What Kind of Wood Are Pallets Made Of?

Pallet lumber

Have you ever wondered what wood are pallets made of? Some people do not even realize that pallets can be made of different wood types.

There are several types of pallet wood and this guide will tell you how to figure out the pallet wood species.

Myths About Pallet Wood

There are a lot of things that people mistakenly believe about pallet wood that we would like to dispel.

  1. Not all pallets are created equally – many people believe that one specific species is used to create pallets. That is not true. Just as many people believe that pallets are globally standardized, that is also not a truth. While two of the biggest players in the global market do have standardizations in place (the EU and North America) for the most part it is a rather free for all when it comes to the type of wood that is used around the globe.
  2. Pallet wood is just scrap wood. This is also not a truth, while at the end of its life cycle a pallet may wind up in a scrap heap, it likely started out using wood that could be used for your sofa, kitchen table and more. Most pallets start out with a high grade of wood.
  3. All pallet wood is unsafe. While some pallet wood is chemically treated, much of it today is heat treated making it completely safe to work with.

There is a lot to learn about pallets and the wood that they are made from. Having first hand knowledge of what wood is used to make pallets can help you to make informed decisions whether you are working in a warehouse or you are interested in DIY projects or you are starting a pallet business.

It is especially important that you learn as much as you can if you are considering starting a pallet business. Being informed means building trust with your customers and presenting yourself as an authority in pallets.

Why Wood?

Today you can find pallets made of both wood and plastic. Many people prefer the wood pallets over the plastic pallets for several reasons including:

  • Wood pallets are completely repairable
  • Wood pallets are completely recyclable
  • They deliver the strength and reliability that has sustained generations of business owners
  • Wood pallets have less impact on the environment through out their life cycle
  • Wood is renewable and the raw materials are easy to find

Plastic pallets, once they are broken are very difficult to repair, if they can be repaired at all. While plastic pallets can be recycled the process of recycling them in and of itself puts a drain on the environment.

Wood pallets can be easily recycled which makes them a great option for cost effectiveness and for the environment. Additionally, if a wooden pallet needs to be repaired, the repairs can be affected quite easily!

Stack of Palletes

Manufacturing wood pallets has less of an impact on the environment then manufacturing plastic pallets. Wood is a renewable raw material, plastics are made from petroleum which comes from fossil fuels.

In most cases not only is wood the sounder environmental choice but it is also the more cost-effective option. Pallets have a lifecycle expectancy of about 10 years with minimum repairs.

They can be recycled, reused and repurposed once they have lived out their usefulness in the supply chain. Plastic is non-biodegradable and not quite as “user friendly” when it comes to repurposing them.

Wooden pallets have been the pallet of choice for supply chains and it looks like they will continue to be so.

We Have Gone Over the Basics

If you have been paying attention you have already picked up quite a bit of information about the wood pallet like it is an environmentally friendly option and not all wood pallets come from the same raw materials.

Continue reading to learn more in-depth information about the type of wood used to create pallets and the driving force behind the raw materials.

The Region Matters

Wooden pallet types are largely specific to the region of origin. In other words, since there is no real standardization, wood pallet types can range greatly from country to country.

For example, the Euro Pallet or EPAL can be made from 14 different types of approved wood. In North America there are largely only 2 types of wood that are used in pallet construction, the Southern Yellow Pine and Oak, but there are other types of soft woods that are used as well like Poplar and Fir. In India Mahogany is often used to craft pallets.

When manufacturers talk about the type of wood their pallets are made from you will often hear terms like “soft wood” or “hard wood” instead of hearing which species of tree is used in the processing of the wood.

Hardwoods can be defined as:

“the wood from a broadleaved tree (such as oak, ash, or beech) as distinguished from that of conifers” another explanation that makes it easier to identify hardwood is it comes from a tree that loses its leaves in the fall and then regrows them in the spring.

Softwoods can be defined as:

“the wood from a conifer (such as pine, fir, or spruce) as distinguished from that of broadleaved trees.” In other words, a tree that never loses its leaves and stays green year-round.

The fact is what ever tree is abundant in that specific region, that is the tree that is used to get the raw materials to make pallets. While in the US, using Mahogany as a pallet wood is nearly unheard of, in India it is a very standard practice.

Ultimately the region that the pallet originates is going to play one of the biggest roles in what type of wood the pallet is made from. One countries “junk trees” is another countries “rare species” and that directs how the wood is used.

