What are Pallets Made of?
Pallets are flat structures that provide a foundation for storing or transporting goods. They are made from a variety of materials including wood, metal and plastic. Typically, pallets are flat and horizontal, which make them easier to stack, move and load.
Often, the goods placed on these pallets are much heavier, which requires the use of machinery to move the pallets like forklifts and pallet jacks. The following is a list of the different types of pallets including the pros and cons of each.
When it comes to categorizing and distinguishing pallets, it can be done in a variety of ways. We break up each distinction below by style (entry points), design (block vs. stringer pallets) and by material.
Different Types of Pallets
A. Pallet Styles by Entry Points and Decking
One significant way to distinguish pallets is by the number of entry points for forklift forks. There are two-way and four-way entry points. Below is a detailed chart illustrating the differences.
Another noticeable difference is the deck. Gap deck and solid wood deck pallets.
Standard Pallet Size
1. Two-way entry
Two-way entry pallets have entry openings on two sides for the forklift forks.
2. Four-way entry
Four-way entry pallets have entry openings on all four sides of the pallet.
3. Open Deck Pallet
An open deck pallet is one with gaps between the deckboards which makes them lighter and less expensive. However, they cannot be used to ship smaller items because they’ll slip through the cracks.
4. Solid Deck Pallet
As the name suggest, solid deck pallets are those that have a continuous single, large sheet of plastic, wood or metal without any gaps or spaces.
Their most distinctive features or qualities are that they are very easy to clean and transport. These pallets are mainly used for the transportation of small objects.
The fact that they are designed in a continuous flow minus any spaces makes them ideal for transporting small items which are likely to through the crack in the case of other types of pallets such as plastic and metal.
There are different types of solid deck pallets that are available, some of which are made of plastic while others with wood.
The latter consists of non-porous surfaces which help ensure that there are no contaminants or other particles trapped within the surface of the pallet.
This makes it really easy to clean them and also makes the solid deck pallets ideal for hygienic applications.
The former category, on the other hand, is the best of its kind because solid deck engineered wood pallets are super cost-effective since they come with an extended lifecycle.
As compared to plastic and traditional wood deck pallets, these are relatively lightweight and sturdier than them.
Furthermore, wooden solid deck pallets have been shown to sustain lesser damage overall than other types of pallets and they are also a lot easier to repair and use again.
This makes them an excellent option to use for numerous purposes given the multiple benefits attached with solid deck pallets.
5. Double Face Pallet
Most pallets come with just the top deck. However, there are also those pallets that also have a bottom deck along with the top deck. The latter are called double-faced pallets and they can easily be used with any side or face up.
The addition of the bottom deck in these pallets provides it with increased strength and the ability to hold the unit’s load with great ease and convenience.
The bottom deck also evenly distributes the weight of the entire load. A typical double face pallet has bottom and top deck boards that extend past the stringers.
This makes the pallets appear as if they have wings on the side. These pallets are available in two main types; reversible and non-reversible. The latter only has one surface with planks that are densely packed while the former has items on both sides and can be flipped easily.
Both these types are great for storing and packing different types of items.
B. Pallet Types By Design
Another way to categorize pallets is by design. There are two main types with regard to design and they are block vs. stringer pallets. Below we set out diagrams illustrating the two types as well as explain it.
1. Block Pallet
Also known as a deck board pallet, block ballet is characterized by its cylindrical posts that help create a distinction between bottom and the top of the deck.
It has a four-way entry which means that all four sides of the pallet can be accessed with the help of forklifts. A typical block often consists of 12 cylindrical wooden posts that provide it with great stability especially towards the top.
Block pallets can be made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, plywood, and there are also different types of these pallets where some come with a bottom board while others come without it.
They are extremely efficient for handling purposes primarily due to the fact that they comprise of both perpendicular and parallel stringers. These pallets use 4 to 12 blocks generally in order to support the top deckboards.
You can also expect to see thin stringers between the deckboards and the blocks that form a mat-like pattern with the former.
In exceptional cases, the stringers can be replaced by synthetic foam in order to cushion the unit load, and this particular type is called a ‘floater pallet’.
Block pallets are often used together with string pallets, together which are used as a foundation or basis for transport structures whose main purpose is to lift goods and materials with the help of different equipment such as pallet jacks, forklifts, etc.
2. Stringer Pallet
As the name suggests, this pallet uses stringers in order to provide adequate support to the unit load. These stringers are contained between the bottom and top deckboards that help carry the pallet’s load.
When compared with block pallets, these provide additional support considering how there are two boards that run between the bottom and top decks on the opposite sides of the pallets.
