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DIY: Upcycling pallets keeps costs down on French farmhouse renovation

Ladders, gabions and even a bar are among thrifty and creative ideas for repurposing wooden pallets

Pallets can be sanded and varnished to make a bar or repurposed as a gabion to store unwanted stones Pic: Nick Inman

It is said that we now live in a world dependent on the shipping container, to which I add we are also dependent on the ubiquitous wooden pallet.

These platforms made of crude planks of wood are used to move stacks of stuff around by lorry and forklift truck.

Once the goods have been unloaded from them, they are sent back empty to the supplier for re-use. But some of them are discarded on the way and, with a little thought, they can be useful for DIY projects.

Read more: Cheap pallets can make an ideal DIY shed

Pick up palettes condamnées for free

If you get building supplies delivered on pallets, they are usually returned for a deposit. 

However, if you ask any big shop – a  supermarket, garden centre or DIY store, for example – you will find they keep two piles: those that need to go back to the supplier and those that are an encumbrance because they are broken in some way, which are delightfully referred to as palettes condamnées.

Every so often I do the rounds to see if I can pick up faulty pallets that will serve my purposes. Not only is it a way of getting materials at zero cost, I am doing my bit for recycling at the same time.

Be discerning 

I have learned to be discerning and leave pallets that are old, dirty, or irreparable, but I frequently find ones that just need a nail knocking back into place or half a plank sawing off.

There was a time when I thought I could get lots of useful wood this way. I tried disassembling them completely with a crowbar and claw hammer but it is slow work. Besides which, the wood – not of good quality to begin with – often cracks in the process.

Even if I do get whole planks out of it, they are of a maximum length of a metre, which limits their use.

So I look for pallets that are in semi-decent condition and I use them whole.

Compost heap

I make my compost heaps out of them: square boxes held in place with stakes and cord.

These free compost heaps are modular and can be relocated when they are empty.

The wood rots eventually but it takes a while and can be repurposed to fuel a wood-burning stove.

Roof ladder

Another good use I found for old pallets is as ladders. 

When I needed to get from one sloping roof to another to fix my satellite dish attached to a chimney stack, I cut the requisite angle in the pallet and I was able to scramble up it.


Recently I have used pallets to solve a longstanding problem. I have accumulated a lot of unwanted stones during my various garden and building projects and I needed somewhere to store them.

I thought of buying gabion cages to fill with them, but there were so many I would have spent a fortune. 

Instead I decided to build my own cages out of pallets. I had to choose decent-looking ones of the same size.

Wedding bar

My latest pallet project has been to build a bar for a family wedding party: two pallets across the front, one on each side, held together by threaded rods, nuts and bolts.

I sanded all these pallets and gave them a coat of varnish so the bar looked like a deliberate design decision rather than the improvisation of a cheapskate.

The bar top is made of building planks, which I had to buy. 

The whole thing cost me very little to make and served its purpose over a weekend. Once you have put a few bottles on the top and a keg of beer behind, no one looks twice at the structure itself.

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