The Truth About Pallets

I may have dropped out of engineering school, but I picked up one valuable lesson while I was there: if you want to do something, see how other people have done it and then do it better. I make enough mistakes on my own, so if I can avoid a few by doing some research you can bet I will.

I saw a lot of raw pallets turned into tables, but nothing that looked finished. Not that there’s anything wrong with the raw look, but I wanted a more refined look for my dining table for my apartment, not a pallet with legs for my dorm room. I designed that table from the ground up (actually from the top down, but that doesn’t sound as good) and I learned some hard lessons. The table came out great and I spent the next couple of years refining and streamlining the design and building process. The Vagabond Dining Table you see today is the close relative of my first table design – which was born even before Back Burner Designs had a name of its own.

Since then, I’ve seen lots of pallet creations – good, bad, and ugly, and I’ve read a lot of stories and articles on pallets themselves. Much like the creations themselves, there’s good information and bad information, so I’d like to clear up some myths and answer some questions. Whether your looking to buy a Back Burner Designs pallet table or your about to tackle your own DIY project, here’s the lowdown that you need to know.


Where do pallets come from?
Trees. Sorry, that was a joke. Pallets are manufactured by hundreds of different companies in the US and worldwide. They are considered one of the most integral parts of our global economy. “Pallets move the world”

Are pallets a huge waste of our resources?
Wooden pallets and crates consume 44% of hardwood produced in the US annually, but don’t immediately think that is such a bad thing. First off, that’s a great boost to our economy, but yes, we’re talking about the environment here. Most of the wood used for pallets is considered less desirable because it is less uniform and may contain more knots and imperfections, therefore making it less valuable to lumber producers. These trees would be cut down anyway for the more desirable lumber to be harvested and the remainder would all be waste – instead we make pallets. Wood is also sustainable provided the forests are harvested, planted, and maintained properly. While it could be argued that we can do a better job, it is a fact that the amount of trees in the US is growing annually and that we’re planting faster than we’re harvesting, so pallet’s aren’t ruining us as of yet.

How many pallets are there?
It is widely accepted that there are roughly 2 billion pallets in circulation in the US. We manufacture more than 400 million per year and about 43% of pallets that are purchased are recovered pallets that are put back into circulation.

Is pallet wood low quality?
There are good pallets and bad pallets. A lot of lumber used for pallets isn’t as straight in long lengths or as free of defects as high grade lumber, but it will have a lot more character. Between the interesting grain and the markings from abuse, pallet wood has an aesthetic all its own. The bottom line is that pallet wood is hard to work with and isn’t a good choice for high-precision applications, but for a one-of-a-kind table with a lot of charm and personality, pallets are king!

Where do pallets go when they are no longer useful?
Pallets are everywhere, some get burned in bonfires, others get picked up and returned to circulation, some are upcycled, still others are left outside for so long they begin to biodegrade.

How long do pallets last?
Pallets have a useful service life of 5-7 years, but two thirds of pallets we produce are single-use and are retired after they reach their end destination.

How many pallets end up in landfills?
Not as many as you might think! Some studies have estimated that as few as 3% of pallets actually end up in landfills, though other studies say that the number is higher. In either event, it’s likely that pallet recycling rates are much higher than our plastic bottles, glass, cardboard, and anything else. Also, pallets are biodegradable so the few that make it to the landfill will (eventually) decompose.

I heard pallets are treated with chemicals that are harmful, are they unsafe?
It is true that some pallets are treated with chemicals. Some pallets have markings that tell you about the origin and treatment of the wood. Unmarked pallets are for domestic use only and most are untreated. If you’re doing a DIY, here’s a must-read article that explains the markings.

At Back Burner Designs, we carefully pick pallets and handle them with care so you can feel confident that our products are safe for your family!

I read that pallet furniture is dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed in my home, what is the truth?
At the end of the day, it’s all about pallet selection and handling. When one of our dining tables leaves the shop, it is not only made with good handpicked pallets, the wood is smooth and sealed. We take the guesswork out of it for you, so you don’t have to worry!

Is there anything I didn’t answer?
Feel free to comment other questions!

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