If you don’t reclaim enough pallet lumber to justify a specialized prybar for the purpose, it is of course possible to knock down shipping pallets using everyday hand tools. A common mistake is trying to use a crowbar or the claw end of a hammer to pry the boards apart. This is almost certain to split and damage the wood, which may be OK if you just want to destroy the thing, but is self-defeating if you’re trying to reclaim the lumber.

Instead, pound out board and nails, from behind, using a hammer. Or better yet, a pair of hammers. This video from YouTuber miscpro demonstrates his practiced method for knocking a pallet apart using a common claw hammer, a small sledge, and a short scrap “spoil” board to take blows that would otherwise mar the wood being reclaimed. The video page on YouTube, linked below, includes some good written directions for the process, as well.

How To Dismantle a Wooden Pallet – YouTube

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • DaveM

    Too bad more and more pallets have staples instead of nails:/

  • http://twitter.com/seanfkennedy Sean Kennedy (@seanfkennedy)

    That is probably the prettiest pallet I have ever seen.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thebluegecko Alec Syngar

      isnt it though? i find so many people posting DIY projects with pallets eem to have access to fresh beautiful pallets

  • David

    Most pallets around here have side and center frames of 2×4 with no blocks to easily knock over. Many have spiral nails. One way is to cut loose the face boards inside the edge of the sides. Twist to loosen the nails from the center enough to grab and pull. Slide-hammer nail pullers and cat’s paws can work. A hand pumped hydraulic ram in expansion mode is nice.

  • http://merglyn.blogspot.com Merglyn

    Last time I destroyed a pallet I just did it with a sledgehammer.

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  • thebes42

    Having built a cabin 50% of recycled lumber from pallets-

    You can take apart pallets with a large pry or crow bar just fine.
    If you’re messing with large oak pallets or something exotic like that you might have trouble with just a large crow bar and need to give it some persuasion with a 5lb sledge, but you won’t ruin everything, probably won’t ruin more than a trivial amount of wood given that its had for fuel costs…

    Pallets are great, some of them have oak 3x4s in the center. If you check at 20 or 30 industrial sites you might find oak studs that are long enough for a residential wall- our whole cabin is studded with these. Our friend who helped once recovered cocobolo 6×6’s from oversized imported pallets of some kind, but that was his best score over several years or scrapping pallets.

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  • jack lewis

    I second the comment of that being a fresh, new pallet. It isn’t that easy with an older, weathered one with rusted spiral nails and many years of repair before being discarded.

  • https://www.facebook.com/hannan.ahmad.790 Hannan Ahmad

    Actually, breaking down of wooden pallets is easier since the wood can be reformed to form Custom Pallets made to your specifications. However, the case with plastic pallets is entirely different.