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My Failed Pallet Planter

My Failed Pallet Planter

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This is my first and likely my last pallet project. Yes, you heard that right. And it’s not because this project was a complete failure. No–I had that first sentence written before my planter fell apart. But I should have trusted my gut from the start and not done a pallet project.

But aren’t all DIY bloggers crazy about pallets? Many are, either because they love the “rustic farmhouse” look of them or because they are free wood. I decided to try my hand at a pallet project because of the latter.

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

“Free” has my name written all over it, but “rustic farmhouse” does not. I live in an apartment in the city, and our apartment is way more “secondhand Ikea chic” than “rustic farmhouse.” But I’ve been working on getting my balcony garden up and running and didn’t want to drop a ton of cash on planters, so I thought pallet wood would be perfect.

But perfect this planter was not. Since pallets come in all different sizes, shapes, and qualities, you don’t really know what you’re going to get. Even though I picked the nicest looking of the three pallets I got my hands on, the boards were still a B to work with. The wood was very misshapen, which is to be expected, but I’m talking some hardcore cupping and waving.

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

That said, I was still happy with the outcome until I woke up one morning to find THIS:

My failed pallet planter project, because we all have failed DIYs! Learn from my mistakes!

NOOOOO. Super pissed.

But instead of scrapping this post, I decided to still share it. Because I think that DIY bloggers need to be more realistic and share some of their failures. I don’t succeed at every project, but every project is a learning experience, and I hope you walk away from this post having learned something.

Here’s what I used for my sad failed planter:

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  • 1 pallet with wide panels
  • Sawzall to deconstruct the pallet and to cut the wood to size
  • Liquid Nails Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive and nail gun
  • Assorted sandpaper
  • Work gloves, pencil, measuring tape, clamps
  • HGTV HOME by Sherwin-Williams Laid-Back Beige paint (here)
  • Drill and drill bit to make holes for drainage

This looks like a pretty solid materials list, right? So what went wrong? Let’s consider.

(Remember to wear a mask and eye protection while sanding and working with wood, and wear an appropriate mask while working with paints, stains, and finishes. Follow the directions and warnings from your particular brand. Do not use any tools without proper training, precautions, and supervision. Read my full terms of use here.)

My failed pallet planter project, because we all have failed DIYs! Learn from my mistakes!

Step 1: Break down the pallet. We used a sawzall. Well, my dad did. Honestly, I’m not even going to provide a tutorial on this. Here is a video I referenced from Simeon Hendrix.

 

Step 2: Measure. Since my pallet boards were wide, I used one for the bottom and two for the sides. I cut off the ragged, nail-covered ends and then cut the boards to size, about 43″ long. I also cut two 7″ pieces to cap the ends. Looking back, maybe I should have doubled up on the boards?

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

Step 3: Sand. Very thoroughly! It really helped to clean them up. Check out the photo below…the middle board is sanded, and the other two are not.

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

Step 4: Attach sides to the base. First we attached one side to the bottom by squirting a line of Liquid Nails along the edge of one piece and then using the nail gun to nail the pieces together. Then we repeated this process for the other side.

The pieces were too thin for screws, and we knew that the nails wouldn’t be enough to hold everything together, so that’s why we used the Liquid Nails to help reinforce everything. I think that this planter would have stayed together had the pieces been thick enough to use screws.

Also, the wood was really wonky, so we used clamps to pull the pieces together after we applied the glue. Wood doesn’t like to be told what to do, so that probably added to the pressure that ultimately made the ends pop off.

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

Then we repeated this process for the other side.

Even though our measurements were spot on, the wood was so warped that it was also cupping inward pretty severely. That meant that our end cap pieces wouldn’t line up. My dad had the great idea to cut a block of scrap wood to wedge between the two edges, which would pry them out a bit while the glue dried and make them line up better with the end caps.

Check it out:

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

Step 5: The block of scrap wood helped, so I glued and nailed on one end cap. We still had to use a clamp to help lines things up while the glue dried.

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

The next day, I glued the other end cap on without clamps, drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage, and gave it two coats of paint.

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

Everything looked lovely for a few days…

Make a skinny pallet planter--pretty easy with the right pallets and a great way to make a cheap planter!

…but the planter ultimately because unusable. The end caps were the weakest pieces. The planter was super sturdy until I filled it up with wet soil, which I think just created too much pressure on the flimsy little boards and weak nails. Also, since the wood was so deformed and difficult to line up, it was probably happy to pop those end caps right off and go where it wanted!

My failed pallet planter project, because we all have failed DIYs! Learn from my mistakes!

I hope you have better luck if you’re making a pallet planter! Remember, nails and glue probably won’t do as good of a job as screws. Look for pallets with thicker boards that will be able to handle screws. And for the love of God, don’t feel pressured to jump on the pallet bandwagon if you don’t want to! If I ever say I am doing another pallet project, kindly refer me to this post for some soul searching. I have a hard time turning down free wood and might need a reminder.



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Miguel

Sunday 4th of December 2016

Errr... Glue? Try nails and/or screws next time... just a thought! Nice looking planter overall, just your method of execution that led to its untimely demise. Rule 1: Anything built from wood that is designed to be used outside MUST be fastened with nails, staples or screws - never glue. If you want to hide the screws then consider investing in a pocket hole jig such as the Kreg™ Jig - easy to use with strong, good looking results.

Neil

Saturday 18th of June 2016

Annular ring nails are a good alternative to screws, as anyone who has tried to remove them will vouch for.

Brittany Merth

Saturday 18th of June 2016

Ha, I'm guessing you've removed a few! Thanks Neil!

Kris Johnson

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

I think your expectations were too high on the liquid nails. Actual nails, even better - wood screws, would have done the trick. But a fix to what you had would have been wrapping a good weigh twine around the boxes about four times, ending with a well tied square knot. Added design to functionality!

But my thanks for a well written cautionary word on working with pallets. It's not an easy job tearing one part!

Brittany Merth

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

Twine--that's a good idea! If I ever do it again, I'll remember that. I replaced it with a long skinny planter from Amazon, though. As my friend says, sometimes you just have to know when to throw money at a problem and not DIY it. :)

LC

Sunday 1st of May 2016

Hi, Saw your post on pintrest +1 for that.. but I also have made the same planter around 8 months back and it is working fine till date. just a suggestion may be if you put some king of plastic sheet inside and staple it on top border it might stay because that's what i have done..

Brittany Merth

Sunday 1st of May 2016

That is a good idea. I must admit I was just being cheap when I decided to not buy a liner. Lesson learned! :) I'm glad your planter is holding up!

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