Recycle Wood




About: Perhaps I am the heretical harbinger of the New Archaic, perhaps I just like wood.

Recycling wood is a great way to get free wood, keep useful things out of landfills, and save a few trees. In areas with few resources, other than resourceful people, recycled wood is used for cooking, heating, art, toys, tools, furniture, and construction.


Step 1: Find Some Wood

The first step is to find some wood. Most industrial areas will have stacks of pallets that they are willing to give you, wooden objects often are left on the street on garbage day, dumpster dive, see what washes up on the beach, or scavenge from that project you abandoned.

Step 2: Tools

In a pinch all you need is a hammer and willpower. However, a crowbar is very useful, safety glasses will keep flying nails out of your eyes, and ear protection will soften the pounding sounds. If you want to get really fancy I also recommend a cat's paw and pliers for pulling out especially difficult nails, and a saw to cut around the impossible ones (none of these additional items are pictured because they are usually not necessary).

Step 3: Lift One Side

Place the crowbar between the planks of wood in line with the nails holding it together, and lift. This should pull the nails partway out. I do not recommend trying to pull the nails all the way out with out first loosening the other side, pulling too hard may result in cracked wood.

Step 4: Lift the Other Side.

Move the crowbar to the other side, and pull and loosen it. Switch back and forth until one side is free. If you switch more than three times you are not exerting enough force.

Step 5: Lever Out the Other Side

Once one side is free you can use it to lever out nails on the other side by lifting the whole plank.

Step 6: Pound Out the Nails

Flip the louse board over and pound the sharp end of the nails with the hammer. This will force the nails most of the way out of the wood.

Step 7: Pull the Nails Out

Flip the board back over and use the crowbar to pull the nails the rest of the way out. Caution: the nails may fly when they spring out of the wood.
Repeat steps 3-7 until all of the boards are off.

Step 8: Breakage

You may not have a one hundred percent success rate, but hopefully the wood was free to begin with.

Step 9: Breakage Part 2

The board broke because this nail did not want to come free. Use the crowbar to pull out this stubborn fellow.

Step 10: The Last Board

The last board is usually the hardest to remove. In some cases it may be necessary to pound the crowbar under the board with the hammer.

Step 11: Look at All This Great Wood

Now that you have separated the boards and driven out the nails you have nice pile of wood. If the boards aren't as straight as you might like re-cut the edges with a table saw. If the boards are not as clean or smooth as you might like wash, sand or chisel the surface. Beautiful and unique coloration often emerges from found wood when it is sanded.



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    47 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 7

    NOTE: SAVE the nails! They are great for reassembly, and they are FREE!

    1 reply

    3 years ago on Introduction

    I also like old turned table and chair legs. I have some I have saved to make into new tables and chairs. However I have seen and can think of many additional uses. Turned portions might be used for vases, pepper grinders or candle holders. A series of mismatched legs could make a fun railing for a stairway, bed, or playpen. I have also seen turned legs sliced and embedded into flat surfaces such as flooring, furniture and boats. Let me know what you come up with.

    blue chicory

    3 years ago on Introduction

    I have a bunch of lathe turned wooden chair legs and lathe turned wooden table legs and I would really like someone to get some use out of them since they are so beautiful and someone took the time to make them in the first place. I would like to pass them on to someone that could repurpose them to make new items. I have looked all over and noone recycles broken wooden chair parts. It's too bad. I hate to throw them away. Any ideas?


    3 years ago

    I love to recycle wood but some of the pallets have all sorts of chemicals as preservatives so be careful esp cooking or burning in confined areas


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hey. Great instructable. Well crafted. I wish I had more scrapyards near me. BooHooHoo.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    agreed! I can only find one scrap yard within 50 miles of Sacramento! where did all the great junk yards go to!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry for being kinda random, but does anybody know what to do with chemically treated wood? I'm very hesitant about incineration or just chucking it in the trash. Thanks!

