Despite recurrence of initiatives to find uses for pallets, only about 50% of wood pallets get recycled. They are designed to be single use, since the wood cannot be certified for any regulated function once it is exposed to contamination. Indeed, the nails are meant to hold, and deconstructing pallets for wood requires a great deal of labor costs, which far outweigh the advantages of free lumber. So pallets remain a resource for craftsmen with patience, perseverance and pry bars. Toolcrib.com offers some practical suggestions on breaking down pallets, nails being the primary problem. The most efficient method seems to be to drill through the head of the nail, making it much easier to pry apart the board pieces. The board can then be loosened by driving the pieces away from the stringer with a 2x4 layed across the exposed ends, rather than prying them up which causes splitting. Once the nail is exposed, pull it out with a hammer claw. Regardless of the technique, it is a difficult process and not without some level of risk from embedded nails and stones coming in contact with saws and drillsOf course, the other option is to just cut the boards at the stringers, for shorter length boards. It is a bit tricky to use these for a floor. Longer boards and fewest joints is traditionally a sign of a high quality floor, but one can draw on the traditional solution of setting the boards up in a herringbone or parquet pattern. This helps lock the boards together to keep from shifting, and juxtaposes the roughness of the boards with the elegance of the more intricate pattern.
The reward is good hardwood lumber, such as red oak, or even some exotic woods. It is worth some initial scouting of sources and inquiring about the type of wood. The old issues of toxicity from methyl bromide are largely gone, since this type of treatment is banned in Canada and the US. Pallets wood is now heat treated for pest control, with no chemical residue (look for HT stamp). Avoid pallets that were used to ship or store chemicals, but do look for uses involving heavy and expensive equipment. Chances are the wood type will be a clean and solid hardwoods. Most places discard their pallets, but check with the warehouse managers.And then - there is no limit to creativity. It isn’t be suitable for fine woodworking. Much better to embrace the character of the wood – rough saw marks, nail holes, some “antiquing.” Floors, doors, stairs, benches….or maybe a potting bench. Time to get started.