100% Reuse: Industrial Pallet Sectional Couch for Outdoors
By Wendy Tremayne
With more people recognizing the value of scrap materials it can be hard to find great stuff in the waste stream. These days I rely on the surplus store as much as the curb. Surplus stores often carry industrial waste materials: tough, oversized items that come in mass, like 4′ diameter round metal dishes, human-sized wooden cable spools, or a gross of 1′-tall iron springs, to name a few.
Last spring I ran across half a dozen 2’×3′ clay-colored plastic pallets at a Surplus City in Albuquerque, N.M. They were likely used to ship a high-end non-consumer item. When I saw the pile of them, weeds grown over the top and wedged under a giant machine that looked as if it may have come out of New Mexico’s Sandia Labs, the image of a sectional couch for outdoors flashed in my mind. I had wanted to build one for my porch but had not yet found the right materials in the waste stream. As is often the case in surplus yards, I tried to find an employee to help me dig it out and then got my work gloves out of the trunk and freed my future couch from the clutches of further decay. Then I turned to my little Maxima and wondered how I would get these babies nearly 200 miles south to where I lived. I crammed three of them into my car: one in the trunk, one in the back seat, and I jammed one up front with the passenger seat pushed all the way back. I was a tad nervous that the spiders living inside the pallets would lurch out and find me while I was driving home. A stick of Nag Champa incense that I keep in the ashtray of the car, lit periodically along the drive, helped transform the musky mold smell of the junkyard into the musky smell of a yoga studio. The bounty made it home safe and sound.
Last week I went back to Surplus City and found the fourth and last pallet to complete the set, and I made the couches. Here’s the project, easily adapted to any industrial pallet you can find.
Carpet or polyester thread for outdoor upholstery
Blowtorch and metal rod or Sawzall
Pallets: $5 each × 4 = $20
4″ cushion foam pulled from thrown away couches = free
Shade cloth rescued from a previous project = nearly free, purchased 15 yards (36 wide) new for $20.
Because this project is destined for the outdoors, I used repurposed shade cloth and old couch foam that likely had a long history I’d rather not imagine. To prevent myself from imagining its past, my first step was cleaning and disinfecting the materials. The pallets, couch foam, and shade cloth were all washed down with soap and water, scrubbed with a brush, let dry, then sprayed with oxygenated water to rid any bacteria or mold. Alternatively, vinegar and water work well dispensed from a spray bottle, and baking soda can be sprinkled on the foam and let to sit out in the fresh air.
Step 1: Measure the size of your pallet tops (these are your seats). Using this measurement, mark the foam with a Sharpie, indicating where you need to cut it to fit the seat.
Step 2: To cut the foam you may use either a Sawzall or heat a metal rod with a blowtorch and simply move the hot rod through the foam. If you are using the rod technique, make sure to wear a mask and welding gloves. The rod will be super hot once heated, and the heated foam may produce toxins you won’t want to breathe in. The hot wire method slices through the foam neatly. The Sawzall produces a messier, ragged edge.
Step 3: Place the foam on top of the shade cloth and wrap it as you would a gift. Fold in the sides to be sure you will have enough material to cover each side plus an extra inch of fabric where the ends meet.
Step 4: Bring the ends of the fabric together at the edges of the foam. Temporarily hold the fabric ends together with straight pins.
Step 5: Hand-sew with carpet or outdoor upholstery thread. A thimble comes in handy here. Toss your newly wrapped cushions on the pallets and arrange to fit your space.
Step 6: Enjoy your outdoor couch — it’ll likely last longer than anything you bought in the store!
About the Author:
Wendy Tremayne is renovating an RV park into a 100% reuse, off-grid B&B in Truth or Consequences, N.M. Another project, Swap-O-Rama-Rama, is a clothing swap and DIY workshop designed to offer people an alternative to consumerism.