Family Projects, Healthy Wallet

How to make a small bookcase (with one pallet)

I’ve recently conceived a passion for pallet projects. Judging by the number of websites Google pulls up (2,120,000 results), I’m not alone. Who wouldn’t get excited about free wood, if you like woodworking projects and don’t want to spend a lot on supplies? This goes double if you are just learning how to build or teaching kids how to build. It’s difficult to be upset about an improperly cut board when a) it came free and b) there’s more where that one came from.

You might think, “Where are you getting pallets for free?” Answer: All over. You may have noticed stacks of them, around back behind stores or near dumpsters. Home improvement companies, local hardware stores, and grocery chains are just a few examples. New construction sites are another likely spot to look. Many companies just want to get rid of them and will gladly allow you to pick up as many as you like (be sure to ask the business first before pulling up with a truck and loading them into the bed!)

First things first: Make sure your pallets are safe to use. This is a good resource of what to look for in a pallet. I’ve yet to run across one with a stamp, so I’ve used every pallet we’ve acquired.

Items needed:


Hammer/nails or Drill/screws

Hand or power saw

Measuring Tape

Hand Level

Now, onto the bookcase. I turned the pallet over and over, trying to pick the prettiest wood for the shelves and side supports. Having decided, I began pulling off those boards one at a time.


This is probably the most tedious part of the whole process. The nails didn’t want to come out of the 2 x 4’s. If I was not careful, they held onto the boards and split them into pieces (see those little bits of wood? They used to be boards). Then I had to either try and pull them out or hammer them down into the wood. I probably pulled out 2/3 of the nails, the rest are ‘adding character’.

After I had an entire side free, I cut off the 2 x 4 on one side. Why? Well, since I was making this up as I went along, I started out with a different idea for how the shelf would look. But the more I thought about my plan, the less I liked it. So I came up with a new plan mid-construction, after I started cutting wood with the saw (hint: try to figure out exactly what you want before you start.)


Now I measured the remaining 2×4 boards into sections (mine were 9, 12, and 15 ins deep) and cut them straight across into 3 pieces, creating shelves which were 17.5 ins across the front. I then cut off the excess wood hanging on the side. My first idea was just to leave the cross boards as they were without trying to take the boards off (mostly because I was tired of pulling out nails). But they looked weird and the books wouldn’t sit properly. So I pulled off all the remaining boards and nailed them closer together, leaving only tiny gaps. I had to use some of the boards I had pulled from the front of the pallet, cut to size, to fill in. One 2×4 split, leaving a supporting board shorter than the rest.


After they were all put together, I sanded the tops and sides to lessen the chance of splinters. In hindsight, I should have sanded first, then put the shelves together. Oh, well.

Not pictured: Thing 1 helping with all the sanding. He has an aversion to cameras and I feel like a wildlife photographer every time I manage to snap a picture of him.


It was the sort of project where even little kids could lend a hand. Here is Thing 3 doing just that.

Well, ok, he was mostly just having fun with the drill and screws on scrap wood, but hey, it’s a start!


Now, I used some of the full sized boards I had taken from the first side for supports. The back support ran straight up and down, the front support slightly angled to accommodate the different shelf depths and because I liked the way it looked. This brought the total height to 32.5 ins.

A level helped so much here, as did a power drill and screws. The carpenter’s square is pictured, but I ended up not using it.


As you can see, the shorter shelf support isn’t a problem. I still had enough to secure the outside support to it, which was all I needed. A level is so much better than eyeballing here, so if you have one, make use of it.


I thought about painting at this point, but I was too excited about actually making it and wanted to try it out asap.


Ta da! Here it sits, making itself very useful. We will eventually paint it, but I’m going to wait until spring. Then my daughter and I will have a painting day outside.


I learned a few things on this project and will hopefully not make the same mistakes on the next one. I’ll make new ones, instead! Now, go find pallets and have fun making your own creations. Good luck!


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