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What do you get when you mix a designer with a stack of pallets? A pallet desk, apparently. Rob Loukotka, artist/designer of Fringe Focus had acquired a bunch of pallets in his workshop and decided it was time to put them to use. But it wasn’t easy. He quickly learned that pallet wood has its limitations, but with his inventive work arounds and this stylish desk’s $0 price tag, we think this project deserves a big thumbs up. Read on to see how you could make your own!
- Wood pallets
- Claw hammer
- Work gloves
- Crow bar (optional)
- Hack saw (optional)
- Jointer, planer, or table saw (choose one)
- Stain (optional)
- Wood glue
- Wood clamps
- 2x4s (for clamping)
- 1x4s (for trim)
- Miter saw
- Orbital sander
- 200-grit sandpaper
- Dust mask
- Steel brackets
- Danish oil
- 0000 steel wool
Use a claw hammer and wedge it beneath the board. Slowly rock the hammer to peel the board up, but be careful not to snap the board (pallets are brittle). I suggest moving across the entire board, slowly lifting it up by fractions of an inch at different locations.
Many nails will be rusted or break—WEAR GLOVES. A crowbar helps for leverage, if you have one. If your pallet is particularly difficult, use a hack saw, jig saw, or whatever saw to detach the end points first! You lose about 1 inch on either end, but then you only have 3 nails to remove, instead of 9-10.
You’ll want to chuck out severely damaged boards. I found that half of my boards were very dark, and the other half were light (two different pallets). So I chose to lay out the most interesting looking boards in this stripe pattern. Yours could be a lot cleaner, I was aiming for a dirty look.
Plan your desk size. I’m not gonna give exact dimensions here, because pallet furniture by nature is going to vary a lot. But I wanted a very deep and wide desk. I decided on an angled design, as that allows the edge facing me to be a tad longer. Even though the desk is 69″ wide, the edge facing me is around 76″ because it’s at an angle. This also gives a wild forced perspective look, as I’m using progressively skinnier boards as they approach the shallow side.
If you are lucky, your pallet boards will be exceptionally straight, blemish free, and without warps. I was not lucky. Many of the boards absolutely required jointing or planing so I could lay them flush to form a table top. But I do not own a jointer or a planer.
Solution? I ripped these boards on the table saw. Many boards I just ripped freehand or with the saw fence. It was NOT perfect, but it was much better than attempting to build a desk surface with warped boards. You could also use hand planes on the surface, but the risk of damage is high with so many hidden nails and staples in pallet stock.
Stain your pallet boards. Because I had half dark boardsand half light boards, I wanted to accentuate the contrast. I took all of my dark pallet wood, and applied a custom pickling stain to it. (To make your own custom pickling stain, click here for the recipe.)
So it might be good to add joints & biscuits in your boards, but I just laid my pallet boards flush and glued them up. There’s a lot of surface area (and a lot of glue) so it worked. I clamped the wide boards in pairs, and I clamped the smaller boards in threes as seen above.
As I said, I chose very warped pallet boards. So without a planer I had to rely on some trickery to ensure a level table top I can actually work on. This was done by clamping (and gluing) several 2x4s on the underside of the desktop. The desk surface is flush with my workbench, but the underside has unevenness. Each 2×4 is secured with steel brackets on ANY board that was warping. Make sure you keep your clamps on until the glue is fully dry. Also, I put like 5 million screws through the 2x4s into the pallet boards for extra rigidity. Maybe overkill.
Using the 2x4s as a guide, the desk top can be cut down to size. The ragged edges need to be cut flush. If you made a rectangular desk you could maybe skip this step, but since my desk has a 10 degree angle I had a lot to cut! If you have a large table saw, you could cut the entire desk top flush there. My saw and shop are simply too small, so using a handheld power saw (ideally circular saw) like a jig saw can work in a pinch.
Add a border to the desktop. I had some 1x4s leftover from another project, and stained them dark brown for this desk. I used a miter saw to cut the 1x4s at the appropriate angles, and wrapped this 1×4 edge around the entire perimeter of the desktop. Basically 4 boards (each a different length). 45 degree miters on the back (straight) edge, with different angles for the front edge. Glue up the 1x4s (or whatever edge you like), and clamp like crazy.
Sand the pallet desk top. I used an orbital sander with roughly 200 grit sandpaper on the entire surface of the desk. Pallet wood dust can be dangerous, so wear a mask and vacuum up all the dust.
Add legs to the desk! had some 4x4s laying around, so that informed my leg choices. You could easily use steel rods, or 2x4s, or even traditional lathed legs. But I used a 4×4 in each corner, with steel brackets securing it to both the 2×4 support beams AND the 1×4 edge beams. The 4x4s are placed directly under the 2×4 supports, to ensure the weight is distributed across the whole surface. Don’t just plop your legs under the thin pallet wood. For stability, I cut 45 degree angles with the miter saw on some 4×4 braces. These braces are secured with 2″ screws.
For finishing woodworking projects, I use Danish oil for most surfaces. I mix the Danish oil myself. (You can find the recipe for Danish oil here.) I added a final layer of brush-on (oil based) polyurethane a day after the Danish oil had dried. I applied a glossy polyurethane to the pallet desk top and edges, but NOT the legs, to give some contrast. Depending on your desired finish (and quality of your wood) you can sand the desk with 0000 steel wool between coats, or 320 grit sandpaper for the polyurethane. Let the poly cure for at least a day before use.
Thanks, Rob! To check out some of the art and design he’s crafting at his pallet desk, or to see more DIYs, visit Fringe Focus.