Rustic Pallet Wood Shelves

Last October, I was given three wooden pallets. I took one apart and made a Halloween prop from it (a wooden crate to conceal a fog machine). These pallets were REALLY well-built and just one took hours to get apart. So after Halloween, the other two just sorta sat in the driveway.

I’d been thinking of what I could do with them when my wife asked if I could make some wall shelves for our guest bathroom. Seemed like as good an application for reclaimed pallet wood as it gets, so I started deconstructing them.

Watch the video for this project

This time, instead of trying to pull apart these bullet-proof slats, I just ran a circular saw down the sides, just short of the nails in the sides and center. This gave me a bunch of nice, short boards about a foot long.

The precious.

I’d looked up some shelves on Pinterest other folks had made to get some ideas. Ultimately, I decided on shelves mounted to four vertical backs. And for some variety, each would have the shelves in different positions.

After gathering several good looking pieces, I found the shortest one and used that as a template for marking where to trim the rest so their lengths matched. Then I cut them all to length on the miter saw.

Once they are all the same length, I used an orbital sander to get them relatively smooth. I wanted these to be rustic looking, so I really just focused on knocking down the roughest parts. Then I went over all the wood with some tack cloth to pull up any extra sawdust.

After sanding, it was time for my wife to pick out the best boards and arrange them in patterns she liked. There was a pretty good variety between dark and light to choose from. Once she had her configurations, and to keep everything from getting mixed up (which I knew would happen), I went ahead and numbered each board.

So my first plan to join the boards together was to just split a piece of pallet wood down the center and screw them into the backs of the four vertical supports.

I flipped over the boards and laid out the braces I’d just cut, and they were just too thick. They would’ve made the shelves stick way too far out from the wall, and the hanging hardware would’ve made it worse.

So it was back to the table saw. I decided to rip some 2×4’s into quarter-inch strips and see how that worked. It did, but I still worried the metal mounting bracket would tilt the shelf forward too much. Instead of trying to rip more 2x4s into narrower strips, which I didn’t feel safe doing, I decided to use some old paint stirring sticks. Nobody would see them behind the shelves anyway.

One of those sticks with the bracket attached to it was almost exactly a quarter inch, the same thickness as the bottom wood brace, so it worked out great.

I got everything placed on the vertical supports, drilled some pilot holes and attached the strips with wood screws. I had to be really careful with the stir sticks, though, to not let the screws pop out through the front of the boards.

We had these metal flush mount hangers from another project and they seemed like the right thing to use on these shelves. An identical piece goes on the wall and the two just slide into each other. They’re nice and slim, and wouldn’t push the shelves further away from the wall than necessary.

I think the shelf backs came out pretty well, with some gaps in between. Had we wanted them to be joined completely flush, I would’ve had to joint them on the table saw, but at least we’d have been able to glue them up. But I’m glad we went with the rustic look, though.

Next I drilled some pocket holes into the horizontal shelves. At first I wasn’t sure if the pallet wood would be thick enough for pocket screws, but it worked out great. I got a little carried away and drilled four holes in a couple shelves, even though they only needed two, but oh well.

I eyeballed where the shelves should go, making sure the mounting strips on the back were directly behind them, in case the screws went in a little too far.

Then it was basically rinse and repeat for the other shelves. The first one had one long piece near the bottom of the verticals. The second had two long shelves, and the last one had two staggered shelves made from one board cut in half.

Since this was bound for our guest bathroom, which is a Snoopy theme, I wanted to add a little something extra to one of the shelves. So I decided to paint a simple cartoon on one.

I found a drawing of Snoopy and Woodstock I liked, brought it into Photoshop and superimposed it over a photo of one of the completed shelves. I was then able to resize it and position it where I wanted, and then printed it out.

Then I cut it out and sprayed the back with a little bit of spray graphite. I’ve used this stuff many times to transfer drawings or printouts to canvases for painting, so I figured I’d try the same technique here.

I taped the artwork into position with blue painter’s tape. Then I took a ballpoint pen and traced over the whole thing, transferring the graphite onto the boards. It transferred great to the lighter board, but unfortunately it was practically impossible to see on the darker one, which was where half the drawing needed to go.

I debated how to deal with it, but in the end, I just freehanded the rest in pencil, and luckily it worked out okay. I then painted over the pencil lines with just a basic black acrylic paint and small brush.

After it dried I scuffed it up a bit with sandpaper to make it look a bit more weathered, then it was onto finishing.

I wanted everything to stay rustic looking, but I also knew this would be in a bathroom with some humidity. So I added a couple coats of Poly-crylic, which dries clear.

I mounted them on the bathroom walls, and my wife dug through her troves of Snoopy stuff and found some pieces to put on display.

This was my first time using pallet wood for anything that people would actually be looking at, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. The finishing brought out just enough color and grain, but left it looking very natural. As always, I learned a lot and the next project will always be better for it.

I’ve already made my mom one of these shelves, and I might make a couple more and put them on Etsy, just to see what happens. Thanks for reading!