17 Helpful Tips Before Painting Wood Pallets

Some like wood in its natural, rustic state, but there are some cases where paint adds style and makes your pallet creation more attractive, elegant, or modern. Painting wood pallets can also add retro flair. So once you've made your piece of furniture (with special care on how you choose your pallet regarding the use you want), you now may want these 17 helpful tips before painting wooden pallets.

Images courtesy of Little Dove Creations (left) and Beyond the Picket Fence (right).

Painting Wooden Pallets - our 17 tips

The main steps you will have to follow are: [PAINT] --> [SAND] --> [STAIN]

Beyond this Tryptic, here are several tips you need to know:

  1. Every pallet is unique, and if you are using several ones, they may not take the paint the same way! It is due to the different types of wood used.
  2. The smoother the surface, the easier to paint. But do not sand it too much as the roughness helps add to the character.
  3. After sanding, remove all the dust with a slightly damp washcloth or tack cloth if you've sanded it reasonably smooth. You can also use TSP (Trisodium Phosphate), but a wet washcloth is usually excellent. Clean the wood thoroughly to make sure the paint will adhere to the wood.
  4. To paint it, we usually recommend the "chip brush" as it's cheap (you can find plenty of them <1$). If you've sanded it very smooth for a very finished look, a better quality brush will give you a softer finish.
  5. Pallets tend to be porous. It can create a very uneven finish. A primer can help this issue. Apply a good-quality primer to your wood before painting.
  6. If you are going for a rustic, aged look, then you could probably skip the primer. Your paint may look uneven, but with a bit of end-sanding, it can seem "weathered"!
  7. If you want to paint several colors with the same brush, always start with the lightest colors! But be aware some colors don't blend well. In this case, use a new brush.
  8. The number of layers depends on how you want your pallet to be. You can apply between 1 and 4. It's recommended to wait for the first one to be dry before starting the following layer, but we are all impatient, and sometimes, I begin while the previous layer is not completely dry --> feeling is essential. You can always run a test board along with your painted project and experiment as you go!
  9. If you want a vintage look (see pic above), you can apply only one layer, and then sand the wood again. You can also imagine mixing colors - usually bright ones (one layer of each), before sanding it again (sometimes a lot, sometimes a little), always depending on your feeling and on the final look you want.
  10. If you want a plain look (see pic above) then you may use several paint layers, and don't do a lot of sanding - only per the paint manufacturer's directions between layers.
  11. 80-grit sandpaper is suitable for most applications. If you want a very smooth finish, you can sand with 120-grit or even higher. For more info on pallet wood sanding, check out our article on wood sanding tips.
  12. These tips are suitable for both oil and latex paints - but note - cleanup is definitely different for each, I'm not focused on a particular paint (latex paint, acrylic paint, etc.). I also like to try new ones, and at times I can also mix colors. NOTE: Latex and Oil-based don't mix well. 
  13. Once you've done your sanding to create that aged, weathered look (after painting it), and want to make your paint job last longer, then you'll want to seal or wax it. There are indoor and outdoor-appropriate polyurethanes, varnishes, epoxies, etc. There are many options. You can check out our article on Protecting & Restoring Wood Furniture for tips on types of sealants to use. You can apply your sealant with a chip brush too. There are quality finish brushes that trap less air if you're going for a more glossy surface.
  14. If you stain pallet wood, be aware that the different types of woods take stains much differently. If you've got mixed wood types, you may want to practice on scraps first! Plus, the more weathered the wood, the more likely it'll be porous, so it may take stain aggressively and darken quite a bit. Sometimes the dark stains, such as Dark Walnut, can be too much. You may prefer to start with brighter ones. You can always add MORE stain, but it's difficult to remove it.
  15. Stain the entire pallet furniture/creation.
  16. As you're applying the stain, be sure to keep a wet edge, and wipe it off as you go so you can quickly blend any brush marks. (old pieces of T-shirts work great for this!)
  17. Use a polyurethane, varnish, shellac or polish to make it shine (not necessary, but recommended if for an outdoor piece).

So now, I think you've got it: [PAINT] --> [SAND] --> [STAIN], and feel free to provide us with your tips in the comments! Nothing should be keeping you from painting wood pallets! Get out there and have some fun! And remember, before starting a new pallet project, to check if your pallet is safe.

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Saleha
Saleha

What type of paint is good to give a rustic look?

Kellie
Kellie

How do you stain a wood pallet to cover all the nooks and crannies Inside and out? Using at a Wedding.

