A frugal homeowner can recycle wood pallets into a small deck that is one short step up from ground level. The platform is a comfortable place to lounge or a stage for budding thespians to put on shows for family and friends.
Gather the Pallets
A pallet is generally one of four sizes: 36-by-36, 42-by-42, 48-by-48 or the standard size of 48-by-40 inches. By using the same source for all your pallets, they're likely to be the same size. If possible, select square pallets; they are easier to arrange in a pleasing design. Pallets may be found behind grocery stores or home improvement centers. Ask a manager before loading up your truck, as some stores return the pallets to their suppliers for reuse.
Prepare the Pallets
Hammer or screw in any loose nails or screws. Replace broken boards with new boards cut to size. If the top deck boards are spaced too far apart, pry them up gently and reinstall them 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, using deck screws instead of nails. Add a board or two to fill in the space on the top deck.
Use a pole sander or electric sander and coarse-grit sandpaper to smooth the top deck boards and sides of the pallets. Brush the sandpaper dust off with a broom. Fill cracks larger than 1/4 inch wide with a foam backer rod and paintable exterior caulk.
Paint the Pallets
Wait until a dry day, with no rain in the forecast for 24 hours, and the temperatures are between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use 100 percent acrylic exterior paint on the pallets. Begin by painting between the deck boards with a brush. Also paint the sides and ends of the stringers and deck boards.
Roll a coat of paint onto the top deck boards. Paint across the grain of the boards, and then change direction to roll with the grain to fill in all the cracks and crevices. Wait six hours, or overnight, and apply a second coat of paint. One gallon covers 50 square feet with two coats of paint.
Prepare the Site
Measure the pallets and deck site carefully to ensure that your new deck fits the space. Arrange the pallets in a checkerboard pattern, adjusting as needed to fit your plan. Use a chalk pencil to number the pallets from left to right, front to back, so you can replace them in the same order. Mark the perimeter of the deck with landscapers paint, or pound stakes at the corners and run string from stake to stake.
Remove the grass or other vegetation from the site, digging to a depth of approximately 4 inches. Rake the soil smooth, sprinkle it lightly with water, and then tamp it using a hand compacter or plate compacter.
Use a long board, such as a two-by-four, and a spirit level to ensure that the site is level. Fill in any low spots with some of the excavated soil and tamp it again.
Place a layer of landscape fabric over the soil. The landscape fabric blocks weeds and also prevents the gravel from sinking into the soil over time.
Add 4 inches of crushed gravel to the site, over the landscape fabric. Rake the gravel smooth before dampening it with water. Compact the gravel tightly. Check with the board and spirit level to ensure that the site is even.
Arrange the first row of pallets over the gravel, centering a 12-by-12-by 1-inch paver under the intersection of each set of pallets and at the outer corners.
Attach the pallets at the corners by predrilling two pilot holes through the side of the stringer that is facing you, at a 60-degree angle and into the side of the stringer on the adjoining pallet. The stringers are the boards between the top and bottom deck boards. The second pallet is set at a 90-degree angle to the first, making a checkerboard pattern. Insert a 3- to 3 1/2-inch deck screw into each hole and tighten the screws to hold the two pallets securely together.
Add the next row of pallets, but keep it approximately 12 to 18 inches away from the first, so you have room to work. Screw the pallets together with deck screws as before, on both sides of the row, and then push the second row against the first row of pallets. Make sure the corners where the pallets meet are resting firmly on the pavers.
Attach the rows of pallets together by predrilling and driving a deck screw down and at a 45-degree angle through the top of the stringer on one pallet and into the side of the next, where the stringers butt together. Continue assembling rows until all the pallets are screwed together into a deck.
Attach two-by-six boards around the perimeter of the deck. Use three deck screws every 12 inches along the sides and three in the the ends of the stringers. Paint the boards to match the deck, or in a contrasting color to match your deck furniture or house trim.