Thursday, July 26, 2012

As Seen on Pinterest: Wooden Pallet Chest

Okay, peeps. This project, well, was not even a project. It was a mountain and I was the girl at the bottom without oxygen. It was a tsunami to a girl with an inflatable paddle boat. It was David and...yeah, yeah, you get the idea. Thing is, it didn't start out that way. Which is how most projects begin.

I've seen TONS of "wooden pallet upcycle" jobs on Pinterest and thought, 'yeah, that would be fun. Do-able.' Well, in the words of one smart lady I know, PUH-SHAW!

Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but don't let some of those four-step tutorials fool you. Anything involving wood pallets is not going to be 1. a one-day project, and 2. easy and relaxing.  Especially when you add making your own custom cardboard boxes to the mix. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before I go any further, I must must must give credit where credit is due. HERE is the original inspiration for this wooden pallet chest. This is a great website with more fun inspiration than I could ever try in a lifetime. So please check out her work if you have a chance.

Aaaand here we goooo....

This whole thing started with some uber cheap pallets. Found them on Craigslist for $2 apiece. But I needed seven of them, which brought me to problemo numero uno: getting them home.  Thanks, though, to my most recent guest blogger, Jennifer, and her beast of a truck, we got them here. Then, they were heavy. Like, really heavy. Between my helper boy Jace (my five-yr-old), me, and his huge metal Tonka truck acting as a dolly, they were finally neatly stacked on my back porch.

Uhh....Now what.

Next, figuring out how to cut them. I thought about borrowing a saw. Then a friend offered up her husband's services. Wait, that's not right. She offered to have him cut them, but after the Tonka-hauler hoopla, I couldn't stand the thought of moving them in 100+ heat again. So finally I broke down and bought an orbital sander and a circular saw for about a hundred bucks. I figure it won't be my last project that requires power tools so I'll consider them an investment. to cut them. Enter hubby. Before I could cut the pallets I had to pry the boards off the backside, or what would become the inside, of the pallet. This was not easy. In fact if hubs hadn't been there, well, there would be no project to write about. Some of the nails were made specifically to NOT back out of its hole, making it extra special fun to pull them out. This in itself was a half-day job.

Thank you, Shea Shea!
*Note: Try to salvage as much of the wood you pull off as possible. You can use them later as fillers or in case you want to replace another board that is rotten or just plain ugly.

Finally onto the fun part! Sawing. And here's where I found the OP's tutorial somewhat lacking. I really just had to figure a lot of this stuff out as I went. The lengths and dimensions, the configuration, I just sort of started putting it together. Which, for the hubs, was a no go. It drove him crazy to just do what I told him without being able to visualize what the end product was. 

But in the OP's defense (for those just joining us, OP stands for Original Pin), I quickly learned that all pallets are NOT created equal. For example, the ones I have are made with only three two-by-fours, whereas hers had four, allowing for three potential cubby holes across.  Also, the OP's instructions are for a chest with three rows of cubby holes; since this is for my son's room to go under his tv, I only wanted two rows, thus needing only two pallets. (I like to use the word thus. Makes me feel all smart and stuff.)

With that said, I will include my dimensions but keep in mind that these are just guidelines if you so happen to want to try this for yourself.

With the pallet flipped on its top, I measured from the end of the 2x4 and just sort of picked a spot that looked right and measured 17.5 inches. Using a Sharpie, I measured each 2x4 and drew a line where I would cut. You'll notice in the middle 2x4, you can see the line - just barely - I drew to cut for the other half of the chest. Basically you're cutting out the middle part of the pallet to create two pieces that will stack on top of each other. Jive turkey? 

Once you have made all the cuts - there will be 6 per pallet if that helps - and stack them on top of each other, it will look like this:

Pictured are after BOTH pallets have been cut and stacked.

Notice I lined up the wider, er, I guess I'll call them "legs" and the narrower "legs" to form little windows on each end. Also, my pallets had these lovely gaps between each top board, which the OP's did not. (Why are mine so jacked?) So we measured the width of the gaps and created fillers from the scrap wood. See...told ya' you might need 'em.

*Note: Some of these steps may seem obvious to some readers, but I promise you, there are some out there that it's harder to see a picture and understand what just happened. I'm trying to make this as spelled-out as possible for those that need more instruction. ;)

It's starting to come together, right?? But here's another point I want to make. This took all weekend.  Oh! Oh oh! Aaaannnd...the kids were with the grandparents!!! Exactly, so that should give you a sense of how time-consuming this sucker is. And we haven't even busted out the sander yet.
Okay, so repeat that process again to create the second row of cubby holes and you're finished with the saw. Except I wasn't. I have about three more projects lined up for this cheap lumber and wanted to get them all cut while I had the machinery out. And since hubby decided that sawing things with sharp blades is a "man's job", mama didn't get her chance to be a badass. So Monday morning, while Shea was at work, I broke out the saw and got to work.

