A DIY Pallet Wall is an inexpensive, homey way to add a big dose of character to almost any room! Here are some things we learned doing ours!
At some point last year, Chels saw one of those walls covered in old pallets that people do. She loved it, loved the “farmhouse” character it added, and started looking for places we could put an accent like this in our own house. We settled on a rather small wall that juts out into the informal dining area, primarily because of its location and size. It was small enough that the project wouldn’t be overwhelming or require an entire factory’s supply of pallets!
Putting up one of these decorative “accent walls” isn’t terribly complicated, and doesn’t really lend itself to the traditional DIY “step by step” tutorial, so I’m going to talk through a few of things we learned in doing this (we’ll probably do another wall at some point and learn more…) and share a few pictures. It’s a fun, simple project that brings a huge amount of character into a space!
Cost of Project
I’ve seen posts on doing a DIY pallet wall that put the cost at $20, or $50, or even nothing! All of them are right, depending on what you consider the cost of this project. Typically, you can get the pallets for free, and if not free, at least really cheap. You don’t have to stain them, and even if you do, the stain is typically under $10, and stain applicators are cheap, too – maybe $2-3. You’ll need nails and construction adhesive to put them up, which you very well may already have in your garage like I did. If you don’t, though, you’re probably out another $5-10 there. If there are electrical outlets or switches on the wall you choose, you’ll need some box extenders to compensate for the additional wall width added by the pallets – these are super cheap, $1-3 apiece. So, you can see where you could arrive at an “under $20” price tag for a small to medium-sized wall.
However…there is the question of tools. I used at least four major tools in this project (these are not affiliate links, just links to the tools I use): a miter saw, a table saw, a reciprocating saw, and a pressure washer. I also used a nail gun, but obviously you can substitute a hammer there if you don’t have one! A caulk gun is a must for the construction adhesive, but they’re also a must for a wide variety of other projects around the house, and they only cost about $5, so I’m not counting that a “major” tool here. In theory, you could complete this project with a skill saw and a hammer, but it would be very challenging if you needed to do any odd or very small cuts or trim down the width of your boards in anyway.
So, tools could be a more significant expense here, but all of the ones I named above are certainly tools worth having, so you could also look at this project as a great opportunity to add to your arsenal!
Mistakes to Avoid
There are a couple of things we learned through this process that I would recommend avoiding if you undertake it yourself. First, the biggest mistake we made, which I am still trying to fix – paint your underlying wall a dark color, something close to the stain you intend to use! Pallet boards are old, worn, and uneven, and it is very likely that you will have gaps, even if only small ones, here and there between the boards. Our walls, naturally, were a lovely light blue. Covering this portion of the room with pallets didn’t change the fact that underneath them…it’s still a lovely light blue. As it reminds me, through each and every little gap in the boards. Blue is not a subtle color. I’ve covered up most of it at this point, and I’m probably the only one who notices it, but do yourself a favor, and, unless your walls are already dark, paint the wall first, which will give you some additional grace as you put up the pallets!
Secondly, do your best to make sure your first row is straight, and that you don’t get so attached to some particular piece of beautifully weathered wood that you must fit it in, even if it throws the whole thing out of whack. Though you might not notice a slight unleveling when the wall stands on its own, if you begin to move furniture against it or hang square or rectangular photos on it, you’ll notice it a bit more then.
Choosing the Wall
This is obviously up to personal interpretation, but we wanted a wall that was large enough to make a big difference in the room and small enough that it wouldn’t be an insanely big project. In our case, that meant a wall that jutted out into the informal dining area, as opposed to the typical candidate for “palleting”, which is a recessed, alcove style wall. An alcove lends itself to this treatment because the edges of the pallets are covered up by the bordering walls. In our case, the edges of the pallet boards would be exposed, posing a little bit of a challenge in that respect. In the end, we left some space on each end for vertical boards to run up and down the wall and create a clean edge on each side, covered by wider trim pieces. I’ve included a couple of angled photos of the wall in this post so that you can get a sense of how that was done.
Finding the Pallets
Depending on whose tutorial you read, this is either the hardest or easiest part of the process. Some people seem to have more pallets available to them then they could ever find uses for, while others cast about for them endlessly without success. I was in the latter category for some months. I called some places that supply them, willing to pay a reasonable amount for the five or six that I needed, only to discover they sold five or six hundred at a time! Certainly that would be overkill in this application. I wasn’t building a house out of pallets (though that is a done thing). The ones I found discarded in front of commercial buildings were inevitably too worn out or broken to be of much use.
In the end, a local home improvement store (names withheld to protect the innocent) told me that officially they don’t give away used pallets, but unofficially, they stacked old ones that were past their usable life on one side of the store each day, and I was welcome to take them, after asking permission each time, of course. I chose five uncolored, unstained pallets from the stack one day and I was off to the races.
