Pallet Deconstruction: The Right Way to Break Down and Dispose of a Pallet

Posted by Brett McCutcheon on May 14, 2020 11:07:00 AM

Pallet Deconstruction

Pallets are used to stack, store, protect and move items, in a stable way, that are transported using equipment like forklifts and pallet jacks. Most pallets are made of wood, but there is also plastic, steel, paper, and composite options depending upon use. There is no “standard size” of pallets and the dimensions vary widely, especially internationally. They do tend to be reusable which is a cost-saver. However, if you work with a lot of pallets, they may end up taking up a lot of space and you will want to dispose of them.

The easiest option is to find a pallet recycler that will take the pallets whole, and in large quantities, and recirculate them back into use. However, if you don’t have this option, you’ll want to break them down before asking your waste hauler to take them away. Haulers charge a high price to take pallets, and it’s a much lower expense for a pile of boards to be removed.

Here we’ll discuss wooden pallets as these are the most common. They are generally assembled using a pneumatic nail gun together with spiral twisted nails, or Helical nails, that are preheated with glue. They are assembled to be used for long periods and not come apart. This makes disassembly more difficult. While most pallets, broken down, will yield a few 2 x 4’s and slat boards, those designed for heavier loads may leave 4 x 4’s as well. To break these down, we offer two solutions.

Reciprocating Saw

Shipping pallets in the US generally have 2-1/4” Helical nails to keep the wood in place. Trying to take them apart with most tools will cause damage. The reciprocating saw allows you to cut the nails to separate them. You will need to use a metal cutting demolition blade that will cut through the nails. You are better off with Bi-metal blades. Regular blades, that come with the saw, will likely end up breaking. We also recommend a 12” length to allow you to reach in awkward angles.

  • Install the proper blade and wear proper safety equipment, especially goggles.
  • Make sure the pallet is secured vertically or horizontally.
  • Look for the two outer-edge main 2 x 4’s or 4 x 4’s, where the slats are attached. You will want to cut the nails between these two pieces where they meet.
  • Once you start cutting, continue until all the slats on one side are free from the nails, then go to the other side and do the same. This may require you to flip it over to start from the top.
  • After removing the side supports, go to the back and cut the nails joining the center of the frame together.


If you prefer to go for a more low-tech option, a crowbar is your tool. This method involves more work than the saw method. You need to be prepared to get dirty and use some elbow grease.

  • Wear proper safety equipment, especially goggles.
  • Inspect the pallet to identify any loose slats, since those are where the work will begin.
  • Place the pallet horizontally and ensure it is secure.
  • If you spot places where the nails are loose, put the crowbar between the layers of wood and lift it to loosen the wood. Do this over several inches so you will not damage the wood. If you encounter a place where the nails are tight, you can use a hammer to help put the crowbar under the wood.
  • Remove the slat and use the hammer to remove the nails. Dispose of the nails immediately for your safety.
  • Repeat the process on all slats until you finish.

For either method, you will need to remove the nails when possible.

Other considerations: You, or anyone local in your area, might want to reuse the wood for building a variety of items, from coffee tables, shelves, lights, or pathways. Be sure to only share pallets that were not used to transport food or chemicals as those may live on in the wood. Taking the pallets apart to reclaim the wood involves good planning not to damage the wood, so use extra caution to maximize the result.

If you’re in the shipping business and you want your pallets to last, you can trust BECK to provide the crating SCRAIL® and pneumatic tools you’ll need. Crating SCRAIL® fasteners are popular because of their coarse threads that ensure easier and more consistent removal for dismantling. Additionally, the coarse thread gives it more surface area, which allows the fastener to grip to the wood better, an essential feature when palletizing valuable items. Learn more about crating SCRAIL® in our whitepaper by clicking the button below.

Download the Whitepaper: 3 Smart Strategies in Crating

Topics: Crate Fasteners, pallets


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