Nothing comes for Free! – The hidden costs of free pallet wood.

Free Pallet Wood

I made a plan to build some dog kennels. It’s getting colder now and this is the first year they haven’t had a shed or garage to sleep in. My plan is to use free pallet wood to build the frames and sides of the kennels. I selected this resource because they’re free, readily available and the timber is mostly cut to the size I need already.

However, what most proponents of pallet timber forget to mention is, the cost of free timber is higher processing costs.

Purchasing Timber

If you purchase timber from your local hardware store or timber mill, you know roughly what you’re getting. Timber, free of nails, in known dimensions. This wood will normally be straight, decent quality and sold by the linear metre. You can design your construction plans based on the known features, of the timber you’re buying. Having a detailed plan you can purchase the exact amount of timber you need to complete your project. If you’re in a hurry or concerned about quality, this is your best option.

Milling your own Timber

If you have the time and are willing to invest a substantial amount in purchasing or hiring a timber mill, then you can mill your own timber. You take raw logs and cut them to the sizes you need. If you have enough skill with the timber mill, you can create better quality timber, than you can purchase from the hardware store. You can also reduce your materials cost significantly. And if you’re processing enough timber than, the savings you make from using logs rather than already milled timber will pay for the machine. However, saving money on materials comes at the cost of your time. If you have specific requirements for your timber, want to use some hard to find wood, or you’re using a lot of timber than this might be the option for you.

Jesse and Alyssa at Pure Living for Life┬áhave built the entire frame of their house out of timber they milled themselves. I’ve enjoyed following their story and if you’re interested in the cost to benefits of owning a timber mill then check out their site.

Free Pallet Wood

If your budget is tight, but you still need to build things you might consider free pallet wood. However, this is far from the cheapest option.

Cost 1: Logistics

When you own your own mill, the logs get delivered to you. Similarly, when you buy timber from the hardware store, You know where it is, load it quickly, and get started building your project. When you recycle timber, you’re either removing someone’s timber fence, helping someone remove materials from a demolition project, or more likely, scouring loading docks in commercial and industrial estates looking for pallets. This adds a huge cost to your time and fuel bill to your project. You can mitigate this somewhat if you’re always on the lookout and ready to grab some free pallets when you’re out and about anyway. However, inspecting the pellets, choosing only decent ones, then loading them still takes a lot of time.

Be careful when you’re getting free pallets. Always ask permission first. Unless they’re under a sign that says free pallets, you may get in trouble for stealing someone’s property. In Australia, if the pallet is blue or red it probably belongs to a pallet rental company, so don’t take it. Another thing to look out for is the quality of the pallet. Some pallets are not worth your time. Any pallets using ply-wood are about to fall apart. Any pallets that don’t have solid runners along the whole length of the pallet are also likely to waste your time.

Cost 2: Quality

The quality of the timber you get from pallets is extremely low. Pallets are a commodity item. They are built as cheaply as possible and often only designed for one use. One of the ways they save money on construction is to use the cheapest wood they can find. It’s always rough sawn, often has splinters and is prone to splitting. If your building anything load bearing, seriously consider if pallet timber is worth your time.

Old Nails and Split Pallet

Old nails and a split piece of pallet

Cost 3: Stripping

You need to strip your pallets down. Unless your project calls for something exactly pallet-sized, you’ll need to strip them to their individual components. This will take time. It will take more or less time depending on the method you use. However, faster you go stripping the pallets, the more waste you create. I’ll discuss the various methods of breaking them down in a future post. However, this is likely to be the most time-consuming part of your project.

Stripping Pallets

Stripping a Pallet


This post isn’t about scaring you away from free pallet wood. Free Pallet Wood is a useful resource for many applications. I have a few projects planned that I am going to use pallet wood for exclusively. This is largely because my time budget is greater than my financial budget. But I also select the projects carefully. I’m not going to build an entire house out of pallets. However, small chicken coops and dog kennels and maybe a garden shed are all good uses for pallets. I am aware though, that stripping the pallets down, using the method with least amount of wastage, will add days to the projects.

Deck Wrecking Bar

Deck Wrecking Bar

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