About a year ago I ran across an article in Slate, “The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy,”  by  Tom Vanderbilt. It was an intriguing title and I dug in. Who would have thought this “single most important object” would be a pallet? It is a fascinating look at the role the humble pallet plays in the global supply chain and indeed, I can  understand the statement, “Pallets move the world.”

Pallet History

The precursor to the wooden pallet was the skid, basically a pallet without bottom boards. In the late 1800s skids were used in factories along with with a primitive low lift truck that could hoist the load a few inches. With the advent of the first high lift fork trucks in the 1910s, skids evolved until eventually a bottom deck was added, resulting in the modern pallet. But prior to the second World War, there still weren’t that many forklifts or pallets in use. During the war, however, the forklift and pallet were huge players in military logistics with tens of millions of pallets used in the supply lines. It was during this war that a Navy Supply officer invented the four-way pallet so that forklifts could pick up pallets from any side. In the United States today, it is estimated that over 500,000 pallets are manufactured each year, with over 2,000,000 in use.
Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things...yet pallets are arguably as integral to globalization as containers. For an invisible object, they are everywhere. ~Tom Vanderbilt

Types & Construction of Pallets

There are 2 main types of pallet rack: string pallet & block pallet. The stringer pallet is made to be picked up from only 2 sides; whereas the block pallet uses additional supports and be lifted from all 4 sides. Pallets are most commonly made of wood but can also be made of plastic, metal, metal, or recycled materials. The most common wood pallets are softwood & should only be lifted from 2 sides. Hardwood pallets can be lifted from 4 sides and are often color-coded based on the amount of weight they can safely bear. Depending on the intended use, pallets are subject to different construction methods and regulatory requirements. They can be stapled or nailed together, treated with heat or chemicals, and should always be constructed of material that cannot carry invasive insects or plant disease.

Unique Uses of Pallet Wood

Pallet Guitar by TaylorTaylor Guitars made a small line of acoustic guitars constructed of pallet rack wood. These guitars were mostly bought as collectors’ items due to their unique wood source. Learn more at the LA Guitar Sales website.

Many others have also found creative ways to reuse pallet wood for everyday purposes. You can find inspiration for a great DIY pallet repurposing project at designrulz.com and on our Pinterest board.

American Flag Pallet