deals #2: Free lumber, in bits and pieces

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 03-08-2009 11:38 PM 2037 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I followed a classified to a small pile of free pine and fir last night. I made the 12mi. round trip to find nothing, then found I’d had the alleyway next to the one it was supposed to be in. It was midnight, but I thought “What the heck?” and did the 12mi. round trip again, and there it was, all the wood stacked against the wall here:

free lumber I picked up from a classified ad

free lumber I picked up late at night in an alley

I got 2 ~5’ and 2 ~7.75’ 2×6 Douglas fir boards, with some brackets and screw holes, though not many, and I can use the brackets, too, on a current project :) I also got 3 2×3x~7.5’ pine boards, a very clear straight-sawn 1×6x8’ of pine (company listed as being in New Zealand, though not sure if the board isn’t just something US local) that actually seems to match the pallet wood I cleaned up recently in a test. They both have some darker brown streaks disappearing into the wood. Finally, there were 6 cool 5.5’ long 1×6 rough/natural pine. I haven’t seen its like before at any stores, like Home Depot. I suppose it could be hidden in some fence-wood area I never visit.

I know it’s just cheap stuff I could easily afford from a home center, but I still felt good driving home with a hatchback packed full of useful, free, clean lumber. It also felt good to keep it out of a landfill. It deserves better. I’m an at least slightly better fate :)

Then today I went out for some breakfast, and noticed a smashed up pallet leaning against a wall surrounding the restaurant’s dumpster. It looked forgotten. There was a guy sweeping up out there, so I got out and asked if I could have it, and he said “Sure!” He’s probably glad not to have to sweep around it anymore. It’s pretty nasty, which I find to be awesome, because when I pull the usable regions out of it, make sure they have no nails, and run them through the jointer, planer, and table saw, it’ll be even more fun than usual to see beautiful new wood magically appear. I’m predicting this will be the case. I’ve seen it happen before.

It barely fit in my hatchback – really want a small pickup this year if I can swing it:
pallet that barely fit in my '00 Ford Focus hatchback

It’s so crummy, and it smells like wet dog. I’m not sure if that’s from all the slugs and slug trails all over it :(
crummy pallet brought home from restaurant dumpster area

I gave it a hard washing down with the hose’s sprayer attachment:
crummy pallet washed down with a hose

A few more pics of its nastiness at Flickr

Anyway, despite cheap and/or disgusting, the little bits of freeness made me happy today.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

14 comments so far

View jcame's profile


72 posts in 4908 days

#1 posted 03-09-2009 12:02 AM

Red Oak smells like a wet dog usually and zebrawood, but its not that. So, its probably Red Oak. Good find anyway.

-- Jed,Ala,

View poopiekat's profile


5029 posts in 5066 days

#2 posted 03-09-2009 12:16 AM

I love recycling pallet wood!
I used to be a shipper/receiver for a medical company in Massachusetts. They would order pallets by the truckload, and at the same time would scrap perhaps 100 or 200 pallets a month from inbound materials. I used to scan the scrap pallets for interesting boards, and prop the pallet against the plant’s huge I-Beam roof supports, and force out the good boards from the pallets with the toe of a forklift. The new pallets sometimes had awesome walnut, mahogany beech and even redwood boards randomly mixed in to the mostly low-grade birch. The truck driver from the pallet company said they buy wholesale lumber by the thousands of board feet, and often the rarer woods would come in, all rejected for not being of sufficient quality for the high-end manufacturers. So, of course, plenty of good clear boards come in with the bad! Now if they would only quit using those horrid twisty nails….

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4774 days

#3 posted 03-09-2009 01:22 AM

New Zealands been importing pine into the States for years so it,s a fair bet thats where it came from. Take a wrecking bar with you next time, it,s cheaper than a pickup.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View hunnypot's profile


36 posts in 4708 days

#4 posted 03-09-2009 01:43 AM

i can get pallets from my work place but i have trouble dismanteling them,usually the boards break and then there is nothing useable

View poopiekat's profile


5029 posts in 5066 days

#5 posted 03-09-2009 05:43 AM

It’s those twisty nails that make a pallet indestructible. Bring the pallet home and cut out the topside 1” boards with your circular saw or sawzall, between the three runners. You’ll get 1” X 18” +/- boards ready for your planer or jointer. Then throw the runners away. Never is it worth damaging a planer blade due to a hidden nail, so be careful! Tool around industrial zones in your city, there’s always one or two places that have a stack of old pallets. Better to ask first, if you’re not sure. I’ve used birch and poplar harvested this way for drawer sides for years, so much nicer than plywood or mdf.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4713 days

