a similar question and doing some research I have found a novel alternative. Use a sawz-all, or reciprocating saw, to just cut all the nails free, then remove the tops with a punch and hammer.

Searching for "DiResta: Pallet Toolbox" will result in the following youtube video demonstrating this technique. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deYFCJTDKtk

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