Ever since we finished repainting our dining room, my wife asked to make our Gather Pallet Sign. Like most home decor builds these days, the inspiration came from Pinterest. In our apartments, we barely had room for a small kitchen table, much less a dedicated space for people to gather around a full-size dining table. Once we had closed on our house, finishing the dining room and perfecting that space became a priority. We ended up purchasing our dining room furniture set, but could not find any decor to break up one of the walls that complimented the set well. Since I had just acquired some local, free pallet wood, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to build something ourselves that would be the perfect solution for the space.
1 – Rip Pallets to Width
For purposes of this build article, I am assuming that the pallets are all broken down already. Once this is done, they can be ripped to their final width.
Fortunately, my pallets were sourced from a local brewery who would rather give them to a maker than toss them. Consequently, they were in fairly good shape when I got them back to my garage. Unfortunately, as with most pallets, the slats were not quite square nor were they equal in width.
First, I selected the most consistent-looking slats from my stack. Next, I found the narrowest useable slat and measured its width. This, minus a half inch, gave me a hard minimum if I wanted all the slats to be the same width in the final Gather Pallet Sign (which my wife did want). In my case, this minimum was 3 inches.
Unfortunately, I do not have a jointer. However, I do have a shim for my router fence. This makes into a make-shift jointer jig. I ran each piece through the router jointer jig to square one edge of each slat.
After each slat had one clean edge cut, I set my table saw fence to 3″. I put the newly cleaned edge against the fence and trimmed each slat to its final width.
2 – Cut Pallet Slats to Final Length
Our particular design called for each row to be a different overall length than the rows adjacent to it. However, it quickly became apparent that each row would require multiple slats to accommodate the desired size. Fortunately, I thought to draft a design in SketchUp before I began.
SketchUp allowed me to not only get wife approval for the final Gather Pallet Sign shape, but create a cut list for the lengths needed to create the three different row lengths. While I am certain that easier methods exist, this allowed me to get “client” design approval while also giving me an exact cut list and assembly guide.
With dimensions in hand, I began marking the longest cuts first on the ripped slats. Marking directly allowed me to avoid any ugly knots or undesired defects in the wood. Any reclaimed wood project does need a level of wood character, but some parts should be avoided completely.
Once most of the dimensions were marked, each was cut to final length at the Miter Saw. Some slats allowed for multiple pieces to be cut. To be safe, I didn’t assume what the saw blade kerf was, I always measured and marked from a cut edge.
3 – Cut Plywood Backer to Size
Originally, I did not want a backer on this sign. However, do not own a biscuit joiner which would allow me to avoid this piece. I also did not think it was necessary to use small pocket holes for so many pieces where it was ultimately unnecessary.
I was able to use a piece of scrap 15/32″ plywood to hold the Gather Pallet Sign slats together during assemble and provide additional stability for the sign once finished. To find the dimensions needed, I turned back to my SketchUp model. I measured the shortest row length and the overall height. From each of these dimensions, I removed 1″ which would let the backer be hidden from view.
Alternatively, if this were being cut from a full sheet of plywood, I would use my circular saw to cut it down first. Fortunately, the scrap I had was manageable for the table saw and I was able to quickly cut it to final size.
4 – Assemble Slats to Plywood
Thankfully, at this point, the project was all down hill. The most stressful part was securing the very first slat. This would be the slat that dictated the position for every single other slat on the whole Gather Pallet Sign. I made sure to take my time and confirm every single measurement and dimension before securing permanently.
First for each row, I would first find the exact slats I would need. Next, I laid them out in place to ensure everything still looked good in person. Then, I would liberally apply glue to the plywood and any slat edges. Finally, I would place each slat in place and nail it from the bottom through the plywood.
Normally, it would be easier to use the nailer on top. However, I knew that I would be planing and sanding the surface in a later step. In order to avoid any issues, I made sure to select nails that would be short enough not to interfere with those steps.
Once I had the first row permanently secured, I was able to rinse and repeat these steps for all of the remaining rows.
5 – Plane & Sand Surface
One of the downsides to working with any reclaimed wood is dimensioning. Because the material for this home decor project came from multiple pallets, the slats did not have a 100% uniform thickness. In order to remedy this problem, most would use a thickness planer. Unfortunately, I do not have a thickness planer. Fortunately, I do have a #4 Hand Plane, arms ready for a workout, and the determination of my wife to get me to make everything relatively flat.
Before starting, I did make sure that the plane was sharp and it was level to the base. Once both of those were confirmed, I set the depth to a conservative removal depth and got to work.
While it was a good amount of work, the shavings that came off the Gather Pallet Sign slats were gorgeous. I focused on making each row close to even with the rows next to it. We wanted to retain some of the uneven, “reclaimed” look, but with a touch of finesse.
Once I had planed as much as I could, I went to work with my random orbit sander. I started at 80 grit and worked all the way up to 320 before calling the surface done.
6 – Stain Gather Pallet Sign
One of our goals was to create a home decor piece that would compliment our existing dining room furniture. Unfortunately, we could not find a stain that did this quite the way we wanted. We ended up finding a stain that was close, but too dark. In order to lighten it up while also allowing more wood grain to pop, we thinned it with mineral spirits.
Whenever using a finish to coordinate with other pieces, and especially when thinning yourself, make sure to test the finish on some scraps and adjust as necessary before applying to the final piece. We adjusted the ratio of stain to mineral spirits three or four times before we found the balance we were looking for.
After we had our final finish concoction, we applied it with foam brushes and immediately wiped it off. This application and removal process kept uniformity throughout the sign, but also gave us the flexibility to re-apply in areas that were too light. With stain, even when thinned, you can always apply again to darken, but you cannot remove stain to lighten.
7 – Install Hardware & Hang
I had some old, heavy-duty frame hardware were were able to use on each side of the Gather Pallet Sign to let us hang it on the wall. To install the hardware, I measured the same distance on both sides from the top and from the sides to mark the top location. Each piece was put in place, squared, and secured with a few screws.
Finally, the hardest remaining step was to hang on the wall. I made sure my hardware locations roughly corresponded to studs in the wall. However, if this is not possible for the location, wall anchors should hold the sign up perfectly well too.
We installed screws into the wall and studs, then hung the finished sign on the screws. The last step was to step back and admire our handy work.
In order to mark the exact location of the hardware, I put some tape on the level. With the level on the back of the sign, I marked the center and two hanger locations on the tape in sharpie. These marks let me find the center of our wall with the center mark, level the level, then mark perfect locations for the wall screws.
This was an extremely fun project to build! Thankfully, it made my wife happy, took about a weekend to complete, was easy on budgets, and is a fantastic showpiece for all our friends to see. One of the biggest takeaways from this was the level trick for hanging items. Since this build, I have used that trick to perfectly mark awkward sized items to hang.
I learned a good bit from the build itself as well. It is easy to fall into the “if only I had that one perfect tool” trap. For this build, I would have ideally had a jointer, planer, and biscuit joiner. However, I used what I already had and the results were pretty close to what they would have been with those tools.
We have been nothing but happy with this Gather Pallet Sign. Our friends love it and it shows that our dining room is dedicated to gathering with the people we find most important in life.