Bridget
Bridget

Just a post that I actually needed . glad I was able to read this.

Alexa
Alexa

This article provides more information about fence and deck

Derita
Derita

This has helped me a lot! Thank you so much!!!

Amy
Amy

Thank you so much for sharing! I just started some pallet projects and your advice/tips were extremely useful!

Question: Do you have ever paint used oil from motor on ur project?

HeatherStiletto

Hi Darktigro – interesting concept. I was reading about this very subject just recently and was then looking at the oil I need to take to recycling. Many old barns, fences and more were “painted” with used motor oil. Some barns have been painted every 7-10 years since the 1800’s, but in some areas of the U.S., it’s been banned for environmental concerns. Some even used spray guns, and aerosolizing oil would be a very toxic thing to breathe. The other issue, although the oil does indeed preserve the wood, is that if your barn (as an example wood project)… Read more »

Cathie
Cathie

I found an old pallet in the garage when I moved here, and since I don’t have a front porch, I painted the pallet and put a cute bench on it so I can use it as a “portable patio!”

Lisa Stephens
Lisa Stephens

I’ve got a question. My future Daugher-in-law has asked me if I would make an Alternative Wedding book on wood or wood pallets. I will have a tree with lots of leaves for guest to sign on the leaves and when the wedding is over they will hang it in their house. The question I have is what kind of paint and should I seal it right after making it it should we seal,it after everyone signs it. Wasn’t sure if black marker would work if it was over the seal. Please advise. Thank you.

Empresa de Pintura Qualy SP
Empresa de Pintura Qualy SP

I would like to congratulate the site, the materials are excellent whenever possible, we will stay here in Brazil, we work in the field of painting and we enjoy the website successes.

Baxter Abel
Baxter Abel

I really like what you said about every pallet being unique. I also appreciate what you said about working with porous wood pallets. I’ve heard that you can use pallet delivery for cheap, I’ll have to look more into it though.

Scott
Scott

I like that you point out that the roughness of the pallet adds to the character. I can see why this would be important to someone who is wanting to create a distinguished look. My wife loves to do projects and makes things for the yard. I’ll have to have her look into using wooden pallets to make outdoor furniture.

Sergio medeiros
Sergio medeiros

conteúdo muito informativo, espero que vocês visitem meu blog de decorações que fiz (antes e depois).

HeatherStiletto

In response to Jo Dunn – YES . . .and NO. Please check out our Pallet Safety page. Here’s the link: https://www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/

When in doubt – throw it out! Happy Palleting! – HS

Jo Dunn
Jo Dunn

Are all pallets safe to be used?

Empresa de Pintura
Empresa de Pintura

The tips are great addition to assisting us in our projects of residential and commercial paintings.

wooden blinds Auckland
wooden blinds Auckland

I love the pallet look and love how they can be used for lots of different projects. I am looking to start a project for a pallet headboard. I like how you mentioned to use a “chip brush” when painting the pallet. I will definitely try that out when painting the pallets. Thanks for the great tips!

Kathymccown

There is also a wood dye that is alcohol based. I tried it, and it is great as far as controlling the amount of color you want to use, just adding more or less alcohol to the dry dye. The one I got was a sampler of brown, yellow, red, blue and I thought there was another color, but maybe not. It comes in tiny packets of powder with great instructions. Also, you can add more color by adding coats, or making the initial batch with more powder. Then if you want, you can sand off some, or not. Or… Read more »

Ann
Ann

A great trick to use when building bulky pallet furniture: hinges and casters. This makes folding and moving so much easier! Try hinges and two latches – one for holding open and another for holding when folded. Be sure to use locking casters to avoid movement once the piece is in place. GOOD LUCK!

Jean Cox
Jean Cox

Haven’t tried it yet, but I was thinking of dipping the pallet to paint it and fill in nooks and crannies. I would make a flat pan an little wider than the pallets, fill it halfway with paint, lay the pallet in the paint, then turn over. Then I could pour the paint back into the bucket if I wasn’t going to use all of it in one day.
I thought of this because I saw a neighbor’s fence made of complete pallets, and the interior is completely painted.

Jean Brogdon
Jean Brogdon

My husband has been making furniture with pallets for several years now but the pieces he has made for outdoors start to rot after a year or so even with painting. How long should these pieces last outside? This is a lot of work for just a couple of years of use so I feel that maybe we are missing a step. There are a lot of folks that love this furniture and my husband loves making it but we would like it to last for them.

