Wood pallet works, and decor pieces are a great way to improve your home’s curb appeal. You can use them indoors for decoration or outdoors for functional purposes.
Pallets can create anything from flower boxes to benches and even coffee tables. But to keep them looking good and in suitable condition, it’s essential to add a coat of paint to them.
When painting your wood pallet work, it is important to choose the right type of paint. You want to paint that will be durable and withstand the elements.
So, what kind of paint should you use?
Typically there are two kinds of paints that you can use on wood pallets: latex and acrylic.
For indoors, use the regular versions. But for outdoor pallet projects, make sure you use a higher quality weatherproof latex and acrylic paint that comes at a premium price.
Staining your old wooden pallets is also a great option to change the look and make them new again, especially if you want to give your pallet work a more distressed appearance.
Whichever finish you select, all you need is to make sure you use the right tools and follow the steps to stain or paint the work.
Most wood pallets you will find in the US are either made up of oak or pine. While the former is a hardwood latter is a softwood.
No matter what type of wood your pallets are made of, painting the surface for indoor use can help in two ways.
First of all, it will cover up any imperfections, dirt, or stains that might be on the wood. Secondly, and more importantly, it will help protect the wood from future damage.
If you plan to paint your wood pallets indoors, like for crafts or a decorative project, use regular latex or acrylic paint. Follow these steps to get the paint job done…
Start by sanding the wood to create a smooth surface. For sanding, you can use medium-grit sandpaper (100-150 grit) and work up to a fine grit ranging from 180-220 grit.
While medium grit will help to create a smooth surface, fine grit will help to remove any remaining debris or inconsistencies in the wood pallet.
After sanding, wipe the dust off with a tack cloth or a damp rag.
2. Primer Wooden Pallets
Once you have sanded and cleaned the surface nicely, it’s time to prime it for the paint to adhere better and last longer.
Using a water-based latex primer by Kilz or Zinsser for your indoor wood pallet projects is recommended, as it helps get far better results than others.
Apply the primer with a chip brush (best recommended for priming and painting wood pallets) and cover all the surfaces evenly, including the edges and corners of all the pallet pieces.
Let the primer dry completely before moving ahead.
TIP: If you desire to get a more vintage look to your project, you can skip the primer altogether. Just paint it nicely.
Once the primer is completely dry, start painting the wood pallets with your chosen color.
Although I would recommend using a chip brush for better results, you can use a roller or a sprayer to apply the latex or acrylic paint (from Sherwin Williams) evenly on all surfaces.
Do not forget to paint all the edges and corners of each pallet piece as you have done while priming.
Start with one thin coat and let it dry completely before adding a second layer. The second or the third coat of paint will give a nice even color and will also help the paint last longer. So make sure you add the final coat a bit thicker and allow the paint to dry completely.
Once the paint is completely dry, protecting it with a premium sealer is good.
Although it’s not essential, sealing the paint will help to make it more durable and last longer, mainly if it’s your favorite piece of patio furniture or a decorative artwork made of wood pallets.
For sealing wood pallets, you can use a water-based sealer (for a natural-looking finish) or a polyurethane-based sealer (for extra durability). You can even use a water-based polyurethane sealer to get the best of both worlds – durability and a natural-looking finish.
Apply 2-3 coats of sealer with a brush or roller and let it dry completely between coats.
TIP: If you want to skip the sealer altogether, consider using water-based polyurethane paint that will give you the durability of a sealer and a natural-looking finish.
Once you are done with all the above steps, let the wood pallets dry – before using them or putting them outdoors.
It will take at least 24 hours for the paint and sealer to dry completely, but you can use a fan or hair dryer on the low setting to speed up the drying process if needed.
What color to paint wood pallets with?
The greatest thing about using wood pallets is that they are very versatile and can be used for a variety of projects. This means – you are free to use any paint color you like. But there are certain shades that work better than others.
For a natural look indoors and to make the wood grains visible and highly appealing, consider using a light-colored stain or paint such as white, cream, or light brown. If you want your indoor pallet project to stand out, you can pick bright colors or bold patterns with colors such as blue, red, green, and yellow.
Below is a great video tutorial to check out if you want to learn more about painting and staining wood pallets with bright colors.
Several outdoor projects (with a rustic look) can be created using reclaimed wood pallets that the elements have already weathered.
If you desire to build and paint a new decorative piece for your garden or patio, here are the steps you need to follow:
Before you paint the bare wood pallets, make sure they are clean and free of dirt, dust, grease, or any other debris. You can achieve this using a power washer or scrubbing the surface with soapy water and a stiff brush.