#6 posted 03-09-2009 07:56 AM

Jed – doesn’t seem like the red oak from Home Depot to me, but then, it’s a mess. It’ll be interesting to see what pops out when I clean it up.

kat – I hate those nails, too! I’ve been thinking of grabbing some plug cutters from Home Depot (maybe I’ll run over now – also want a Bostitch nail gun :) to drill right over top of the nails. If I ever knick it, I’ll only use it for that, but if not I’ll have a plug cutter, AND a really convenient way to cut the wood free only right around the nails, to save as much wood as possible. I’ll make a post if it seems like it works really well, and reliably. Neat you had so much random lumber to look through. I’d love that.

kiwi – didn’t know that. Looks like it might be some Middle Earth wood after all then. I haven’t seen pine quite like it here. I’ll do a comparison of closeup shots at some point, with pine from Home Depot, this board, and the pallet wood I recently rescued that it reminds me of.

hunnypot – I broke some, too. Poopiekat has a good suggestion, and I’m also about to try plug cutters for drilling a circle around the nail very quickly. After I get some experience with that for a pallet or two, I’ll make a post – if it’s worth it – maybe with a video to make it clearer how I’m using it, and any gotchas I ran into. I have a feeling it’ll work great, but who knows? I love mini adventures like that. I’ve also been considering a metal detector wand from Rockler, especially if it goes on sale soon. I’m sure it will just after I buy it :)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4774 days

#7 posted 03-09-2009 08:34 AM

If you plan to get more reclaimed wood GET A METAL DETECTOR! It,s like being shot when you pick up a piece of metal, not to mention the cost of damage to your tools. Not just the blades, but the fences and machine beds too. It really is worth it, trust me, I should have dozens of purple hearts by now ( except i,m not an American)

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4713 days

#8 posted 03-09-2009 10:01 AM

kiwi – It’s on the list, especially with all this resawing I’m looking into doing. I already added a tiny notch to my 3 jointer blades with a rogue staple on the end of a piece of birch. You know, the ones that staple on the ID tag. Completely missed noticing it, and 2 passes later, the end was poking out, and now everything I plane on the jointer has a nice raised line down it.

I’ve moved the fence forward – toward me – and can joint edges, and do things like 3”-4” boards without hitting it, because it’s near the back edge, but anything about 5”-6” gets the ridge. It’s amazing how that tiny raised line changes the quality of the plane, too. Everything ends up really crooked. New blades are $70 :(

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5225 days

#9 posted 03-09-2009 01:16 PM

too bad you dont live near me as I always feel wrong about burning the endless piles of perfectly good scrap. Over a 3 month period it might be enough to biuild a solid wood kitchen

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Tilt's profile


48 posts in 5428 days

#10 posted 03-09-2009 01:27 PM

great find, and pallet wood is great. built several projects from scrap pallett.

-- My dad was an electrician, but my fathers a carpenter.

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 5206 days

#11 posted 03-09-2009 01:27 PM

Great save. I am looking forward to the projects that come from your bounty.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4713 days

#12 posted 03-09-2009 01:35 PM

roman – There is a downside to this… I don’t build all that quickly yet. I’d love the continuous supply, but I’d also probably choke myself out of the garage entirely with the piles of it :)

Tilt – Cool! I’ll take a look at your projects to see if you have anything posted from these. If not, I will ask “Why not!?” ;)

rikkor – Thanks! If you’ll forgive my inner hippie, I’m going to let this found wood, especially in the pallet ‘speak to me,’ I.e. I’m going to clean it up, see how it looks, and then think about what kinds of things it might look best as. May only serve for things like drawer sides, but I have a feeling some of the pallet wood will be surprisingly interesting to look at when cleaned up, and properly finished. I saw some holographic things going on when I was washing it down with the hose, and there was almost a look of canary wood to some of the pieces. Here’s hoping.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View PurpLev's profile


8653 posts in 4980 days

#13 posted 03-09-2009 04:34 PM

recycling wood is great for everyone – seriously. I always keep an open eye on Craigslist for lumber and wood being thrown/given away… helps them clean, helps me get more material, helps the environment from having to deal with extra [email protected]

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View clieb91's profile


4264 posts in 5267 days

#14 posted 03-16-2009 10:54 PM

Great finds, Love that found wood. Now if only my HOA did not have an issue with me piling stuff up around here. Probaly a good thing cause if they did not my wife might. Still try to find it and recycle it when I can.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

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