HeatherStiletto

Hi! You ask a good question – and a common one. No matter where you live, outdoor furniture takes a beating. There are several ways to approach extending the lifespan of outdoor furniture (no matter if from pallets or not – it’s still wood). 1. Good prep. Sand it down to bare wood. If you have to, strip it by chemical means if necessary. This helps the primer stick to the surface better. 2. Paint. Paint is an effective UV blocker. But you need to properly prep the wood, then apply a good quality primer. You’ll also apply more than… Read more »

Alise Harper
Alise Harper

I love the pallet look and love how they can be used for lots of different projects. I am looking to start a project for a pallet headboard. I like how you mentioned to use a “chip brush” when painting the pallet. I will definitely try that out when painting the pallets. Thanks for the great tips!

Fabs
Fabs

What kind of paint to you use to paint the pallet??

Jorge McMillan
Jorge McMillan

This pallet wall and table look amazing and very well made. My wife and I have so many pallets stacked up in our garage and we aren’t sure what to do with them. This article has some great points on things we can do with them and I hope that we can make good use of them like this.

John T
John T

I’ve recently ordered pallet planks from a company that disassembles them and sales them. However the only thing is I need to sand them. What recommendations would anyone have to take away the risk of getting splinters and the rough feeling but keeping the worn, rustic characters these planks have??? Need a lot of help and am not finding anything online.

Thanks so much!

Andre Beluchi
Andre Beluchi

Oh wow, that’s so interesting to know about the many ways to paint a pallet. What got my attention was how you can use a chip brush to paint them. That to me is something new and one that I have not yet heard about doing.

Sam Speight
Sam Speight

I just love pallets and recycled wood projects. I take pallets or wood from the alley, clean them up (always with hand planes, sanding is for blending mistakes and tiny cuts), then turn them into heirlooms. An old bowling lane became dads shuffle board and a 22′ oak 2×10 than supported it became a 3′ rocking dragon for my daughter. When a neighbor threw out some old 1970’s furniture an end table and lamp got a pole to hold the lamp above the table and with the help of a trashed ceiling fan motor and a music box found in… Read more »

LindaLW

Well, has no one commented on your post yet? I’m surprised! this would be great to see once you have your project finished! I think most folks get out their house paint (interior or exterior) for painting pallet wood, but I’m not the genius about these things. I’ll be looking in to see how your work is going!

HeatherStiletto

Sometimes stains can be great as an option instead of painting if you want that beautiful wood grain to show. There are even stain primers that even out the way wood absorbs so you don’t have blotchy spots (such as with poplar – notoriously difficult to stain evenly). If you only want a tiny bit of color, you can thin them down (follow can directions), apply and quickly wipe off to leave less intense color. There are more and more stains that are of that “whitewash” or “antiquing/rustic” look variety too. Plus, you can even thin down paint, apply it… Read more »

Kathymccown

Sounds like a lot of fun. Check on color stains. I got some called Keto or something like that and it is powder that you mix with alcohol and water. They are “adjustable” by adding more powder or more or fewer coats. They work very well. And….. you can mix alcohol with Kool Aid of different colors, Rit dye (doesn’t work as smoothly) and other colored stuff. Use your imagination. Some of the home made dyes don’t blend up real nice, and have granules left over, like the Rit Dye. After all, it is made for fabric, and in a… Read more »

Giovanni Florio
Giovanni Florio

Hello all.
I’ve been reading much of your posting .And I must admit I’ve been inspired by all the good and beautiful things that you guys make from an almost useless piece of discarded pallet. I’m truly grateful . Thanks again, look for me I’m on a roll……

Olivia Sherwin
Olivia Sherwin

These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to sand the entire surface of the pallet before painting. My husband and I got our hands on several leftover pallets from my sister after she moved into a new house. We have a few projects we want to do with them, and I’m going to be painting them as well, so we’ll definitely be sure to sand them down first. Thanks for the great post!

Jason Strong
Jason Strong

Its amazing to see what people can do with pallets. They take some nasty looking pieces of wood, and turn it into something that looks beautiful and artsy. I’ll have to show this to my sister who has bunch of these laying around her house and has no idea what to do with them.

Joy Zimmer
Joy Zimmer

I have just started my first project, I am making a small straight porch in front of my house. I can’t wait until it is finished. My husband is ready to kill me. Because it is not a small job and I work on it as I find the heavy base pallets. I can’t wait until it is finished.

Barry Balke
Barry Balke

It has been simply incredibly generous with you to provide openly what exactly many individuals would’ve marketed for an ebook to end up making some cash for their end, primarily given that you could have tried it in the event you wanted.

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