While this blocks the entry from those two ends, it also makes more room for its ability to bear extra weight. Stringers pallets are quite popular and are most commonly used in the United States. These are considered to be two-way pallets because you can only access it from two of its sides.
However, there are also four-way stringer pallets available that allow forklifts or pallet jacks to enter from the non-accessible sides as well. These pallets typically consist of three or more pieces of stringer or limber that is arranged in a frame of parallel pattern.
One of the key ways to identify a stinger pallet is the length of the stringer, followed by the width and then the length of the deckboards that comes second.
Many stringer pallets are often notched in order to create a four-way forked entry which results in two types of these pallets; the one with block designs and those with notched stringers. This type of pallet can be made from either wood or plastic material.
C. Different Pallet Types by Material
The third way to distinguish pallets is by the material used to create them. Below are the main materials that make up pallets. As you can imagine, wood pallets are the most popular.
1. Wood Pallets
Wood pallets are the most recognizable type of pallets. Typically, they are made of hardwood or softwood, which is best defined by the type of tree used and whether or not the tree loses its leaves annually.
The most common type of hardwood used in pallets is oak and the most common softwood is pine.
Pros and Cons
Wood pallets are customizable, can be reused or resold, are great for both storage and transportation, they are normally light in weight and come in a variety of wood options.
Unfortunately, wood pallets can break under heavy loads, are more susceptible to bacterial or chemical contaminations, are damaged when wet, and can also suffer from bug infestations.
New wood pallets can cost up to $65 on average, depending on size and type of wood. Used pallets are cheaper and range from $5 to $30 depending on size and wood type.
Best Types of Projects
Wood pallets are best used for storing lighter, sealed, non-biodegradable materials. They can also be repurposed for wood furniture items like a coffee table or bed frame.
About wood pallets
Wood-based pallets are probably the most commonly used as well as the most recognizable of all pallets.
Their main popularity stems from the fact that can be repaired very easily, are super strong and durable and they deliver great performance. Wooden pallets are usually made either of softwood or hardwood.
The type of wood used is best identified by the kind of tree that is used and if the said tree sheds its leaves on an annual basis. The most popular types of wood used in the construction of wooden pallets are oak and pine.
These pallets are mainly used for products that are considerably heavier and need proper support in order to carry the weight and load.
A great advantage offered by wooden pallets is that they have a really strong grip and also have much higher friction as compared to plastic and metal pallets.
Wooden pallets are an excellent choice for storage and transportation, especially because they can easily be resold and reused. They come in a variety of options made with different types of wood and most of them are fairly lightweight.
The only possible downsides of wooden pallets are that get completely damaged when wet, are highly susceptible to bacterial and chemical infections and they easily break under heavy load.
Other types of wood pallets
Other than standard oak (hardwood) and pine (softwood) pallets, there are the following types:
i. Presswood Pallet
This type of pallet is often considered to be a viable alternative to plastic pallets due to a number of design attributes and qualities of the former.
Presswood pallets are made from wood fibers that are first processed and subjected to really high temperatures after which those fibers are pressured together to form a single, solid block of wood.
They are sometimes also made of recycled wooden materials that can include wood shavings, old pallets or even wood waste.
The best part about Presswood pallets that has gotten them so popular is their unique and distinctive design that allows them to be nested together. This results in them consuming even less than half of the space that is typically taken up by other types of conventional pallets.
These pallets are incredibly lightweight which makes it fairly easy to use them for storage and transport purposes.
They are also super safe and reliable to use because Presswood pallets are molded in a way that results in rounded corners and furthermore, they are equipped with reinforcing ribs that greatly enhance the capacity of the pallets to load the weight on them.
The only drawback that has been noticed with the use of Presswood pallets is that they are not as strong and sturdy as the traditional wooden pallets and are also highly prone to being damaged by water and moisture and content.
ii. Plywood Pallets
These pallets are great for transporting light and medium weight goods. Plywood pallets are incredibly lightweight and super effective when it comes to surviving rough usage.
Compared to normal wood, plywood is increasingly resistant to infestation by bugs and compared to engineered these pallets are more resistant to moisture.
Plywood pallets are easily customizable which means that you can easily find them as single wooden deck pallets as well as double wooden deck pallets.
What makes these pallets so great is the use of plywood itself which is a very sturdy kind of wood with a high, uniform kind of strength. It is free from swelling, warping and shrinking and this balanced construction makes plywood pallets a great option for storage and transportation.
One downside to plywood pallets is that if they are not maintained properly over time, they can easily degrade and get ruined completely.
2. Metal Pallets
Although metal pallets are very sturdy and long lasting, they make up a small percentage of the pallet market. Steel and aluminum are the two most popular types of metal used for pallets.
