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.

17 Helpful Tips Before Painting Wood 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 kinds of wood are pallets made of.
  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 pallet 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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