Here are two examples of what humble pallets can be transformed into. Check out these pallet wood floors two ways! There are two different finish styles in different rooms, and they’re both FANTASTIC!
In The Beginning:
This project took considerable time and effort, but mostly because of my work schedule. It is a busy time of the year for me, but I couldn’t resist! I did my install in two phases, or it would’ve taken a lot longer to have done the prep. Taking wood from pallet form to planks ready for installation, even on 500 sq ft. would take several weekends. I did one room earlier in the summer, and only had minor work to finish. Then, when I had more time to prep more pallet wood, I completed the first room and then the second room on the same weekend.
Prybars And Shade Trees:
First I started by sawing the two outside boards of the pallets off with a circular saw. This only removes maybe 2" of wood on each end and is well worth it for time's sake. This also dramatically reduced the number of nails to pull, and made it MUCH faster to break the pallets down. Also, it reduces the number of broken boards from prying them free of the pallets. Then I made a DIY pallet breaker tool to pry the boards off the middle runner of the pallet. I suggest using pallets with only 3 runners so that the pallet breaker works much better, as it has no nails on the other board to hold the plank down against your prying pressure and reduces breakage.
After I broke down 15-20 pallets, I took breaks and sat in the shade with a hammer and pull nails out. This may sound time-consuming, but the nails really aren’t that hard to pull. Usually, one tap on each nail will drive it out far enough to snatch it right out with the hammer claw.
The Plane, The Plane:
When you have plenty of planks ready, it’s time to plane! If you don’t want a smooth, flat finish, you can skip this step, but our family likes to be able to walk around in our socks or bare feet. I planed all the boards to the 1/2" thickness, mainly because all the boards were very close to that and you can only trim 1/32" or MAYBE 1/16" off on a pass through the planer; so the fewer passes through the planer the faster it went.
After running all the boards through the planer and getting them to a uniform thickness, I used a miter saw to square the ends of the boards. This step is HIGHLY recommended since you probably didn’t get a very straight cut with the circular saw on the first cut to remove the outside runners. For this step, you can cut 3 or 4 boards at once, depending on the size of your miter saw.
Just A Little Off The Edge:
I used a table saw to straighten the edges of the planks lengthwise. This is a critical step! If this step is skipped, you will see HUGE gaps in the finished pallet wood floor when you start laying it. I tried to skip it and once I laid down three or four rows as a dry test (no glue), I already had gaps starting to show and they only get worse because you end up trying to run straight lines off of crooked lines from previously laid runs.
Set the table saw to shave as little as possible off the first edge, and run every board through on one edge first. Then move the fence in just a hair so that every edge has at least SOME removed so that the lines are straight. **This is where you want to keep an eye out for warped, cupped, twisted, or otherwise not VERY close to perfectly straight**.
Laying It Down:
The rest is simple... just like laying any other floor... mostly.
I used Roberts R1530 wood floor adhesive. It is around $180/4gal bucket and should cover around 120 sq ft per bucket. It has a vapor barrier, sound reducer, and adhesive all in one.
Start at one wall, after ensuring the room is square! I used a 1/4" spacer along the walls to leave the floor from being right against the walls. Time to begin! After each row or two, I took duct tape and taped the boards together to keep them from drifting out of line when they were touched or pressure was applied inadvertently from the board going down next to it.
Duct Tape Fixes Everything... But Lead Helps:
I mentioned previously that you shouldn’t use warped, cupped, twisted, or otherwise out of shape boards. This is something I had to overcome with a little extra ingenuity from my wife. I reload ammunition for my guns, and as part of that hobby, I have a bunch of lead ingots that I use to melt and pour my own bullets. These lead ingots came in IMMENSELY helpful. When I placed a board down that wasn’t perfectly flat, I would take a few ingots (each weighing about 3 lbs) and place them on the high spot and the other end of the board. This helped hold the board down until the glue set. The next morning, or later that day if I started early enough, I would pull the tape off, remove the weights, and there it was... fully glued, set in place, and ready to finish.
The Finish Line:
After the entire room is set and dry, I highly suggest using a floor sander to even out and smooth out the high points, knock off any burrs from the saws, and just ensure a smooth floor that your kids won’t get splinters from.
I have two different types of finishes in my house for comparison.
When sanding is complete, you can either apply a stain of your choice before sealing or simply seal it with polyurethane for a natural look. Both look amazing and are beautiful in their own way.