DIY: Pallet Barricades
Wooden pallets are generally easy to find for free, but the quality of the wood is not always suitable for "human-interfacing" objects like indoor furniture. One great use for pallets that are of a poorer quality is street barricades that can be used to seperate car traffic from people, either as a road block to close a street or as a guard rail for a makeshift protected bike lane (see /tactical urbanism).
Transforming a reclaimed pallet into a street barricade is relatively simple. However, while pallets are all generally the same size and shape there are many slightly different types of pallet designs that make it hard to give a strict set of instructions to follow.
Since free pallets are usually abundant and any road barricade project will require a large number of barricades, this guide will focus on how to select pallets that will be the quickest and easiest to convert into barricades. There are also considerations for "nestability" of the barricades, since they will need to be stored and transported, and can quickly take up a lot of space.
Simply put, we want to cut the pallet in half, remove one or two of the cross slats from what will be the "bottom", and then use those slats as perpendicular "legs" to keep the barricade upright. Each pallet will result in two barricades.
In order to make this work, we need to make sure there is enough slat wood to repurpose as legs, and a good mating surface to attach the legs.
There are a few different key components of pallet design. There are the slats, which are the thin strips of wood that make up the top surface of the pallet, and the beams, which are the longer pieces of wood that make up the structural "inside" of the pallet.
Identifying the ways these components vary and understanding what that means for barricade construction can dramatically change both the time it takes to build the barricades and the amount of space they take up when completed. Therefore, selecting the right pallets from the beginning is the most important part of the process.
The major variations of the pallet components are:
- An even or odd number of slats
- Slats on one side, or both
- The number of beams (typically 2, 3, or 4)
- The orientation of the beams (face-up or edge-up)
When slats are an even number, you remove the middle slat in order to cut the pallet in half. However, you then only have one slat to use for the legs of two barricades, and if there is minimal spacing between the slats there might not be room to attach the perpendicular legs. To solve this, you can remove the three middle slats, giving you both more room and more wood, but this is time consuming and reduces the mass of the baricade. Prioritize pallets with an even number of slats.
When slats are only on the top of a pallet, it allows two barricades to be nested "back-to-back" which can effectively cut the storage and transportation space in half. If you have a pallet with slats on both sides, it will either cost space since they can't nest, or the time it takes to remove all of the bottom slats. Avoid double sided pallets if you can.
When a pallet has two beams, they are along the two edges of the pallet. This means you have to cut through two beams, which then make a great surface for two legs. When a pallet has three beams, the third beam is usually in the center which means you can put only a single center mounted leg, but must also cut through an additional beam which is a neutral trade off. Pallets with more than three beams are rare, but undesirable because it's more material to cut through with no benefit. Avoid pallets with more than three beams if you can.
The beams of a pallet are generally oriented in two ways: "edge-up", where the narrow side of the beam touches the slats; or "face-up", where the wide side of the beam touches the slats. With edge-up beams, the wider "face" of the beam has more surface area to screw the legs directly into, which makes it faster to build with. However, face-up beams generally use wooden cubes as spacers between the front and back, which can be used in a similar way. Prioritize edge-up beams if you can.
Taking everything together, the best possible pallet you can find is one with an even number of slats that are only on the top, with two or three beams that have their edge facing upward. Every other type of pallet is still usable, but will take either more time to build or more space to store the resulting barricade.
October 22, 2023
/stream /tactical-urbanism /woodworking /diy-pallet-barricades
Wrote out the bulk of what I learned from building street barricades out of reclaimed pallets last month, in an effort to get it in writing before I forget. Still need to revisit later to add images, and perhaps some 3D illustrations/animations for maximum impact.