Lifecycle of a Wooden Pallet
It’s likely that you’ve seen wooden pallets at home improvement stores, big box stores, and garden stores. They make shipping and storing goods much easier, but have you ever wondered where wooden pallets come from?
There is an entire process behind the lifecycle of a wooden pallet that explains how and why they mean so much to the manufacturing industry.
Forests are the primary source of wood used in pallet production. Trees are harvested, converted to lumber, and then cut into the necessary dimensions. Softwood pallet boards sometimes contain knots and wanes that are not used in other lumber-based products, yet are strong enough to handle heavy loads while maintaining durability and longevity.
When lumber is not suitable for housing or high-grade materials, roughly 5% of this harvested lumber lends itself to the pallet industry, helping utilize the full harvest without excess waste. Because lumber isn’t specifically harvested for the purpose of pallets, pallet manufacturers recycle unused logging materials from both hard and softwoods to produce pallets of varying qualities.
How Old is Lumber Before it's Cut?
Lumber usually gets harvested from trees that have reached 80 years or more, yet the age may differ depending on species and processing. Different species of wood may get acquired from different aged trees; for instance, hardwoods like oak or walnut can come from mature specimens, while softer woods such as pine or cedar could stem from younger ones. The age of a tree does not necessarily determine its quality. How well the wood has been cared for during harvesting and processing matters most.
What Types of Trees Are Used in Pallets?
Hardwoods, like oak, ash, and maple, are frequently the go-to for pallet production due to their robustness and long-term dependability. Tropical hardwoods, like mahogany or teak, add a more pleasing visual appeal.
Softwoods like pine, fir, and spruce can also be used for pallets. In the Intermountain West, 97% of forests are comprised of softwoods, making shipping and manufacturing more accessible and efficient compared to obtaining lumber from farther and more remote forests.
While wood pallets aren’t the only types of pallets created within the pallet industry, they are by far the most sustainable and cost-effective product on the market, which is why some of the largest businesses throughout the world rely on them so prevalently. To see more about the sustainability of wood pallets, view our blog here.
Wood processing is the process of transforming raw lumber into usable products. It involves several steps, from harvesting to milling and finishing.
The first step in wood processing is harvesting the trees. Harvesting can involve machinery or manual labor, depending on the size and type of tree. Logging companies use special equipment such as chainsaws, feller bunchers, skidders, and grapple trucks to cut down large trees quickly and efficiently.
After the logs are harvested they are sent to a sawmill, where they get cut into boards that will eventually become pallets.
Pallet assembly is the process of combining different components to form a complete pallet. The pieces used in pallet assembly include boards, stringers, blocks, and nails.
Manufacturers make stringers from 2x4’s or other sturdy pieces of wood. These stringers run along each side of the other boards to secure the pieces. Blocks can serve as spacers between layers of boards to help keep them aligned during shipping or storage; they also provide additional support when needed.
Pallet styles are the various ways a wooden pallet is constructed to meet different needs. Different pallets have varying advantages and disadvantages, making it crucial to choose the right one for your needs.
- Stringer Pallets are the most common type. They have two or three boards, or stringers, supporting a deck board on top.
- Block Pallets rely on several blocks to create a sturdy pallet that can support significant weight. However, they are expensive to produce.
- Double Face Pallets feature two decks connected by four-way entry block-style legs. They are ideal for storing products upright in warehouses or distribution centers because you can stack up to five high without additional supports.
PDS stands for pallet design system. It is a computer program that helps to create efficient and cost-effective designs for wooden pallets. The program utilizes various metrics, such as dimensions of the wood, weight capacity, and loading requirements to generate an optimized design that meets all customer specifications.
The PDS software starts by taking measurements from the customer's desired size and then creates a model based on the specifications.
Next, PDS calculates how much lumber is needed for each component, using minimal material while still meeting strength requirements. It then builds a blueprint to create the custom pallets.
Machines Used in Pallet Manufacturing
Manufacturers use a variety of common machines to craft pallets.
- Saws cut lumber into the desired shape and size for building a pallet.
- Planers smooth out rough surfaces and ensure that all parts fit together perfectly.
- Pallet Design Systems (PDS) ensure pallets are created to exact specifications with efficient use of available lumber.
- Nailing machines attach boards during pallet construction by using either pneumatically-driven nails or staples.
Finally, you might see some specialty machines, like heat-treated chambers to standardize pallets for international shipping requirements.
Shipping is a critical part of the woodworking process, enabling timely and safe delivery of lumber to its destination. Lumber is usually shipped by truck, rail, or boat, depending on the size of the order and the distance.
Trucking covers shorter distances, up to 500 miles from origin to destination. This method allows faster delivery times and more flexibility. However, trucking can be pricier due to greater fuel costs and longer transit periods.
Rail transportation works best for large orders over long distances (typically 1000+ miles). This method has lower operating costs than trucking but requires specialized equipment and can take longer than other options.
Boat transportation is best suited for larger orders being shipped overseas, where time isn't a factor due. Expect lower fuel costs compared to trucks, making them ideal for international shipments.
Recycling pallets is key to sustainability measures, a practice that triggered a massive movement. Cleaning up and repurposing old pallets is a hobby for some and a livelihood for others.
Fixing Up Older Pallets and Having Them Reused
There are countless uses for reclaimed wooden pallets, including furniture, garden decor and features, tool sheds, and even wall coverings. With enough creativity, almost anything is possible.
Just be sure to follow a few key steps before you start building.
- Assess their condition to make sure they only need a simple cleaning and some minor repairs.
- If the pallet has more significant damage, you might need to do more involved repairs to make the boards functional
- Sanding down any rough spots to avoid splinters.
- Reinforcing weak areas with additional nails or screws.
You can paint or stain them to enhance the end result. For best results, use a high-quality exterior paint designed specifically for wood surfaces.
From the forestry to the shipping stage, there are many steps involved in producing high-quality pallets. It's vital for those who rely on these items to comprehend the complexities of their fabrication, so they can make wise choices when buying or utilizing them. By understanding each step in the production process, we can ensure that our wood pallets will last longer and serve their purpose more effectively.