Brave new world of pallets
by Pedro Redig
Pallets came to my life a little bit by chance. About three years ago, I casually helped my daughter to turn a couple of them into simple planters. Then I cut others to make bases for plant pots. A month later, the annual local festival was happening in a park just behind my house in north London. I decided to take part, did a lounger, a bench, a table and other small pieces - and Planet Pallet was born.
For somebody who worked his whole life as a journalist, the scene was quite different. Instead of passing the day looking at two screens, my tools became two saws (one manual and one electric), a sander, a hammer, a crowbar, an impact driver. And screws, lots of screws.
That’s basically what you need to turn dirty old crates into beautiful products. You can do the job in two different ways: keeping some of the structure, or dismantling them to use the panels to build a whole new piece.
The biggest challenge is to avoid the wood splitting when you take the nails out. Best to pull from inside with the boards facing the floor or cutting the posts to make it easier to pull them without breaking.
It’s hard work to undo a pallet, but once you have gone beyond that you can do anything you want with these magic pieces of wood.
The good and the bad
Pallets move the world. They carry all sorts of products that are delivered to shops and consumers. In London, where people refurbish their homes more and more, they can be picked for free if left in the street. But it’s always good to have a word with builders if they are on-site. They can also be collected in many shops that need to get rid of them, but some charge a small fee for it.
Most pallets are safe to use. Different codes identify them and the ones which carry the letters MB must NOT be used because they are fumigated with methyl bromide pesticide.
There are pallets supported by blocks which are easier to undo and with posts which are tougher. The usual size is 1.2m x 1m and has between 6 and 8 panels on each side. That would give you one idea of how many pallets you need for your piece. There are bigger pallets of up to 2.4 metres which are difficult to find but can be adapted into nice big sofas.
I work in my own backyard and it has been a safe choice in these difficult times. I listen to music the whole day as builders and decorators do, and I let the imagination run wild. I know what l want to do, but many times the pallets bring their own surprises, forcing you to change the way you’re working.
I make my own pieces to sell in local markets and I also produce items from orders that I get online and at the markets.It’s more than a business for me. This activity gives me a sense of purpose after a long career in the media. It’s a big pleasure to finish a piece, look at it and say: “I’ve done that.”
During the pandemic, I’ve delivered planters for people who wanted to grow their own vegetables and Covid-safe front garden benches for meeting neighbours, but respecting social distance. It was also very gratifying to see the joy of elderly people who were delighted with the vegetable boxes I made for their retirement home.
Drop in the ocean
Pallets are the ultimate trend in urban chic. They decorate restaurants, cafes, street bars and are a greener and cheaper option than using conventional wood. They provide a unique rustic look that cannot be matched by a commercial product. It’s also nice when the customer makes the option of supporting locals instead of buying cheap quality products in the big shops.
When you order a pallet piece, both sides have the same advantage of saving the cost of the wood, but the craftsman has to be rewarded for the big recycling effort of saving the planet from accumulating more waste.
Pallets are officially classified as “construction rubbish”. Billions circulate around the planet every day. Like plastic, it’s impossible to get rid of it all. Re-using them is only a drop in the ocean, but it’s the contribution I can give for a better planet.
Hopefully I’ve helped inspire some of you. If you’re interested in what I’m doing, check out Planet Pallet to see some of my creations.
Pedro Redig is a craftsman @planetpallet. He is also Brazilian journalist who worked 40 years for Reuters, Sky, BBC and Globo TV. He’s lived in London since 1986.