Pallet fences aren't attractive, but beauty isn't their main purpose. Their function is to keep wildlife out, to keep pets in or to provide a barrier for visual or security needs. You don't have to deal with concrete, exotic wood or expensive posts. You can build it on the cheap, but it will be strong and have a certain degree of longevity.
The Common Pallet
Pallets are the low wooden frameworks on which goods are stacked for storage or transport. The most common pallet in the United States is the GMA, or Grocery Manufacturers Association, pallet, which measures 40 by 48 inches. Other types and sizes are available, but differences in size or style usually aren't significant enough to prevent you from combining them for a fence.
Where to Find Pallets
Locate pallets by visiting local businesses in your area that use them, such as grocery, feed and furniture stores and construction sites.
Pallets are typically made with clean hardwood, but if you find a stained pallet or one with an oily odor, don't use it. It could be contaminated with a toxic chemical.
Pallets are not intended to be ground-contact material, but you can treat them with borates to make them more weather and insect-resistant. Mix the borate solution with warm water and apply it to the pallets with a garden sprayer.
Plan on placing the stringers -- the boards on top of the pallet -- parallel with the ground. This orientation allows for the sides of the pallet to fit together flat for easier assembly and more security. You can place the stringers on the outside or the inside, but the most common installation places the stringers on the outside, because the rows look better that way and they are harder to climb over.
It's possible to place the stringers vertically for a more traditional fence look, but doing so places the pallets' two-by-four struts horizontally, making the fence weaker and harder to build because there's no appropriate way to join the pallets together.
Take Apart Option
Taking the pallets apart and reusing the wood is another option, but it's labor intensive, and the pieces are too short to make a real fence. Additionally, the extra materials you would need to build the fence are costly, which defeats one of the purposes of a pallet fence.
Build the Fence
You can build a pallet fence in one afternoon, using a few supplies and basic tools. The quantities depend on how long the fence will be.
Things You'll Need
Two-by-four blocks, 8 inches long
3/16-inch drill bit
Step 1: Measure and Plan
Measure and pound stakes at the corners and ends of the fence. Plant the stakes just outside the actual fence line, so that when you stretch a string between them, you can use the string as a guide to keep the fence straight.
Step 2: Plant the Posts
Stand the first pallet at one end, and align it with the string. Insert a steel T-post inside the corner of the pallet. Use a sledge hammer or post pounder to drive the steel post far enough into the ground to bury the triangular fins at the bottom below the ground.
It's not necessary to level the post because it won't be readily visibile, but if you want, pound the post first, leveling it as you go, and then slip the pallet over the post.
Step 3: Place the Next Pallet
Align the next pallet with the string, flushing it with the first pallet. Use a sledge hammer to tap the top of the pallet if needed to flush it along the top. If you're using pallets of different sizes, don't worry about leveling them.
Step 4: Join the Pallets
Drill pilot holes in three, two-by-four scrap blocks with a 3/16-inch bit and drill/driver. Screw them to both pallets horizontally with at least 2 1/4-inch screws penetrating both pallets, centering the block over the joint. Place one block at the top, one in the center and one at the bottom.
Step 5: Repeat the Pattern
Place another pallet flush with the second pallet, drive another post and join the pallets with two-by-four blocks. A standard installation would have one post for two pallets.
Add a steel T-post to each pallet for a heavy-duty fence. Use fewer posts for light-duty or temporary fences. For example, placing a post every fourth pallet is faster but makes the fence weaker.
Make corners on pallet fences by overlapping one pallet at 90 degrees. Fasten it by screwing it on through each of the stringers.
Gates or Shapes
Skip the two-by-four blocking and add gate hinges or recycled door hinges to pallets to make a gate or to turn the fence at an angle other than 90 degrees.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.