Pallet Board Backed Bookshelf

My husband made the mistake of mentioning he’d like a little project done in his office for Christmas. I took that to mean I had free reign in his space! He was going to be gone for a weekend, he’d been complaining about the TERRIBLE lighting in there, and I hated the ugly, mismatched metal desks he had. Plus, popcorn ceiling. Need I say more?

Of course my wheels started turning when he asked for a small shelf to store the router, modem, external hard drives, VOIP contraption, and the new internet controller we just got. I couldn’t help myself. I went into overdrive.

New desk made out of filing cabinets with a wood top.

New pretty light fixture.


Scrape the ceiling.

Replace the terrible cardboard backing to the cheap bookcases.

Let the shopping begin! I started pricing things out and realized my pretty small budget (less than $200) wasn’t going to get me very far if I was going to purchase beadboard at $35 a sheet to back the five bookshelves.

Let’s come up with a plan B.

When I had driven into the lumber yard in the past, I noticed a sign advertising free pallets. I’d seen projects done with pallets before, and while I really didn’t think that was my style, the price was right, so I picked some up.

Of course I figured taking them apart would just require a little muscle and a pry bar. WRONG!

Did you know that pallets are put together with these special, twisted screws? It makes sense when I really think about it. Those pallets hold some substantial loads and are carried around by forklifts. Not just any old nails would do the job. It makes them very strong so they won’t fall apart. It also makes them very difficult to pull apart. Like, almost impossible.


Ask me how I know. It only took me about an hour getting two boards off to realize I needed to figure out another way.

A reciprocating saw became my very good friend.


Hello, friend!

Here’s a quick rundown of how to cut those pallets apart.


Get your blade in between the joints. There might be a little gap, but there might not. You just want to run your blade between the two pieces of wood to cut the nails. Try not to gouge into the wood. It’s not the end of the world, but it makes it harder to cut through.

Go through all the boards on all the edge sides.

The middle is a little more difficult. You have pallet boards in the way from having a straight edge to go along.

To get the best control, I laid the pallet on the ground.


Then I could maneuver my saw in between the boards and cut the nails. It’s a little tricky, but totally doable.

It took me between 15 and 20 minutes to get one pallet apart. For free wood, it was totally worth my time.

Once you have all your pallets cut apart, you need to cut them to the correct length.

Measure your bookshelf width.


Go ahead and do it again for good measure. (Pun totally intended!)

Then mark your boards (again, measure twice, cut once) and cut them with a miter saw. Same kind of saw I used to make this coat rack.

Then lay them out on your $35 Walmart particle board bookshelf that you’ve happily ripped the paper-thin backing off of.


I had a little space left, and I wanted to make sure the bottom board was nailed to the bottom shelf for stability, so I just moved that board down so the gap was above the bottom board instead of below.


Like so.

Then I got to nailing. I put two nails in each side of the boards. Ask me how I know one nail in each side is not a effective. Go ahead, ask! Nevermind, you probably already know that answer.


Two by two. Kind of like Noah’s ark! Except with nails, so not really at all like Noah’s ark.


Stand it up and admire your handiwork! Also realize that forever when someone looks at this post they will know you did this project at Christmas. And your boots are in the corner. And there is a random picture on the floor that needs to get up on the wall. And…. oh, well. This is what my house really looks like. Nothing to be done about that.

See the gap in between the bottom two boards? If you hate it, you can certainly run a board through a table saw (which I don’t have) so you don’t have a gap, but I figured that stuff will fill up the bottom shelf and no one will ever see it. You could also space your boards out so there is a very small gap in between each one instead of one big gap. Do what feels right to you.

I’ve also used boards that were broken in parts. I figured it added to the rustic charm.


And here’s the small shelf that started the whole project. I’m sure he’ll never ask for a project as a gift again!

I never thought I would jump on the pallet bandwagon, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t beat the price. And it turns out, I love it! The black of the shelving unit with the multifaceted tones of the wood is really beautiful, and I love the contrast of the more formal light fixture I chose with the raw and rustic quality of the pallet boards.


The color of the walls really make the wood tones look richer as well.


I was truly surprised.

I’m going to start collecting pallets for the wood feature wall my son wants in his room as well!

What can I say? Gotta have a project.



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  1. Looks awesome! I’ve been wanting to do this to one of our bookcases that won’t stand straight anymore. 🙂 What lumber yard give away free pallets?

    1. Mine is a Do It Best partner called Pullman Building Supply, but I also saw some at a local flooring and tile place. Our Ace Hardware had some but were keeping them for their own projects. I found another behind a pet store. Pretty much I just drove behind the mini-mall and then went around and asked if I could take them!