    4 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    What ever you do, please don't burn it. My father did a lot of backpacking when he was younger. One night he a group of homeless people invited him to warm himself by their fire. They were burning old railroad ties because that was the only wood that they had. The fumes were so bad that it made him sick and he still has nausea whenever he smells treated wood. I would recommend contacting whoever collects your trash as well as the dump it goes to. They may have a specific procedure for dealing with the nasty stuff.


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    On construction sites, whenever we remove old railroad ties they have to be shipped to a special haz waste facility for processing. If your concerned about dumping anything that you think should not go into the trash (or cant be re-used) contact your local disposal company and describe what you have. They should be able to help you with proper disposal proceedures.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Old railroad ties aren't the worst offenders in the toxic-fumes department. Pressure-treated wood of the greenish variety that has been treated with CCA  (copper chromium arsenate) gives off worse fumes than creosote-treated ties. Arsenate is form of arsenic. Don't burn it! It's fairly stable in the unburned wood as long as it's not burned (though there can be patches of unabsorbed green chemicals on the outside of wood that is fairly fresh from the factory-- wash your hands if you handle it). CCA-treated wood is stamped to identify it, but don't assume that otherwise inidentifiable greenish wood isn't treated. CCA was replaced by more benign chemicals in recent years, but I don't know how these fare in the toxic-smoke department.
    ---CCA wood is great for outdoor projects, though, especially for the bases of things that sit on the ground. Tool shed floors, and so on. I'm a bit skeptical about whether or not anyone actually became ill from it during the decades when it was used for playground structures. To be on the safe side, if you're using CCA wood for projects that kids will use, confine it to the parts that rest on the ground.
    ---The disturbing trend among safety-advocates away from focussing on actual, demonstrated hazards, and toward potential dangers or dangers that might occur under some hypothetical circumstances makes it hard to know for sure what to worry about. People have used CCA-treated wood for years on decks and playgrounds, but I never heard of anyone getting sick from unburned CCA-treated wood, and the literature in support of the ban is full of terms like "risk" instead of "illness" and a lot of speculation about potential dangers of arsenic levels that are slightly higher than guidelines beneath CCA-treated structures. The stuff is dangerous to handle in its liquid form, for sure, and plant workers have become very ill. But the literature on the danger of the installed product is full of hype and sensationalism and speculative language, and notably lacking in evidence of actual illness caused by the wood itself.
    ---Finding ways to recycle CCA-treated wood keeps this non-biodegradable stuff out of landfills. There are zillions of old decks made from it.  This kind of wood tends to split and to corrode fasteners, so use self-tapping, coated construction screws made for use on treated lumber.
    ---Another safety tip: though treated wood dulls saw blades faster than regular wood, don't economize here. Dull blades generate smoke, while sharp blades generate coarse sawdust. The smoke is toxic, and will make you feel a bit nauseated, but the coarse sawdust keeps the chemicals encapsulated in the little chunks of wood, and these drop to the ground instead of going airborne.
    ---Damn, wouldn't the world be a better place if safety advocates and investigative journalists hadn't compromised their credibility with decades of alarmist hype, misleading sensationalism, and junk science?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    In the past I use to soak the pallets in a river or pond for a few days and this helps lossen the boards form the nails.

    Here is how to dismantle a fragile pallet without splitting it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I work at a print shop. We go through lots of pallets. They are great for makeing smaller things. I can sometimes get 3/16" plywood at 24"x32", or 12"x32"x3/4" pieces. I've been using the wood to make bird houses.


    8 years ago on Step 11

    I use a small tack puller to pull the nail heads high enough so I can get them with a pry bar.

    1 reply

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Cool, my neighbors just had a house fire, only a very small portion of the house was affected, but the insurance company told them they have to level it and start over,  so I will be making trips across the road for some free wood.  House deconstruction is a great place to get good building material. 

    those twist nails in pallets stink! use a hacksaw to cut the planks off the 2x4s if thats all you want to use