Often free for the asking, a used shipping pallet offers the raw materials for building rustic projects such as birdhouses. As lumber costs continue to increase, salvaging lumber from a discarded shipping pallet saves money, and keeps useable wood out of the landfills.
Constructed from locally available materials, pallets made in foreign lands often contain unusual lumber that woodworkers in other countries find desirable. The character of the rough and aged pallet wood can add visual appeal, making it worth the effort to find and disassemble wooden pallets.
Look for clean, over-sized pallets used for shipping large products such as furniture or machinery. Pull off the slats using a hammer and pry bar, taking care not to break the boards at the nailing points.
Remove all of the nails, staples or other fasteners to avoid damaging cutting blades and to reduce the risk of injury. If you want, use a metal detector to find nails or metal pieces embedded in the wood.
Scrub the pallet wood with a stiff wire brush to remove the dirt and grit. Saw blades dull quickly when cutting through wood covered in sand, grease and grime. Inspect the wood closely, cutting away any split or damaged sections.
Cut the prepared pallet wood into the rough dimensions needed to build the birdhouse. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the dimensions of a birdhouse for cavity-nesting birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, wrens and warblers is 5-1/2 inches wide, 4 inches deep and 8 inches high, with an entrance hole of 1-1/8 to 1-1/4 inches in diameter.
Lay out and the drill the entrance hole in the front piece. Measure up 6 inches from the bottom edge, centering the entrance hole across the width of the front section. Drill several holes, one-quarter inch in diameter, in the bottom piece for drainage.
Cut the sides on a slight angle, creating a sloped roof to shed the rain. To mark the angles, measure 7-3/4 inches from one end and make a mark along the edge of the board. Measure 9-1/4 inches up the other side of the board and make another mark. Connect the marks by drawing a straight line between the marks. Cut along the line.
Attach the front piece to one of the side pieces using weather-resistant nails, lining up the bottom edges of both pieces. The side piece is one-quarter inch shorter than the front piece. When fully assembled, the shorter sides create a small gap under the roof to provide for air circulation and ventilation for the nest box. Attach the bottom to the side and front pieces, and then attach the roof and back sections. The back section extends below the nest box, making it easier to mount the finished birdhouse to a pole or tree.
Position the second side piece in place. To make a hinged door for cleaning the birdhouse, secure the side section by driving one nail through the front piece and into the edge of the side section, approximately 1 inch down from the top. Drive a second nail through the back section and into the other edge of the side piece, directly across from the first nail to create a pivot point. Secure the door with a small screw, centered along the bottom edge. If desired, paint or stain the finished birdhouse before hanging it in the garden.
Always ask permission before taking shipping pallets, even if they appear to have been discarded.
Be selective when choosing pallets. Search for clean pallets made from quality pieces of hardwood.
Do not use pallets used for shipping hazardous materials or chemicals.