The Must-Have Tool For DIY Wooden Pallet Projects

Whether you want to spruce up your bathroom with a DIY pallet project or are planning to transform an up-cycled pallet into a chic raised garden bed, you're going to have to pull apart said pallet at some point. It's a tough part of any pallet project and you're likely not looking forward to doing it. You could use the claw-end of your hammer or a crowbar, but what if we told you there's a tool that makes this nasty job pretty fun? Enter: The pallet buster. It's a long-handled metal implement that you use exactly how the name suggests; to bust — or break up — pallets. The tool somewhat resembles a crowbar, but it has distinctive features that set it apart from its also-prying cousin. Commercial versions are typically manufactured from heavy-duty steel, and sometimes go by other names — pallet breaker, pallet pry bar, pallet pryer, or wrecking claw among them. 

Two parallel crowbar spikes are fixed to a hinged or levered system that in turn connects to a long arm. Position these spikes under a plank and tilt the tool upwards to lift the plank away from its connecting block quickly and, at least where proponents are concerned, with less effort than other methods. Pallet wood is notoriously low quality and prone to splintering when put under pressure. According to experts, a pallet buster gets you 30% more unbroken pallets than other busting methods. Plus, the long handle means you can stand up straight to pull a pallet apart, saving your back in the process.

Consider the cons before buying a pallet buster

Not everyone's a fan, of course. Experienced woodworker and YouTuber The Wooden Rider points out that while pallet busters do work, they're difficult and even dangerous to use, leaving you with too many cracked boards. Michael Martin, carpenter and co-founder of Reclaim Design, reckons they're not worth the high price point either, particularly because a pallet buster is a single-job tool. What's more, the design may not work with every style of pallet. Other experts complain of a lack of precision compared with other more hands-on options. If, after hearing out the naysayers, you still believe a pallet buster is a tool well-worth trying (and we're definitely not saying it isn't), you're likely wondering where to get your hands on one. 

Are tools a good estate sale buy? Can you pick this implement up at any local hardware store? After all, it's a specialist tool. It turns out that pallet busters are actually pretty easy to source — especially if you're buying one new. Walmart sells a pallet buster with a 41-inch-long handle by the popular tool brand Vestil for $99.49. Roughneck seems to be the go-to pallet buster brand in the U.K. but their tools are difficult to find in the U.S. If you come across one secondhand on, say, eBay, snap it up! You could also try your luck on Facebook Marketplace. If you're very handy, there are also tons of tutorials online to make your own from scrap metal (welded or not) and leftover wood.

How to use your brand new pallet breaker

Pallets have three structural beams or blocks running vertically to the horizontal planks. Before you start prying planks off, lay the pallet flat and use a circular saw to cut the planks where they join the structural beams — only on one side for now. Working from the outside in, insert the claws of the tool under the first plank so they sit either side of the beam. Using the beam for leverage, angle the tool backwards to lift the plank upwards, pulling the nails out with it. Repeat until all the planks are free. You can skip the circular saw step if you don't have one. Just pry planks off all three structural beams, starting at the ends and finishing in the middle.

Don't forget to lay the removed planks nail side down — you don't want to accidentally stand on any rusty nails sticking up out of the wood! Other general safety precautions include wearing gloves to avoid splinters, some sort of eye protection, and, ideally, steel-capped work boots to protect your feet. After you've dismantled the entire pallet, a powered nail remover makes fast work of the remaining nails. Now all that's left is to use your new pallet buster to whip up a quick DIY wood project for genius tool storage. After all, you'll need somewhere to stow it away once you're done busting pallets!