Turn an old pallet into a handy—and free—bookshelf
This project is an easy way to add some personal flair to your home.
Bookshelves do more than keep your reading materials organized—they can add personality to any room. Building one yourself is an excellent way to showcase your unique style, and it won’t cost much if you decide to use a reclaimed wooden pallet. This one features an optional chalkboard panel that’s perfect for notes in a home office or creative scribbles in a child’s playroom.
One pallet can make up to three bookshelves (or one shelf and one DIY wine rack), and there are multiple ways to get your hands on this oft-discarded material. If you’re lucky, you might already have one at your home. If not, you can usually find them for sale at lumber stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. You can also search Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist, and other websites to find pallets for free or at a low cost. If there’s a construction site near you, check in and see if they’re willing to part with any pallets for free.
Warning: DIY projects can be dangerous, even for the most experienced makers. Before proceeding with this or any other project on our site, ensure you have all necessary safety gear and know how to use it properly. At minimum, that may include safety glasses, a face mask, and/or ear protection. If you’re using power tools, you must know how to use them safely and correctly. If you do not, or are otherwise uncomfortable with anything described here, don’t attempt this project.
- Time: 2-3 hours
- Material cost: $40
- Difficulty: easy
- 1 wood pallet
- 1 ½-inch wood screws (or 2-inch nails)
- Sandpaper (60 grit)
- 1 quart of wood paint
- 1 can of chalkboard paint
- (Optional) masking tape
- (Optional) chalk
- Measuring tape
- Circular saw (or hand saw)
- Respiratory mask
Before you start
1. Set up your workspace. Make sure you have enough room to work with the pallet for the initial cuts. I used our balcony, but a garage or some other easy-to-clean open space would also work. Stand your pallet up on its shortest edge.
2. Secure any loose nails. Reclaimed pallets aren’t exactly… tidy. Use your hammer to make sure all the nails are completely secure. If some are beyond saving, pull them out and replace them with whatever fasteners you’re using.
3. Define the height and width of your bookshelf. I used the entire 40-inch width of the pallet and two panels for the height. Two panels (about 10 inches) should provide enough support for the shelf and books once it’s attached to a wall. If you want it taller—especially if you have large books—you’ve got about 48 inches to work with.
4. Check the panels. If any of the ones you plan to include in your bookcase are loose, use this time to reinforce them, making sure all pieces are firmly attached. If necessary, fasten them firmly with screws or nails.
5. Mark the height of your bookshelf. To plan your cuts, use a square and pencil to draw a straight line on each side of the pallet. No matter what height you chose, you should cut the pallet flush along what will be the bottom edge of your bookshelf.
6. Cut the wood pallet. Using a circular saw, cut along the lines you just marked.
- Caution: If you’re using a circular saw, make sure you’re wearing eye, ear, and breathing protection and understand how to safely operate this potentially dangerous tool.
7. Prepare the base of the bookshelf. Using your hammer, remove one of the remaining panels of wood from what’s left of the original pallet. This will be your base.
8. Install the base. Turn your bookshelf frame on its head, so the sides look like an inverted “L.” Then place the piece of wood you just removed on top and flush with the 2-by-4s, forming what will be your shelf’s rectangular base. Attach it by driving two screws into both ends and another two in the middle of the center 2-by-4.
9. Prepare your bookshelf for painting. Grab your sandpaper and sand the entire bookshelf frame until it feels smooth to the touch with your bare hands. You don’t want anyone to nab a splinter along with their book. Next, clean the dust off the rack with your paintbrush and prepare your work area for painting by spreading a drop cloth, old newspapers, or cardboard to protect the floors and walls from any potential splatters.
- Note: It’s OK to use the same brush to dust and paint—just clean it in between.
10. Paint your bookshelf. Finish the rack with the stain or paint color of your preference using your paintbrush. Paint your horizontal panels uniformly starting from left to right. And the vertical ones up and down. This helps spread any excess paint from your brush. Let it dry (per the manufacturer’s instructions) and then add a second coat.
11. (Optional) Create a chalkboard. Once the paint is dry, place masking tape on every side of the bottom panel on the front of your bookcase. Next, spray chalkboard paint across the bottom panel (following application instructions on the can). Let it dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then apply a second coat.
12. Let your bookshelf rest. Once you’ve applied all layers of paint or stain, let the shelf sit outside for 24 hours to ensure any paint odor disappears.
Now that your bookshelf is finished, gather your family together, write something fun on the chalkboard (if you made one), find a place to hang it, and stock it with your favorite books.