It’s important to be careful about the pallets you select – many are quite contaminated with chemicals or other substances you probably don’t want to bring into your home! There are a quite a few posts around about interpreting colors and markings, and I would recommend perusing them before selecting yours.
Preparing the Pallets
You’ll see blog posts that will tell you preparing pallets for DIY use is super easy – no big deal! You’ll see others that will tell you it’s backbreaking mind-numbing work that is so laborious you ought to give it up and just buy the pre-prepped weathered stuff they sell at the store. The truth, as you might expect, is somewhere in the middle. While it’s not a particularly challenging job, it is a lot of work, and it does take awhile. There are quite a few steps involved, and the actual physical breaking apart of the pallets takes a fair amount of good old-fashioned elbow grease, even with a reciprocating saw.
People do it with a crowbar and a mallet. I tried that – these things do not want to come apart. I used my cordless Ryobi reciprocating saw with 9 and 12-inch metal cutting blades to slide between the pieces of wood and cut through the nails holding them together. One added benefit of doing it this way is that the heads of the nails stay in the boards, which adds a touch more character to them when they’re up on the wall – that is the point of all this, after all!
Once you have all of the usable pieces separated, put on your protective eye and respiratory gear along with a pair of thick gloves and give ’em a good sanding. I used 60-grit sandpaper, as the wood was pretty rough. If you’re working with old, discarded pallets, you’ll likely need the same.
After the sanding, they needed a little cleaning. As I mentioned, I tried to select pallets that were, by all indications, pretty clean and safe, but cleaning them is still a good idea. I started by hooking up some dish soap to my pressure washer and giving them a good blast with the suds, and then finished by hitting them a second time with the high pressure nozzle. I had to time this with a spot of good weather, of course, as they needed a few days to dry out.
Staining the Wood
Once the pallet boards were dry, it was finally time to stain! We wanted a deep, interesting shade for our wall, but we didn’t want anything too dark, and we certainly didn’t want anything that was going to cover up all of that character! We started with Miniwax’s Early American, and while it was a beautiful, rich color, it was far too dark. We switched to Special Walnut, and that was about perfect for us.
Staining pallet boards was different from staining anything else that I had worked with. The wood was, of course, a little rougher, tearing up my stain applicators and generally soaking up the color. A strong rag didn’t work well, though – the little sponges were definitely best. I think I went through about four of them! A single coat of the stain was more than sufficient – a pallet wall is different from a typical project, in that you want a varied finish. Every board shouldn’t look the same.
Putting up the Wall
Once your boards are cleaned and stained, you’re ready to put them up! I used a stud finder and a chalk line to mark my studs, and then removed all of the light switches and electrical outlet covers, replacing them with the box extenders I mentioned earlier. At that point, it’s a matter of picking your boards and getting started!
My boards fell into a couple of width categories, so I separated them out appropriately. I chose some straight looking boards for the trim pieces that were about four inches wide. This allowed me to leave a gap in the vicinity of two inches on each side of the wall – no need to be exact with that. The rows without any electrical boxes went fast – line up boards of the same width, cut the last one to fit, run a bit of construction adhesive along the back, and put two or three nails in each board along where the studs are. Alternating the breaks in the boards is important, of course, to get that random, “natural” look, and if you do have a couple of different widths, like I did, you’ll want to vary those as well (use the narrower boards for a couple of rows, then switch to the thicker ones, etc). Cutting to the correct lengths to go around the electrical boxes will slow you down a bit, of course, but hopefully you picked a wall without too many of those!
Lastly, you’ll need to finish out the wall with some trim pieces. If you are working with an alcove-style wall, and your cuts were exact, you won’t have to worry about this at all, or, perhaps you’ll choose to lay some thin trim atop the boards, flush with the wall on each side. If, however, you’re working with a wall with one or more open sides, like I was, there’s one extra step. You’ll need some thin (less than the thickness of the gap you left on each side) boards that you can run up and down the wall, flush with the edge of the wall. There will be an uneven gap between this edge board and the boards you ran across the whole wall itself, and that’s okay. Your final trim pieces will cover that right up. Lay those final trim pieces on, one edge flush with the edge of the wall on top of the thin boards, and the other edge resting on top of the wall boards. This will give you a nice finished look, even on an exposed corner.
And that’s it! Put your light switch covers and outlet covers back on and you’re good to go. You might want to buy something more decorative than the typical white – we’ve left ours for now, unsure of whether or not we want to replace them. We moved our coffee/wine bar up against our wall, and, of course, Chels crowned it with her Magnolia wreath, which did seem to fit the space perfectly.
We love the homey way this pallet wall adds character to our house, and may very well use this idea again in another room! If you have any questions, or want to share your own experiences with a pallet wall project, feel free to leave a comment.