Wednesday, January 2, 2013

DIY Pallet wall for $0!

About a month ago, my husband Joel and I moved in to our dream house, a beautiful, new-to-us, actually-older split level home. From the moment we saw it, we knew it was perfect - not for what it was already, but for the potential we saw. One of the first things we talked about doing, even before we had officially bought the house, was making a wood wall in the living room using recycled pallets.

I'll begin with the best part, the before and after, then I'll break down how we did it:

Cute, right?? We love it.

So here's how it went - yesterday at about 2 in the afternoon, inspiration hit us, and we decided we needed to do the pallet wall now. I had collected a bunch of pallets before it started to snow, so we had a good stockpile in our workshop. I found them really easily, just driving through the industrial section of our city and picking them out of the trash. 

The first thing I'll mention is that there is a lot of people online who are leery of using pallet wood in their homes, because of potential for chemicals, etc. Apparently, boards that are stamped with HT are better to use, because they have been heat treated, rather than chemically treated. I had collected my boards months ago and was worried that I had chosen the "wrong" kind of pallet wood. Luckily, every single one of my pallets had the stamp: 

In terms of other precautions we took - the boards sat in sub zero temperatures for months, which I'm hoping killed or slowed down anything potentially damaging. I also sprayed the boards with bleach, which hopefully killed anything else.

So we started with the dismantling process. I've read a lot about this online, and lots of people have mentioned that the process of prying the boards apart can be very tedious and time consuming. Joel skipped this part altogether, using a sawzall to slice the boards (and nails) apart. Even though I'm sure this is faster than prying, it still took a long time, and I got very bored, very fast.

I left him outside to listen to the soothing sounds of the sawzall, while I went inside and began the equally boring part of the job, prepping the wall. I started by removing the switch plates. For this job, I find a standard butter knife works best, but if you must, you could use a flathead screwdriver.

Next, I pried off the baseboards from the wall we would be covering. Again, I chose my tool of choice, the butter knife. Let me take this time to say that the butter knife is a great multipurpose tool which can also be used to open paint cans and remove hardware from cabinets. Basically if it involves prying or twisting, I will almost always opt for the butter knife.

Next, I primed the walls for the wood by painting them a dark color. I found this color in the basement - the previous owners left it there after using it to paint almost every other surface in our house. I have spent the past few weeks trying desperately to cover up the dark grey in my living room, family room, and kitchen, and here I am pulling it out to paint basically the only wall they left untouched.

I had read to paint the wall first because there would inevitably be cracks between the wood, but I really didn't believe it was worth the trouble. In fact, had I not found that paint downstairs, we likely wouldn't have painted it, and there would now be huge, glaring white patches behind our wall. Trust me, it is WORTH the 10 minutes of effort! I'm going to skip forward (spoiler alert!) and show you what I mean:

See? If those holes were showing white, it would be weird.

After all of that fun stuff, we began putting up the wood! A lot of pallet walls we have seen are adjacent to two other walls, so people just build them straight to the sides without framing them. Since our wall is open to the hallway, we used a couple of pieces of wood to frame it out, which we had seen on Cape 27 Blog. The wood we used on the right side wasn't necessary, but we did it just to match the left.

Following that, we started hanging up the wood! There's no real "how to" for this part - we just grabbed wood of the same width and attached it to the wall, trying hard to not match up seams so that it looked effortlessly random (while actually requiring quite a bit of effort.) 

Some bloggers have suggested stacking your wood in same-width piles before beginning, and honestly, if you are patient enough to do this, then you should totally go for it. This is just historically not how Joel and I do things. We both like to get things done quickly, and tend not to let things like measuring and prepping get in our way. It all worked out though, we were able to just pick the pieces as we went, rooting through the piles to find pieces that looked nice together. We mixed darkness of wood and length of wood, but we always consistently used the same width of board for each row. 

Soon we got to the *exciting* part of the night (meaning the one time during the project that anything other than choosing wood and nailing wood happened): the plugs! To start, Joel measured around them with a board, and cut out the appropriate shape to fit them through.

Next, he unscrewed the plugs themselves, and yanked them from the wall:

When he was done building the wood around them, he screwed them back in, this time to the pallet wood.

When he added the little switch plate back on, it looked totally normal.  I've seen some people who have recessed their plugs back into the wall, and I'm not wild about the way that looks. I really prefer having the plugs over the wood, as if the wood was a regular wall.

After the plugs, we were basically almost finished. After adding one more row of wood, we just had to slice a few pieces down the center to make sure the wall went right down to the floor. 

And after that... we were done!!

