Lockdown Loveseat Pallet Project

All aboard the pallet bandwagon

Everyone is making things out of pallets these days. The videos and posts make it look so easy. Planks that prize apart at the slightest effort, beautifully planed and straight oak, blocks you could build your house with.

Not wishing to let this bandwagon leave without me I jumped aboard.

Regrets? I have a few. And splinters. Aches. A lot of aches.

I’m pleased with the outcome, and I learned a lot along the way, but it was a mission and I’m glad its over.

Here’s what I found out.

Not all pallets are equal

Quality, shape, size, wear. All variables. These are the three pallets my wife acquired for free from a local store. Two went into this project.

These are a far cry from gorgeous blonde, smooth pallets of others’ posts. I suspect the splinters have carried a substantial amount of blue dye into my bloodstream. Frankly I’m surprised I don’t look like a smurf now.

Not all parts of pallets are equal Or Square

These aren’t designed to be beautiful. The idea of a pallet is that it does not fall to pieces and can carry a load, over and over. The tolerances on the components are pretty loose. Planks that were optically similar were as much as 5mm different in width.

Differences in length were more about where the wood split when I was breaking the pieces apart, or where there was previous damage. Some parts were warped, some bowed.

That set the tone for this build. It had to be something robust and rustic. Without a planer/thicknesser and a huge amount of waste there was no way this was going to turn into something beautiful and refined. Not in my hands anyway.

Oh, and the less said about the compressed fibre end blocks the better.

So many nails

Each fixing point had at least three nails. All were rusted, and deeply embedded, strengthened by years of compression. I cut where I could but it still meant prying and pulling and hacking.

Then I got to the second layer. Nails bent over and hammered back in to provide an immovable hook. I ignored those as long as I could, then took the Dremel to them.

Of course I had to remember there might be bits of metal embedded when I was sawing and sanding.

Notice also the splits and cracks which rendered the ends of many of the planks unusable.

Making the best of it

All that effort and this is what I got. A pile of potentially usable planks. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to make. Our garden bench has been getting a bit wobbly, so another place to sit was a reasonable challenge.

Most pallet projects keep as much integrity of the original pallets as possible, and I can see why. There was a lot of waste and effort involved in getting this far. I could more easily have created a flat bench which was perfectly functional by chopping and reattaching large sections. I’ll use that method for the next project (a potting table) because I’m running out of dry days and daylight hours.

The point here though was to find out what could be done. Onward!

Loveseat, baby

I’d settled on the idea of a loveseat pretty early on. The design morphed as I got to grips with the materials and worked out what was feasible with what I had.

Originally I had visions of built in shelves for herb pots, and that the central divider would be a planter where I could put in some rose geraniums. That came crashing to earth pretty quickly.

I still liked the idea of two seats facing each other, and a trawl through the available finishes in my garage gave me the idea of a two tone colour scheme. That’s about as much planning as I ever do for something like this.

Here’s the first stage complete:

Also need to do something with the logs

There were mishaps along the way. My trusty pilot and countersink snapped.

Now to find the allen key to remove the countersink

The thicker planks have a little bevel, which I decided to make a feature of. You can see it in the image above. That meant a lot of measuring and re-thinking the design on the fly to make everything fit because it would have been too easy if I just had enough of the right pieces.

This is the test fit of the design I went with for the backs. You can spot where the damaged ends have been hidden away. I didn’t do too much filling on the backs despite the very knackered state of the wood. Let’s say that was to retain the history of the material and not being heartily sick of the project by this stage.

There’d been long delays for bad weather, back injury and other commitments, but it is all about the history.

The final push was a battle against the weather. The task is complete just in time for us to enjoy it next year.

End note on finishes

I’ve been using the Cuprinol Garden Shades range for a while now. Experience from the treehouse shows that it lasts in London weather for five years before it starts to get scruffy, and a couple more before really needing to be refreshed.

This one is done up in Muted Clay and Summer Damson, a colour combo I used on the shed refurb and I quite like.

END

Upcycling: from scaffold to garden seat

My blog is over five years old and despite enthusiastically adding joinery to the title, I have not once blogged about my woodworking projects.

Time to address that.

One of my neighbours had building work done a couple of years ago. Apart from the aggravation this caused, his workmen left a scaffolding board and another long piece of timber leaning against the back gate to my garden. They obviously intended that I should take possession of them, so one quiet evening I did. I kept them for ages on the grounds they’d come in handy one day.

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They were pretty nasty (the boards, not the workmen). Spiked with nails and head-worn screws, scabrous with lumps of mortar.

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The idea arose when my cousin and his wife bought a new house. With a garden but without a garden seat. What better than an upcycled bench for them to sit on of a summer’s evening and watch the sun set on the brambles crowding over from them neighbour?

I set myself the constraint of working with the dimensions of what I had (this was a mistake, as you’ll see) and apart from new hardware only using the generously donated materials.

There was quite a lot of crap on the boards. Brute force dealt with the nails, but some of the screw heads and tips had to be ground off, which meant careful planning of where I made cuts later. A hammer and bolster did for the big lumps of mortar, but I did eventually resort to the belt sander to get all of it off.

I lifted the dimensions roughly from my own garden bench, mainly for the height of the bench and the back. The width was set by the board itself. I decided early on that I wanted the legs and arm rests to be one piece, mainly to minimise the number of joints and points of failure.

Be warned scaffold boards are dense. I cut by hand, with the jigsaw and with the two different blades on my old Black and Decker Scorpion. The board was just too unweildy for my table saw and of course that would be useless for even basic curves.

This was hard work. I suspect a modern variant of the Scorpion would be best and that my antique (about fifteen years old and well used) has just run out of puff and sharp blades.

You’ll notice in the design I cut out a little arch in the legs. I wanted to get the weight down and this was a cute but simple way of doing it.

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I joined the seat to the arms with offset half laps. I know these are considered quite weak, but with the thickness of the wood and the width of the board this gave me a really secure join. I backed it up with a couple of pocket screws as well.

The joints were a really tight fit, the mallet was not enough. In the end I had to get out the fencing hammer and use gentle persuasion. More hard work but the end result was worth it. The point of the offset (rather than going the half way through) was to allow the bench to sit a bit further forward, away from the back rest, otherwise you’d be sitting upright like on a church pew.

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The overhang on the sides was deliberate. I had in mind a cup of tea at the end of a long day, so a place to rest it integrated into the bench seemed like a good idea. I also went over all the edges with a round over bit on the router for a neater finish. Apart from that I left most of the nail holes and damage unrepaired. Regular followers will know I am a storyteller and I wanted the material to tell its story.

Of course life intervened, I didn’t finish before the weather turned, so the project was stored outside covered in tarps through the winter. And that is where the glaring design flaw became apparent. The slightest gust of wind would blow the damned thing over. The heavy scaffold board made the centre of gravity quite high, and the relatively narrow width just didn’t provide enough stability.

I’d thought about this and put a couple of extensions on the legs, but it just wasn’t enough.

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First job the next summer was to add more width to the base to keep the whole thing standing.

I coloured it golden oak, and there we have it, job done.

I’m not sure that my cousin has made much use of it, but Milo the cat loves it.