Pros and Cons
Metal pallets are strong, stiff, sturdy, free of insects, recyclable, and more sanitary than other materials. The disadvantages of metal include being higher in price, much heavier and susceptible to rusting, like steel.
Brand new metal pallets range from $60 to $120 depending on size and type of metal. Recyclable metal pallets can be found for far less, often about half the price of new ones.
Best Types of Projects
Steel metal pallets are great for closed environments that require durability and protection. One example of usage is with military ammunition. Aluminum metal pallets are ideal for air-freight, outdoor or at-sea storage due to its ability to withstand corrosion and other weather-related effects.
About metal pallets
This is quite a heavy-duty type of pellet that makes it perfect for using in metal processing sectors and the automotive industry. It is generally made of steel or aluminum that gives it a great edge over wooden and plastic pallets in many cases.
Metal pallets are an excellent option for those companies in particular that look for a long-term approach to their assets.
They are also incredibly handy for people who want the kind of pallet that is fireproof, rackable, and sanitary.
They are considerably stronger than wooden pallets and often help keep the construction costs very low. Lately, metal pallets, particularly the aluminum ones have been greatly adopted air freight shippers.
The main reason behind that is how they are so light in weight as compared to the plastic or wooden types of pallets. This makes metal pallets a great choice for air freight shipments.
Similarly, steel pallets have gained significant popularity among numerous food, tire and battery companies, as well as the Smithsonian for the main purpose of storing paper products.
Some of the key benefits offered by metal pallets are that they can easily be reused multiple times, be sanitized when needed, and do not get infested by pests.
Additionally, regardless of being left outdoors, they won’t rot or degrade. The only downside to metal pallets is that they can’t be repaired easily and some varieties of metal pallets are super heavy which greatly increases overall costs.
3. Plastic Pallets
Plastic pallets are manufactured by a variety of different processes and often constructed of high-density polyethylene or recycled bottles.
Pros and Cons
Plastic pallets are weather-resistant, do not rot or corrode. They are durable, easy to clean, odor-resistant, lightweight, fire retardant and 100% recyclable. These pallets are expensive, might break under heavy loads and are not easy to repair if cracked.
Plastic pallets are often costly on the pallet market. Recycled pallets tend to run $30 to $45 dollars on average. However, depending on the size and material, new plastic pallets can range from $60 to $200 per pallet.
Best Types of Projects
Plastic pallets are ideal for both indoor and outdoor climates. Additionally, they are great for storing biodegradable items and chemicals.
About plastic pallets
This type of pallet is known to be incredibly safe, stable and durable. They are manufactured through a number of different processes and are made from recycled bottles and often high-density polyethylene.
This makes them incredibly tough and long-lasting, as compared to many other types of pallets.
Plastic pallets guarantee superior performance and efficiency over other pallets considering the fact that they are mostly constructed with recycled PET and HDPE materials.
These new and updated materials make plastic pallets highly resistant to weathering, corrosion, chemicals and rot. Some other excellent benefits of these pallets include easy sanitization, non-splintering, longer service life span, odor resistance and super lightweight.
They are also fire retardant and 100 percent recyclable. The use of plastic pallets has proven to be extremely cost-effective, safe, and environmentally friendly.
They are typically used for the transportation of products like frozen foods, fresh foods, and pharmaceutical items that come with very precise and strict hygienic requirements.
One of the best things about plastic pallets is that they aren’t porous so it is extremely easy to clean and sterilize them.
What makes plastic pallets so popular is the fact that they can be used for super long periods of time without experiencing any breakage.
This makes them ideal to be used in warehouses since they are splinter-free, lightweight and perfect for manual handling.
On the downside though, they can’t be easily repaired which means that they must be melted down if you are to recycle them.
4. Paper Pallets
Paper pallets, also called eco pallets, are a wonderful option for storing and transporting items. This category also includes corrugated, honeycomb, and fiberboard pallets.
Pros and Cons
Paper pallets are much lighter than wood and metal pallets. They are easy to clean, dust free, have no nails or splinters, are recyclable and easy to dispose of. The downside to paper pallets is that they do not hold heavier weight, susceptible to water or moisture damage, and are not durable.
Paper pallets are comparable in costs to wood pallets. Additionally, they also have a wide range of prices from $10 to $100 per pallet depending on material and size.
Best Types of Projects
Paper pallets are the preferred storing and transporting pallet for IKEA since they are easy to customize, have a low profile design, and reduce the costs of both storage and shipping.
About paper pallets
Also known as ‘eco pallets’, these pallets are commonly used for storage and transportation of different items and products. There is quite a fascinating history attached behind the origin of paper pallets.
They basically came about as a result of the challenges and complications that began to be associated with metal and plastic pellets.
