We have some pallets stacked along the side of our house and we were wondering if we could use them as firewood. After doing some initial research, I found there’s not a good answer out there. So, I did some more digging and put together this guide.
Burning pallets in fire pits is illegal in many public areas as they leave behind nails. These nails are difficult to remove and are hazardous to visitors, vehicles, wildlife, and livestock. For fireplaces, pallets can be burned if they aren’t treated with chemicals, but they’re better as kindling.
It’s estimated that over 2 billion pallets are used daily worldwide. With all of this wood, and often free for the taking, why can’t we just simply burn it? Let’s take a closer look.
Looking for a smokeless fire pit for your backyard or deck? Here’s the fire pit my readers recommend.
Why Burning Pallets is Often Illegal
In many public beaches and dunes, burning pallets is generally banned as they leave behind nails which are then lodged in the sand and dirt. These nails cause harm to visitors, vehicles, and animals.
For example, at the St. Anthony Sand Dunes in Rexburg, Idaho, the nails from pallet burning have become such a problem that the Bureau of Land Management is no longer providing warnings. Instead, they’re issuing tickets up to $1,000 and one year in jail.
For the same reason, pallet burning has also been banned in the Imperial Sand Dunes found in the southeast corner of California.
“It is prohibited to use as firewood, or have in possession, any firewood materials containing nails, screws, or other metal hardware, including, but not limited to, wood pallets and/or construction debris.”Imperial Sand Dunes Rules and Regulations
Generally, only wood, charcoal, or paper products are allowed as fuel in these public places.
It’s also best to only burn firewood that is local to prevent the spreading of invasive species such as some bugs. According to dontmovefirewood.org, a good rule is to only burn firewood that is harvested within 50 miles of your site.
If you’d like to see more about the firewood regulations in your area, check out this helpful firewood map.
So, while pallets are often illegal to use as firewood in public fire pits, are they safe to burn otherwise?
How to Tell if a Pallet Is Safe to Burn
To find out if your pallet is safe to burn, check its treatment code.
|Pallet Treatment Code||Meaning||Safe to Burn?|
You can find out your pallet’s treatment code by checking its sides for a stamp. Once you find the stamp, the pallet’s treatment code is located on the right side (shown below).
If your pallet does not have a stamp, it means that it is a national pallet. These pallets are used domestically and don’t require stamps. Most national pallets are not treated, so they should be safe to use and burn.
To be extra safe, see if you can trace where it came from and confirm if it was treated or not.
For example, single-use pallets, such as transporting lab equipment or a new motorcycle, often don’t have stamps. As a bonus, they’re usually brand-new lumber.
However, if you do find a stamp and a treatment code on your pallet, here’s what they mean:
Heat-treated (HT) pallets involve heating the pallet in an oven or kiln to 133-140ºF for at least 30 minutes, which helps with pest control. Wooden pallets made in the US and Canada are typically heat treated. These pallets are safe to use or burn.
Methyl bromide (MB) is a pesticide that has not been used in most countries since 2005 due to its harmful effects. If you find pallets with the MB treatment code, avoid burning them.
Debarked (DB) pallets are simply when a pallet’s wood is debarked. This helps with any potential treatment process later on. Because newer pallets require debarking as a standard procedure, they no longer require this stamp by the IPPC regulations. If your pallet is only marked with DB, it’s untreated and safe to use.
Kiln-dried (KD) pallets are when the moisture content of wood is lowered to below 20%. This significantly deters warping, mold, bugs, and other issues. With lumber and firewood, this is also called seasoning. While a similar process, some kiln-dried pallets are not sustained at the 133ºF required to be heat treated. If they are, you’ll see “KD-HT” on the stamp. KD pallets are safe to use and burn.
If you come across a stamp that you’re not sure of, and cannot validate, avoid using the pallet.
Other Pallets to Avoid Burning
Along with methyl bromide pallets, avoid burning pallets that are:
- Pressure treated
- Chemical spilled
If you see a spill or oil stain on your pallet, it’s best to avoid burning it. It’s usually not worth the trouble identifying the spill and risking burning it.
I’d also add to avoid burning pallets that had old, rusty nails. Naturally, these are more difficult to remove than newer nails and pose more of a hazard.
If you’re a business, keep in mind most counties and cities prohibit burning pallets and other business waste.
Even after sorting through the different treatment codes and complications, are pallets even worth the effort to burn?
Is Burning Pallets Worth The Effort?
|Steps for Pallet Wood||Steps for Cord Wood (Firewood)|
|1. Drive to location||1. Drive to location|
|2. Fill truck||2. Cut to rounds|
|3. Drive home||3. Load in truck|
|4. Empty truck close to house||4. Drive home|
|5. Cut with circular/skill saw (fast)||5. Empty truck|
|6. Stack closer||6. Split|
|7. Burn||7. Stack|
|8. Wait for seasoning|
|9. Bring closer to the stove|
If you can get pallets that are safe to burn, they’re great to use as kindling. However, most people find that pallets are simply too much work for the heat gained. More often than not, it’s a better time investment to stockpile cord wood instead of pallet wood.
Note that while pine pallets make better kindling, hardwood pallets such as oak offer a longer burn. Because of this, oak pallets are highly sought after.
But even after finding and burning pallets that aren’t treated, the nails in the ash pose problems.
For example, if you use pallet ash to de-ice your driveway, you’ll have to sort through the nails first. The same goes if you use pallet ash for your lawn, garden, or compost pile. However, a quick way to do this is to use a magnet once the ash and nails have cooled.
Overall, if you can find untreated pallets with hardwood 4x4s as skids, it might be worth it. Otherwise, cord wood is likely a better supply of wood.
How to Burn Pallet Wood
If you find your pallets are legal and safe to burn, the best way to use pallets is as kindling. Because pallets are typically thin and extremely dry (common with kiln-dried wood), they burn too fast and hot to use for sustained fires.
Here’s how to cut pallets for firewood:
- Stack 4 or 5 pallets high
- Cut the slats with a circular saw right next to the center runner (both sides)
- Grab the slats one at a time and wrench them off
- Flip the remains over and repeat
- Cut the runners where they are notched for the sideways fork (take extra care to avoid the nails)
Make sure to use old or cheap blades for your skill saw as cutting through nails can dull them. Avoid using a chainsaw for this reason.
Once you have a pile of pallet wood, save it to use as kindling.
Avoid burning too much pallet wood at once as the thin and dry wood creates a hotter and faster fire, which damages the structure of fireplaces, wood stoves, and the like.
For best results, mix pallet wood with cord wood that has higher moisture (around 15-20%).
As mentioned above, use a magnet to collect the nails from the ash after it has cooled.
Want an easy way to check if your firewood is seasoned? I recommend using a firewood moisture meter. Here’s the moisture meter I use from Amazon.
3 Other Creative Uses for Pallets
If you find yourself with more pallets than you can burn, here are some other ways you can reuse them:
- Build a compost bin frame
- Use as a firewood rack
- Make into furniture
Note: if you’re worried about nails staying in the ground, avoid using them for fences, compost bins, and the like.
Most people use pallets to stack firewood on. This can be done even if the pallets have been treated as it means being resistant to the elements, mold, and termites. Ideally, use the pallets to keep the firewood at least 6 inches off of the ground.
For more creative pallets uses, check out this cool video by Foisy Aquatics.