Making stylish furniture from ubiquitous wooden pallets

By Lizbeth Gray

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — Imagine having an unlimited supply of free building material along with lots of ideas on how to use it. Welcome to the wide and wonderful world of pallet furniture.

The Internet has allowed people around the world to share plans and ideas for reusing the 1.5 billion wooden pallets used each day in the United States to load and transport goods, according to the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association.

Browse Pinterest for a few minutes and you’ll turn up a treasure trove of ideas, everything from a tiered lighted platform bed frame and kitchen cabinets to a wall garden or garden paths. If you’re looking to buy, a search on Etsy returned more than 20,000 items for sale.

Dr. Alex Yergiyev, a pathologist at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center by day, transforms into a pallet carpenter in his free time. Working in the neighborhood on the banks of the Susquehanna River provides a ready supply of abandoned or free pallets. He figured it was not only a good “green” way to do something for the environment, “I don’t’ have to buy it.”

He’s not even sure how he got started. “I think I found something online and thought it was a cool idea,” he said.

Looking for a way to relax, he happened upon images of pallet furniture one night when Web surfing and things snowballed from there.

One of Dr. Yergiyev’s first pallet projects was a buffet, built from plans he found online. He’s received several offers for his pallet buffet but decided to keep it.

“It fits really nice in my house,” he said.

He does sell some of his other work. Wine racks are $50 and entry tables are $150.

Donna Zang also builds pallet furniture, but it’s more than a hobby. A third-grade teacher in the West Jefferson School District, she started a pallet business last year. Its success is something of a surprise to her.

“We do what is called crafty Christmas, where you have to make your gift,” she said.

Last year, she decided to make a wine rack from pallets for her brother. One person wanted one and then another. Suddenly, she was in the pallet up-cycling business. She created a Facebook page to promote it: “Pallet Restorations: We See Pallets Differently.”

“I wasn’t sure I would sell one. But within 12 hours, I had 10 orders, and that was in the first day,” said Zang.

She sells wine racks for $50-$60, coffee tables for $250, end tables for $125 and towel racks for $45. Frames and accessories range from $15 to $40.

Her creative process is very organic. “Things kind of just grow in my mind. … Then I just pray that it’s going to work out.”

Over the past year, she has gotten good at hunting pallets. “My eyes are always looking.”

The next step is taking them apart, sanding and cleaning. That’s where her boyfriend, Patrick Connelly, comes in handy.

“I joke he’s my only employee.”

She and Dr. Yergiyev cautioned that not all pallets are right for reuse.

“(They) can be heat-treated or formaldehyde treated,” he said.

Older pallets may have been treated with formaldehyde, a potential carcinogen, but all of the pallets made today are heat-treated, which is safe.

Neither crafter had formal carpentry training. For plans and ideas, they recommend websites such as 1001 Pallets, 101 Pallet Plans or 99 Pallets.