Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cleansing Our Pallets, Part I

As indicated in the previous post, we have a long list of things to accomplish to get our garden off the ground. Some of these are common springtime needs even in established gardens, but many fit under the category of infrastructure. Like flats. And this is the story of our (currently) fourteen flats.

Back in northern California we used redwood for our flat materials, both because it has great anti-rot qualities and was local. Here cedar is the equivalent, but both woods are a little too pricey for us. Not just because they are expensive, but because they cost money. You'll hear it from me often that time is a resource we have in abundance while money is much less so. Anything we can save money on by creating through time and/or expertise is a great opportunity.

Here's where a local business that we frequent comes in: at our inquiry they said they had broken pallets they didn't want, and that we would be welcome to take them away. (When we arrived it turned out they were happy to give us some unbroken ones as well!)

So with seven pallets, a circular saw, table saw, hammer, one pound box of nails, and some time we got fourteen flats, a bunch of broken pieces of wood, and the stringers with nails and things still in them. I went with half-flat sizes, as defined in How to Grow More Vegetables, with interior dimensions of 3 x 11½ x 14", since they are easier to carry and more versatile for us.

Initially I thought I wasn't going to have to buy nails, since those pallets have so many in them already, right? I'll just pull them out, straighten them, and reuse them, just like grandpa would have. This turned out to be much more work than it was worth. These nails are shot in with nail guns, are extremely hard to get out without breaking off their heads, and can't be nailed back in because they don't have sharpened tips. In the process I broke a number of good boards, which would have brought my flat total up to fifteen or sixteen, and got frustrated. I ended up writing off the nails and cutting right beside them with the circular saw.

The boards, of varying sizes and widths, were then all cut to 14" on the table saw (to make things easier). Most were about 3½" wide, so I ripped them all to that width. Then I went through to determine which boards would be best on the long sides of the flats (I used the thicker ones, since they would get all the nails pounded into them). The long side boards remained at 14" and the rest were cut to about 12¾" for the ends and bottoms of each flat. Then I stuck them all together and reveled in flats.

I was sitting there looking at all those stringers, thinking there had to be something useful to do with them. Then I realized that flatting tables would also be really handy, so flats could drain and be above chicken-head level. So after a little more experimentation I built some of those. Pictures to follow.

In the process I learned a few things. First, although I thought pallets were always made of cheap softwood, I found out that sometimes hardwood is cheap, too. It's hard to cut, and even harder to pound nails into when you aren't expecting it. But it looks respectable! Second, drilling pilot holes for nails takes some time, but is worth it when all of a sudden you aren't spending half your time pulling out bent nails. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I found out a bit of information on Wikipedia while trying to figure out what "stringers" were called. That is that sometimes pallets are fumigated with nasty things to keep them weather resistant. Honestly! Can't we have anything fun in life without threat of carcinogens? So my second set of pallet flats will probably be the last, at least until I know exactly where these pallets come from.


  1. Love the humor, Dan.

    I'm starting a new farm-focused blog as we "test the waters" and get situated on the San Juans. I can't think of a good name for it, though. If you and Margo have any ideas (as seasoned Scrabble wordsmiths), please share.

  2. Hi Dan and Margo
    Here is a link with loads of ideas for those who have plenty of time and not so much cash.

  3. Yeah, that looks like it a whole ton of great information. A number of the links come up "file not found", but a number still have valid files.