Pallet designers and manufacturers recognized the numerous benefits that were provided by paper pallets such as the fact that they are super light weight, highly adaptable , recyclable, easy to get rid of as well as they are so easy to clean.
At one point, even IKEA, the world’s largest and leading furniture switched to using paper pallets due to these very benefits. The initial paper pallets were made from a variety of different materials including honeycomb and corrugated cardboard sheet.
Some versions had a solid top deck that was expendable and could be made from different sheet materials.
The inception of paper pallets back in the days was also focused on serving two main purposes including reducing costs by eliminating the need to return pallets and secondly, to reduce the cost of shipping by reducing the weight of the pallets, given how paper pallets are so amazingly light in weight.
The secret behind a quality corrugated paper pallet is its engineering design.
Corrugated paper is a very thick, grooved and ridged paper that when layered together, creates something super strong and sturdy.
Choosing The Right Pallet
Choosing the right pallet comes down to your needs and budget. Start by determining which general material is best for your storage and transportation needs. From there, choose a sub-material that ideally fits within your budget, load bearing and storage limitations.
Learn more: How to find and choose pallets for DIY projects
What Are Pallets?
A pallet is simply best described as a flat transport structure that provides the basis or foundation for the transportation and storage for a variety of different goods.
They are generally flat and horizontal in appearance which makes it easy to stack, store and arrange the goofs on the top or the surface of these pallets.
Pallets are best used in warehouses and different industries as a means to move around large stacks of heavy goods from one place to the other with the help of machine such as forklifts and pallet jacks.
These machines are especially used when the goods placed on the pallet are heavier than usual. They have proven to be key and highly useful components in terms of improving performance and efficiency levels in numerous warehouses, factories and industries.
You can even find stacks of wooden and plastic pallets at the back of your local grocery store because more and more people are resorting to the use of pallets for storage and transportation given the high levels of convenience and ease associated with them.
A Brief History of Pallets
On the surface, pallets might not come across as very useful objects, but interestingly, they have played a very important role in the history of the world’s economy.
As the saying goes, “there is more to what meets the eye” so the stacks of wooden structures filled with fruits and vegetables that you might have seen outside a supermarket is actually a lot more than just that.
Pallets popularly came into use back in the 20th century and ever since their advent, they have proven to be an extremely effective, affordable and convenient way to store and transport a variety of different types of goods from one place to the other.
Before the inception of pallets, warehouses and companies used to store and move around their goods and products in things like cardboard boxes, wooden crates, kegs and barrels.
Not only was that method super expensive, but it was also really time-consuming because the load would be too much but the instrument’s capacity wasn’t enough to hold that kind of weight.
Forklifts made pallets popular
Soon enough, the forklift was introduced during the 1920s which was immediately followed by the development pallets and pallet couriers. In 1925, both the use of forklift received a massive boost since the bottom deck or plank was added to the initial design of the original pallet.
This addition was a game-changer because it enabled stacking and allowed factories and warehouses to pile up their goods on a flat, horizontal surface with great ease.
Eventually, the pallet began to be used to store, ship, display, and transport numerous items by a lot of people who also began to notice that the safety, efficiency and performance of their operations enhanced to a great extent once they started using pallets.
The period of World War II noticed an unbelievable spread in the usage of pallets during which goods and items were being exchanged between allied countries with the help of these very pallets. Such massive exposure and usage ultimately resulted in the creation of the standard 48 x 48 pallet.
Numerous businesses began recognizing the impact of these flat structures on their operation after which most of them deemed the pallet a great necessity for business.
Fast forward to this very day, it is safe to say that without these pallets, the global economy of today wouldn’t be as strong and flourishing as it is right now.
The variety of pallets that you see today have been cleverly designed to be able to withstand high pressure, carry massive weights, and be easily lifted by forklifts and pallet jacks on and off numerous transport vehicles such as planes, trucks and ships.
You would be surprised to learn that in today’s times; around 450 million pallets are produced in North America each year! What is even more surprising than that is at any given time, 1.9 billion of all those pallets are in use at the same time!
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Rod Coleman (expert contributor to this article)
Rod is the business owner of Pallet West. Rod eats, sleeps and drinks pallets. If you cannot find Rod on the shop floor then you will for sure find him behind the scenes running the logistics of his well-oiled business.
When Rod does decide to leave his much loved business in either his colleagues or sons deserving hands, Rod can be found enjoying 18 holes on his local golf course or sat in his local brewery enjoying a cold, crisp pint.
Rod strives himself on delivering first class results in every aspect of his business and can often be guilty of working too hard. Behind his stern business approach, Rod is a devoted family man and likes nothing more than spending time with his children.