Safety first, kiddies!

Yee-haw! I'm ready to start sanding! I personally like the rough, weathered, and worn look, especially for my son's room which has a nostalgic Norman Rockwell theme. I sanded all the surfaces I could with an orbital sander. If you buy one of these, just go ahead and buy a replacement pack of paper to go with it because the pallets eat them for lunch. I chose 80 grade, which is pretty course. I didn't know what that meant until Bill at Home Depot explained it to me. Thanks, Bill!

But I also needed to do some by hand. Luckily I had this little gadget by Rubbermaid. Not 100% necessary, but hey, if you already got it, use it.

As I mentioned before, this is for a kid's room, so I focused a lot of my attention on the exposed corners and what I decided was the top pallet. I removed all splintery edges and made the top smooth enough so that I could run my hand over it without impaling myself.

Alright, next is the stain. The OP used a polyurethane coat and added stain to it. That just didn't seem fool-proof to me, so I sprung for the "already-mixed-up kind".  By the way, if you ask a guy at Home Depot for the "already-mixed-up kind of poly", he'll know what you're talking about. They speak Girl there, too. Such professionals!

I chose the Antique Walnut finish. Honestly it was a little red for my tastes but it all worked out. Also, go ahead and spring for a plastic drop cloth; your driveway will thank you. And don't forget the mineral spirits to clean your brushes.

The staining process in itself was a drawn out task since you can only do one side at a time and it takes six hours for each coat to dry. So plan for down time. Speaking of the process, I'll put it to you straight:  all your hard work can result in shoddy-looking craftmanship because of a bad stain job. If you've never stained wood before, I suggest practicing on some of that scrap wood first. It's not just like BAM! once you put it on there there's no way to fix it, but there is verrry little room for error. Be careful of those pesky runs on the underneath part of the wood. If you're getting a lot of them then you're putting too much stain on your brush. And be careful of unecessary brush strokes. Every time you touch brush to wood, it will get darker and darker, resulting in uneven color. I'm speaking from experience because the first few boards I did were u-g-l-y.  Thank goodness I started with the bottom pallet. I applied two coats to each piece.

Woohoo! You're donesville! Now you just need the hardware to keep it all together. The T-brackets suggested in the OP just wouldn't work for my configuration. The ones I got came in three different sizes. Save yourself a trip or three to Home Depot and just go ahead and get a bunch of 'em while you're there and then take the uneeded ones back. (I swear I made four trips to the store that day.) I ended up using eight of the medium-sized brackets - four on the front and four on the back- and then a four-pack of the other brackets- two for each end.

You will need a drill for the screws as well. It really doesn't matter where or how you put them as long as you like the look of them and they secure all components together smartly.  


You have yourself a fetching new chest!!!

Now, you can fill it with a few decorative baskets or if you can find some to fit, those collapsible storage bins. I wanted two smaller boxes in each of the top cubbies and larger in the bottom.  I suggest measuring your openings and then allowing for discrepancies in the wood, i.e. bulging and warped parts that would make for low-clearance in places. Or you could do what the hubs recommended and buy your baskets/boxes first and then make your pallet chest to fit, but things don't always work out that way. In the end, I couldn't bring myself to spend another dime on this "cheap" project so I ended up making the boxes myself. But I'll save that for next time because this is already the longest post ever. ;)

In a Nutshell:

What I did differently:
1. Pallets were different, so cuts and configuration were different
2. Made only two rows of cubbies instead of three
3. Got the poly/stain combo instead of mixing
4. Changed the brackets to suit my needs

1. Ask local hardware stores if they throw out pallets and, if so, what their trash day is. Get yourself a FREE pallet, trash-digger!
2. If you're going for free/cheap projects, unless you have the tools already or know someone that does, the cost can add up quickly. Do a quick inventory before you start to determine what you have and what you need. You can also rent tools at hardware stores.
3. If you're not sure what to ask for at the hardware store, take a picture of it with your phone and show it to the salesman. I've learned that's a whole lot easier than trying to explain "you know, that one thingy that has the thing around it".
4. If you're a sawing virgin, do a couple of cuts on the scrap wood and by all means, pleeease don't lose any fingers! Likewise with the stain.
5. Seriously, don't start this project unless you can stand to leave it unfinished for periods of time or unless the kids are out of town for a few days, because it's a doozy!!! There's NO WAY I could have finished this if I had to play Mommy at the same time.

Total Cost:
Pallets: $4
Saw: $50
Sander: $40
Sanding paper replacements: $8
Poly/stain: $12
Hardware: $18
Brushes/dropcloth: $6           
Grand Total: $140 (even though I'm counting the saw and sander as an investment)

Bottom Line: I drastically underestimated the time and money it took to complete this project and didn't anticipate the guesswork involved, but I'm happy with the end results.


  1. I am so impressed! This was a huge project, and it turned out fabulous. I can't wait to see what's up next!

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