We are so in love. Honestly, we are so, so proud of something that we made together. I feel like after this project, we went from loving our house to loving our house. We were able to finish this project in about 6 hours, which includes everything from separating the wood from the pallets to cleaning up our mess.

A few final notes from this project:
  • Don't pay for pallets - I've read this before, and felt like this had to be something only Americans were scoring for free, because in Canada we never seem to get amazing deals like that. I called around and was told by many stores, like Rona, Home Depot, and Home Hardware, that they don't give away pallets. It wasn't until I drove down an industrial road and saw piles of pallets in the garbage that I understood, DO NOT pay for pallets! Trust me! I am a Canadian living the American dream!

  • This project is surprisingly boring to do. Seriously. I was the wood-hander, so I literally spent about 5 hours of my night just handing my husband wood, having the wood get rejected for size or stain, and looking for more wood. I think it was equally as boring on his end - get handed wood, nail wood to wall, get handed wood, reject wood, nail wood to wall, for 5 hours. It's not fun. Luckily, it doesn't take too long.
  • Paint your wall!! Can't stress this enough.
  • See it through - about halfway through the project, I got a bit worried about how the wall was going to "tie-in" with the rest of our house. Our decor tends to be very pretty and light (lots of pale colors, white accents) and I was scared that this wall was going to be a giant dark monster in the room. I obviously got over this and we finished the wall, at which point I realized that it was the most beautiful thing we could possibly have made (I'm sure someday I'll say that when we have a kid, but for now, the pallet wall is our baby).

  • Resist the urge to stain your pallet wood - this is what makes it so special, and what truly makes it a zero dollar project. I had seen other pallet walls and was sure my wood wasn't "special" or "interesting" enough. Joel convinced me that if I didn't like the way it looked, we could stain the wall after, and I'm so glad that I didn't touch my wood. It makes the job so much easier, and it's way more fun to say that it's untouched pallet wood. 
That's about it - it's definitely a project worth trying. Let me know if you decide to try a pallet wall!


  1. Wow! I love this so much. Great job guys!

  2. I love this wall! It was very brave and adventurous of you but it certainly paid off. Tres cool!

    1. Thank you!! It's always terrifying to take on a project like this, but I have to remind myself that it *can* be undone if need be (although my husband would have been really sad to take it down if I didn't like it!)

  3. The reason people recess the electrical plugs is that the plug is supposed to be attached to the electrical enclosure inside the wall. Yours looks better, but probably doesn't comply with your local electrical code. Additionally, you should turn off the electricity before taking the plug out of the box.
    Looks great!

    1. Hey - thanks for the note! Luckily my husbands an electrician, so he takes care of these kinds of things to make sure they're up to code. He used a switch box extension and longer screws that reach to the device box. I suppose I could have mentioned those in the entry, but to be honest I had never heard the name for a switch box extension until I showed him this reply and he told me what he used.

      Thanks for the comment! :)

  4. Super super awesome! I hope one day to own a wall to do this too!

    1. Thanks - I hope too that you get that wall someday! (hopefully attached to a house!)

  5. Hello! I found your blog today on Pinterest. Like you, I am an elementary teacher in Pembroke ON (just down the road from Ottawa (my hometown)). My teaching assignment this year is diverse - The Arts (music, art, drama, dance) for students in JK/K to grade 8. Your art lessons are super and I'm going to "steal" some of your ideas. I also love your DIY projects as well and I always have a "project" going on in our house.

    Hugs, Heather B.

    1. I'm glad you found your way over to my site - we Canadian arts teachers need to stick together!

  6. What an amazing transformation! I love the character it adds to the room! Bravo!

  7. Your wall looks gorgeous, nicely done!!!

  8. Great project.

    Just one question. Why not remove the border at the ceiling. A little bit of a jarring mix there.

  9. Quick question I see that the width of your boards vary, does the thickness of the boards vary as well or are they all one thickness? Your project turned out great!

    1. The thickness varied within the entire wall. As long as the width was similar, the thickness doesn't matter (so you couldn't run your hand smoothly along the wall.) We tried to keep like boards together, though!

  10. hey did you guys just us a nail gun to put the boards up? and if so how did you make it look like the boards didn't have a million nails in there?

  11. I love this look so much. I am wanting to have a wall on our entryway to look like this too. That is if I can convince my husband to help me on this project. And I have to collect for freebie pallets, as well. The wall just looks so beautifully rustic. Love it! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Looks great. Has it held up well?
    Similar to a question above...Did you simply nail the boards into the studs behind? Any challenges with that with smaller length boards? Did you leave the heads of the cut screws imbedded, too?

    1. sorry...cut nails, not screws.


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