Dismantling Pallets / Pallet Busting

Dismantling Pallets is the first step in every pallet project.

On this page I give my 2 cents on this process.


On this page you’ll find:

Impatient? ==> Click here to go to my Top Tools page. There you can find all you need for pallet disassembly.

Semi-real life experience dismantling pallets

So… you’re ready to get started with your pallet project. For example a picket fence, which is my first project with pallet wood.

You have your building plan, your tools, and … your stack of pallets…

If this is your first time taking pallets apart, you’ll probably feel blessed with your hammer and pry bars.


You’ll feel superior to the pallets even. Ready to go take those bad boys apart! Let’s do this!

You start dismantling your first pallet, taking off one or two boards. Getting your pry bar under the board is way harder than you thought. Then you notice the pallet nails with them stupid profile on them. Who ever made those up anyway? And why?

Doubt sets in.

Wasn’t dismantling pallets supposed to be easy?

You’ll notice that this is where the pallet comes back at you with a vengeance. You start wiping the sweat off of your forehead, and you start feeling your back (if you’re over 21, which you are because you’re on my website 😉 ).

The pallet you’re working on is laughing you in the face! Not to mention the stack of pallets who are ROFLRolling On the Floor Laughing‘ing their asses off.

Here are some options for you. (scroll down to find two video’s I’ve shared)

Different methods of dismantling pallets

To cut or not to cut

First of all you will have to make a choice: cut the ends off your boards or not.

cutting the heads of the boards
Cut along the dotted line

Cutting off the ends of the boards:

  • Will be faster than separating the boards from the end beams.
  • You will lose 3-4 inch of length on your boards, as compared to salvaging the whole boards up until the end.
  • The ends of the boards will look cleaner without those holes in the end
  • You will need to saw the ends off, be it manually or electrically.
    • I prefer the circular hand saw. This is in my opinion the easiest and fasted method of separating the top boards from the end beams.
  • The beams will still have a little piece of wood from the boards on them. You can remove the little wood pieces as follows:

    Then, you can just remove the nails.

Leaving the ends on the boards:

  • Will take more time than cutting off the ends.
    • different techniques can be applied (see below)
  • Will give you the full length of the boards
  • Will give you that rustic look with nail holes (or if you want you can leave the heads of the nails in)
  • Most probably more boards will break

Techniques for leaving the ends on the boards:

  • Hammer and pry bar. Do this and gain status “Pallet Hero” (unfortunately nobody will ever know)
  • Use a pallet buster
    • buy one or make one
    • taking out the nails can be done with your hammer, a pry bar or a nail remover
  • Use a Sawzall
    • Cut the nails between top board and the end beam
      • then you can leave the nails in or
      • take the nails out using a hammer and nail driver
    • Cut the end beam close to the top board
      • hit the leftover piece of the end beam with a hammer to loosen it from the boards and then pry it loose. This will be rather easy because there will be only about 1 inch of nail in the wood.
      • Then hit the nails from the bottom to come out of the top, and then simply yank them out with your claw hammer.

Description of useful tools for dismantling pallets

a.k.a. Tools of the trade


You will use your hammer extensively when taking apart pallets: Pulling nails from the wood ; hitting the pry bar so it goes under the wood ; hit broken off nails into the wood ; getting rid of small pieces of wood that still hang on a nail ; releasing your frustration

Pry Bar

If you’re not using a sawzall for taking all the boards off your pallet, you’re going to use the pry bar extensively. Use your imagination and find your own preferred technique. Just be safe!

Circular Saw

You can use a circular saw to take the ends off the boards right along the edge of the beams. This is my preferred method, since I don’t own a sawzall at the time of writing. Then I use the pry bar to take the boards off the middle beam.

Pallet Buster

I once made my own pallet buster at home, but I highly recommend one that has this articulating head, because with mine all the boards split. Here’s a detail picture of the articulating head:

Articulating head on pallet breaker.

Removing nails

Once you have the board separated from the pallet, you still have a lot of nails to remove. This is also not a fun job, you’ll notice.

You can use different tools and techniques for removing the nails from your boards and beams. I guess it comes down to personal preference and possession of tools.

On my Top Tools page, you can find a list of tools you can use for pulling out nails Click here to check it out!

Claw Hammer

Personally I use my claw hammer and my pry bar to pull out nails because those are the tools I have. I do find that the curvature of the claw hammer is usually too short to pull those long nails from pallets, but sometimes it works, and it’s always there at the handy. Actually I have pincers too, so I will use that too the next time I go pallet busting.

Nail remover

Because I found the following so cool I mention it here:

The Air locker ap700 professional Punch Nailer/Nail Remover (Or similar products) is your friend here. Please note that you’ll need pressurized air for this to work.

==> You can find a list of tools on my Top Tools page.


Taking pallets apart is not much of a fun job, however, it can clear your head from daily stress 🙂

I hope the above has given you some ideas on how to attack your pallets. If I had all the right tools, I would:

  1. cut off the ends of the boards with my circular saw
  2. use the pallet braker to take the boards off the middle beam
  3. use a nail remover to remove the nails

For now however, I’ll have to make do with hammer and pry bar for taking off the middle beam and nails.


Now, go to the sidebar, or scroll down, or click HERE and subscribe to my Newsletter.

Or: go to my first project with pallet wood HERE.

Bonus video

Here’s a video demonstrating my preferred technique (except the nail remover):

Here’s another great video on taking apart pallets. Please note the articulating head on his pallet breaker, and at 3 minutes into the video he starts using the nail remover. I love that part, and I really gotta get me one of those!


==> Click here for your next read: Preparing Pallet Wood

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