How To Make A Bookcase From Pallets And Upgrade Your Decor

Pallets are versatile and perfect for turning them into something new. Almost all DIYers have, at some point, used pallets to make a new piece of furniture. There are various ideas you can do with that material. You can make from a bar, wine rack and bed up to making garden furniture, including a coffee table and a sofa, or a garden bench.

A bright modern living room with a DIY bookcase from pallets

What can you do, though, when it comes to making a display shelf? Or something bigger, like a pallet bookcase? Making bed frames might be quite simple. But making such a piece of furniture, can it be an easy DIY project? Fortunately, with the right guidelines, it can be easy enough. That’s why we have prepared a step-by-step tutorial on making a pallet book rack and helping you upgrade your home decor.

What are pallets, and which type is the best for woodworking projects?

A pallet, also known as a skid, binds together pieces of wood, forming a wooden structure used to support goods. It’s usually made from hardwoods, like hickory, maple, oak and walnut. You can also find pallets made from softwoods like pine. Beyond wooden ones, though, there are also skids made of metal, paper, recycled materials and plastic, which are mainly used in industry as they can hold heavier loads than wooden pallets.

There are 3 main types of pallets. Their main difference lies in size:

  • EURO-pallet: It’s the most popular type. Its dimensions are 1200x800x144mm. It weighs 25kilograms.
  • ISO-pallet: Its dimensions 1200x1000x144 mm. It’s a single-layer one.
  • 1/2 pallet: its dimensions are 800×600×144 mm. This type is perfect to create small furniture pieces.

The most used type to DIY pallet furniture ideas is the first one, the EURO-pallet, due to its convenient dimensions and durability. Of course, depending on your DIY plans, you can opt for any type that fits your needs. 

What to look for when purchasing pallets

Unfortunately, size isn’t the only factor you need to consider when choosing skids, especially if you get old ones. You need to check them for any spills, marks, stains and discolouration. If you notice any of these, don’t use them. Also, avoid old pallets with written numbers, stamped symbols, words, paints on the sides. All these are signs that the skids have been used to transport harmful products. Those which are used to transport domestic goods are clean without any marks and signs.

wooden pallets

Marks and stains aren’t the only things you need to check for. There are other symbols as well which mean international shipment; a country-of-origin abbreviation, a registration number, plus an IPPC logo and treatment code.

Treatment code

This code is a 2-4 letter code telling what the pallets were treated with. There are 6 different codes:

  • DB: In simple words, it means Debarked. Pallets marked with a DB stamp are safe to use as they’re chemical-free. The bark has been removed with a cutting tool, and they didn’t need treatment.
  • HT: It means Heat-treated. These are also safe to use. They are placed into a raging kiln for 30 minutes to avoid chemical treatment for bugs.
  • MB: It stands for Methyl Bromide. You should avoid skids marked with that code. It’s a poisonous fungicide.
  • EPAL: It’s an abbreviation for European Pallet Association Logo. It’s absolutely safe to use these pallets as they’re debarked and heat treated.
  • EUR: It’s the older version of EPAL. It would be best if you stayed away from them unless EPAL approves them.
  • Coloured pallets: Usually, coloured skids transport pool chemicals and can be dangerous. Thus, avoid them for DIY projects, no matter how great they look.

IPPC logo

There isn’t much to say about this. The only sure thing is that you should stay away from skids coming from abroad unless they have that seal. 

How to prepare your pallet wood for upcycling DIY ideas

Apart from a wooden structure used to load and transport goods, pallets can be turned into a plethora of items from coffee tables for the living room and the garden, floating shelves, and frames to coat racks, nightstands, and bunk beds for your kids’ room.

man measuring pallet with measuring tape

But before any DIY home improvement or woodworking project, you need to prepare your pallets. The “preparing” steps are: disassembling, cutting, shaping, sanding and finishing. You don’t have to follow all 5 steps in every pallet project. However, it’s good to know what you have to do.


To disassemble the skids, you need the following:

  1. Hammer, pry bar, and cat’s paw: These three tools are all it takes to break apart a pallet without breaking it and damaging it.
  2. Nail punch: Use a nail punch to drive the nails free. This way is best to be done on stubborn rings, screws, and spiral-shank nails.
  3. Drill: If none of the above work, you can use a metal drill bit and drill to remove the old pallet nails.
  4. Clean cut: Finally, you can just cut the pallet planks and leave the ends and nails affixed to the stringer.

Cutting, shaping, sanding and finishing

You have managed to find free pallets and disassemble them, but unfortunately, that’s not enough. You also have to cut, shape, sand and finish your reclaimed wood before turning it into something new. As a rule, the order of the needed jobs goes like this: shaping, sanding, finishing, cutting and assembling.

Skids are usually unfinished. That’s the reason why they’re so rough. You can sand it with medium-grit sandpaper or pass it through a wood planer for a cleaner and crispier wooden surface if you want a clean look. When it comes to cutting and shaping, avoid making cuts near nail holes or cracks. Like almost all types of wooden materials, pallet woods shrink as they age, making them prone to splitting and breaking during cutting. Finally, if you want to have a shabby chic rustic look on your DIY bookshelf unit, then no finish is required.

How to make a bookcase from pallets

There are dozens of DIY bookshelf ideas. However, we have the simplest way to make just a pallet wood shelf to a whole book rack. Let’s see what tools and materials you need and the steps to follow:

A young man making a bookcase from pallets

Needed materials:

Steps to follow:

  1. First, cut 6 slats in half using the saw. You need 12 shorter slats.
  2. Sand them a bit to smooth them and paint them.
  3. Let them dry.
  4. Once they are dried, put three shorter slats together to make the shelves.
  5. Then, screw the 4 longer ones with the shelves.
  6. Finally, paint once more to cover any unfinished spots.

A man making a bookcase from pallets

There are thousands of ideas on upcycling reclaimed pallet wood, from a simple pallet wall shelf to a whole garden furniture set. A DIY pallet bookshelf is just a simple way to recycle your old pallets instead of throwing them away. Follow our step-by-step tutorial and create your own DIY wooden pallet bookcaseNext project: Learn how to anchor a bookcase without drilling.

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