Try wooden pallets for shabby chic do-it-yourself furniture

Melanie Oehlenbach –

Where most people might just see a stack of wooden pallets, Claudia Guther sees an opportunity for a new piece of furniture. Maybe a dinner table? Or how about a home bar, for cocktail parties?
“Wooden pallets can be turned into fantastic pieces of furniture for either outside or inside a home,” says the civil engineer and author. “They’re easy to obtain, very robust and at the same time flexible.”
Self-made beds, coffee tables and shelves have become increasingly trendy over the past few years, and even professional furniture designers have been getting on board.
But the concept is far from new: “My mother had built a bed out of pallets in the 1970s,” says Guther, who’s written two books on the topic of pallet furniture.
Wooden pallets can be found in varying sizes and quality. “There are pallets made from hardwood and softwood – which, depending on their manufacturing, can be totally different in terms of strength,” explains Mareike Hermann, from a do-it-yourself school in Germany.
Unlike standard pallets, disposable ones are generally much less finished and are therefore best used to make heavier furniture such as a table, bench, sofa or bed. They are also lighter, making them easy to simply attach to the wall as a shelf, and easier to take apart.
Hermann advises carefully inspecting the pallets before using them. “The wood can be infested with pests or bacteria,” she says. For this reason, she explains, it’s probably not a good idea to use pallet furniture in the kitchen or children’s rooms. Her tip: Look into the origins of the pallets, if possible.
You should not use pallets that are broken, moist, mouldy or oily. Rusty nails, splintering parts and an unpleasant smell are, in Hermann’s view, clear signs that you should pass on that pallet.
Dirty pallets can be scrubbed down with some soap and a brush. For a smooth surface, Hermann highly recommends sanding the pallets down.
“Your rag also doesn’t get caught as much when you’re wiping down the table before or after a meal,” explains the do-it-yourself expert.
While gloves and a mouth cover are an absolute must when putting together your pallet furniture, in Hermann’s opinion, you don’t really need much else in terms of tools – especially if you’re not taking the pallet apart to build whatever piece you’re assembling.
For a bed or sofa, it’s usually enough just to stack the pallets on top of one another and then screw them together. For a seatback, simply fasten a pallet on at a slight slant or even a right angle.
Hermann advises using screws that have a nut. “It makes the furniture more stable and durable,” she explains.
If you want some colour in your new piece, be sure to look for special wood paints. However, Guther advises a natural look: “The wood absorbs a tremendous amount of paint, and there’s always a spot that you miss.”
There’s also no need for wax or oil to protect the pallet piece from moisture. “Wood ages quite elegantly,” she says.
— dpa