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

Sideboard, upcycled

Somewhere in the mists of time, probably three years ago now, we inherited an upcycling project from my sister-in-law. The once quaint wooden sideboard didn’t fit the decor of their new home, and my wife and I thought we’d give it a go.

Good from afar, far from good

The sideboard turned out to be a wreck. It had been left outside for some time, and as I didn’t have space for it in the workshop it was outside and covered in tarps for another winter before I could even get started on it.

A closer inspection showed that it wasn’t a particularly good piece either. No wonder they’d picked it up for a tenner. The main structural parts looked like oak, but the rest was plywood and veneer. Most of that was de-laminating.

A good clean up works wonders

The first step was elbow grease. Sanding, and more sanding. All by hand because the parts were a bit too fragile to risk the orbital sander, and the belt sander would have reduced the whole thing to dust.

Slowly a picture of what might be possible emerged.

Left, sanded and cleaned, right with just the cobwebs brushed off

The veneer from the shoulders was all over the place, bits missing, the ply underneath also coming apart. I stripped away everything that was loose and built it back up with that rough packing paper you get with Amazon deliveries and watered down PVA.

With enough bits and layers that gave me a base to put on some new veneer. I had assumed the fascia was square to the shoulders, but obviously over time the two had warped, so there was a bit of fettling and filler required before that process was complete.

I didn’t mess too much with the veneer on the sides. It was wafer thin and ripped in places. I glued down the loose bits and made judicious use of filler for the gaps. It really was in a bad way and stripping it back could have destroyed everything.

We had toyed with the idea of covering the shoulders with copper coins, and I really would have liked to give it a go, but the curve was a bit too severe and undoing that if it went wrong would be really destructive.

We did of course give it a bit of a personal touch at the end. More on that later.

Pro tip – heat breaks up old glue. It took about five minutes of half power and jiggling per handle to get them out. Don’t forget to wear gloves.

Finishes, and the end in sight

I have no idea if there is any science to this, but it felt right. I used two coats of walnut wood dye first. In part this was to even out the colour and hide some of the water damage, and harmonise the different wood types, and in part the wood was in poor condition from exposure and I felt it needed some care lavished on it.

That gave me a good base on which to apply two coats of walnut stain.

Dyed on the left, first coat of stain on the right

The split in the doors posed a tough question. It was theoretically feasible to unglue, disassemble and try to straighten and repair them, but it was a risk. The crack has not penetrated all the way through, there are bends in the back of the door but no open space.

In the end I went with the easy option, and consoled myself that this allowed the sideboard to tell its story.

That said there were myriad cracks and splits that needed repair. I mostly used dust from the sanding and pva in the gaps, and an array of clamps. I’m pretty pleased that the repairs aren’t obvious.

Coming unhinged

The hinges were also a mess. At some point a previous owner had varnished over them. Don’t ask me why. It took a combination of gel paint remover, a toothbrush and wire wool to get this mess off.

I don’t actually like the hinges, and I don’t see how they fit the overall style. There are no holes indicating other hinges were once used. I’ve stuck with these for now, but I can see a future in which they are replaced.

It was around now, with the wood recoloured and a shape emerging that it was clear this was a bit of Frankenstein furniture. The style of the doors, drawers, hinges and top piece don’t seem consistent.

That made it easier to give it a bit of a flourish of our own.

Top, tiled

The flat top on the base was a ruin. It was where the water damage was worst, and it needed a complete replacement. I went with plywood because why be different to what was there before, and a beading to finish off the edge.

There’s something very satisfying about a hand cut mitred corner

That high edge and flat surface meant we could add a personal twist. Tiles.

A bit out of sequence, this is before I cut the top to size, also the beading had been kicking around in workshop for a while and was decidedly wonky at one end

We used a contact adhesive to stick the tiles down, and then grouted. I really like the effect we achieved with this. My wife’s idea and choice of tiles, so well done to her.

Fit, and not quite finished

The two parts are attached with a pair of dowels and pair of screws on each foot. I decided to keep the original dowel position and put in new screw holes. A bit of precise measurement was required to get that right, as well as making a template for the two feet.

Finish line just out of reach

The handles we like aren’t in stock, so there will be a bit of a wait. The build work is done though, and the whole thing put together and in place.

It fits the colour of our fireplace and the two sets of tiles riff off each other. That was completely intentional, obvs.

After a couple of years of on and off tinkering, and a bit of lockdown inspiration, I’m quite pleased with the result. Of course I know every inch of this thing now, I know where the veneer is tap away from falling off, and where glue, filler and hope are holding things together. The whole house is like that.

It was never a high end piece. It looks like it was several ideas cobbled together before we got hold of it, and we have added a few of our own. Something about that feels right. It fits our house and our family.

Job (almost) done.

I had to do some last minute drilling when the screws for the hinges would not sit quite right.

End