A Misconception

A lot of people mistakenly believe that “soft wood” is not as strong as “hard wood” but the fact is that they share equal durability and strength and, in many cases, the soft wood species are better to build pallets with.

The ISO requirements for international pallets, include a regulation that requires heat treatment to kill fungus, bacteria and insects. Soft woods are ideal for kiln drying and a by-product of the heat treatment is that it makes soft wood harder.

Other benefits of soft wood pallet manufacturing include:

  • More availability, it is estimated that 80% of all the trees on the planet are soft wood type trees
  • Lighter wood makes for lighter pallets
  • It is cheaper

Hardwood pallets are naturally stronger and have historically been used to build things like flooring and furniture because of the strength that is associated with it, however, once soft wood has been kiln dried or heat treated it can be equally as strong and durable. Ultimately you do have choices.

Pallets

What Wood is Used for Pallets?

As mentioned above there is wide range of wood that is used for pallets, some of the most popular pallet wood materials are oak and pine. Largely lumber for pallets are determined by several different factors including:

  • Availability of the wood
  • Cost of the wood
  • Region the pallet is being constructed in
  • Government regulations

Basically, any wood can be used to craft pallets but ultimately the type of wood used comes down to one thing; the bottom line. Manufacturers consider the availability of the wood and the cost of the wood and whether the wood follows their home countries regulations.

Pine pallets are a very popular option because pine checks off the manufacturers list nicely. The lumber is widely available, the cost is reasonable and if need be pine can be heat treated effectively.

Pine trees are abundant in many regions of the world and are often the go to source for raw materials for pallets.

Oak pallets also check off the list nicely, although raw materials are a bit costlier. Of course, this points to the reason why, you are likely to either have a pine pallet or an oak pallet sitting in your warehouse.

How to Tell What Kind of Wood a Pallet Is

There are a few easy ways to identify what type of wood your pallets are made of:

  1. Ask the manufacturer, if you have a relationship with them! While some people do not get the pallet until it has passed through many different hands, some businesses do have a relationship with the manufacturer. If you are in the latter category, just ask and the manufacturer will be happy to tell you.
  2. Smell it! Okay this may seem like a strange way to find out if you have a hard wood or a softwood pallet, but it is a reliable way of knowing what you are dealing with. A softwood pallet will retain its distinct “pine scent”. You can just scratch the surface of a knot with a bit of sandpaper to catch a whiff. Oak has an earthier scent than softwoods.
  3. Take a good look. A lot of people mistakenly believe that all pallets are made of the same wood but once you know better it becomes obvious that they are not. One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the different types of wood is to learn to recognize the wood grain patterns. Just looking at the ends of the pallet gives you an idea that the wood is different. As oak ages it gets a grayer type of patina to it while pine seemingly gets browner.
  4. Add a few drops of water. When you add some drops of water to a pallet it can be a very revealing activity. You will be able to notice the grain more and the color the wood turns when it is wet. Pine will get a deeper golden color but other softwoods like poplar will turn an ashy looking color as it dries.
  5. Pick it up! Softwoods are lighter woods which therefore make lighter pallets, and the weight between oak and pine are noticeably different.

With a little detective work and some effort, you will be able to be a self-taught pallet wood guru and easily be able to spot the different woods used in pallet construction.

Aftermarket Pallet Use

A pallets life cycle does not end when that last load is loaded on it and it makes the journey through the supply chain for the last time.

Pallets have become something of a cult obsession. After all, repurposing a pallet for a wide range of projects means getting free wood or close to free wood and that is always a great motivator.

A lot of people have jumped on the “repurpose a pallet” bandwagon and for those people it is vital to know what type of pallet wood material you are working with to ensure you get the results that you hope for, for your project.

Being able to identify wooden pallet types can improve your projects. Here are some tips:

Oak Pallets (or other hardwoods)

  • Great for furniture that you are going to sit on like outdoor sofas, swings and more
  • Great for outdoor furniture uses of all kinds
  • Bookcases and other furnishings that will hold heavy weight
  • As scrap wood for the fireplace or to cook with (be sure that you do not have a chemically treated pallet before you burn ANY pallet wood)

Pine Pallets (or other softwoods)

  • Headboards
  • Wall art
  • Gardening (think window boxes and raised beds)
  • Coffee tables, ottomans and more

There is an endless supply of pallets that are just waiting to be claimed! Know your wood and then get to work!

Pallets Are Interesting Devices

Most of the time people do not give pallets much thought, but when you start to peel back the layers on what they are and what they are made from, you quickly realize that these simple devices are quite complex and there is a lot to learn.