After it’s clean and dry, use sandpaper to roughen up the wood pallets’ surface to help the paint adhere.
For outdoor wood pallet projects, I would generally recommend using coarse-grit sandpaper of around 60-grit. You don’t need to sand the wood down to bare wood; just keep an eye that the surface is nice and rough.
Once the pallet surface is sanded, wipe it with a cloth and apply a weatherproof latex primer coat to it.
KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Latex Primer is an excellent product for pallet-made outdoor projects as it will help to block any stains that might bleed through the paint.
This will also help to seal the wood and provide a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.
For painting a reclaimed wood pallet project that will be used outdoors, you need to use weatherproof paint.
While oil-based paints will hold up a little better, modern-day latex or acrylic paints can also be used, provided you pick the correct type of paint and brand, such as BEHR PREMIUM PLUS or Sherwin-Williams exterior paints.
Once you have selected your paint, go ahead and start painting the wood pallets.
I would recommend using a brush for smaller projects and a roller for larger projects. Just apply the paint evenly on the wood surfaces, including all the edges.
For the choice of color, outdoor wood pallets can be left natural, or you can match them to the color scheme of your home, like the shades that complement the plants and flowers in your garden.
After you have applied the paint to your pallets, allow them to dry very well. This can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, depending on the type of paint and the weather conditions.
While it is not obligatory, applying a coat of sealer will enhance the durability of your project. It is highly recommended to use a clear or tinted sealer like polyurethane to safeguard the paint from fading, particularly when using wooden pallets in an outdoor setting exposed to direct sunlight or harsh weather.
It’s crucial only to apply a sealer once the topcoat has dried. Once applied, wait for the sealer for 24 hours to dry. Be aware that the sealers and paints may need up to 30 days to cure fully. So, if possible, it’s best to wait a month before using the pallet.
No matter what type of wood pallet project you are working on, you can always add a bit of character and rustic charm by distressing the wood.
Worry not; a distressed look for your wood pallet project is easy to achieve by following these steps…
1. Start with a light sanding
The first step is to sand the surface of the wood lightly. You don’t have to sand down to the bare wood, but make sure the surface is smooth. But for rough spots, use heavy-grit sandpaper or a steel wool pad.
2. Apply a base coat of paint
Once the surface is sanded, apply a base coat of paint of any color you want. If you’re going for a lightly distressed look, use light-colored paint; however, for a more dramatic look, you should consider using a darker shade.
3. Paint your top coat
After the base coat is dry, apply the top coat, which should be a different shade than the base coat. Again, use white or off-white paint for a lightly distressed look, and for a more dramatic or subtle look, using a darker color of tinted paint makes sense.
4. Sand the edges
Once the top coat is dry, sand the edges focusing on the areas that will get the most wear and tear. You can also sand around any hardware attached to the wood, like nails, screws, hinges, chains, etc.
5. Apply a clear sealer
After sanding, spray a thin coat of clear sealer on the wood using a sprayer pump. This will help preserve the paint on a pallet and keep it from chipping or fading.
Why Some Pallets Come Painted – What Does it Mean?
When buying pallets, you may find pallets already painted in red, blue, brown, or green.
Many FMCG companies in the US and UK use a specific color to paint their pallets for easy identification and theft prevention. This helps employees distinguish which pallets belong to their company, which in turn helps prevent theft or misuse of the pallets.
Additionally, many companies paint their pallets to comply with safety regulations. Different colors may show that pallets meet specific industry standards or are made of a particular material. For example, red and green paint may indicate that a pallet is made of recycled material or meets food-grade standards.
If your pallet has been painted, stained, or marked in bright colors, this can also mean that it most likely belongs to a pallet rental company. Each pallet bears the color and code of one of the many different rental firms.
Another reason why pallets may be painted is for aesthetic purposes. For example, some people may want to use a particular color to match the décor of their home or business.
If you want to buy pallets for your projects, don’t be discouraged. The paint used on them usually does not affect their quality or durability. And if you want, it can be removed or still be adjusted as per your needs.
The Bottom Line
The key to ensuring your outdoor wood pallet projects last is using the correct paint and sealer. Latex and acrylic paints are the best types because they are weather-resistant to withstand direct sunlight and harsh weather conditions.
Although both of them are weatherproof, durable, and come in a variety of colors, they have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, latex paint is cheaper and easier to find but isn’t as durable. On the other hand, acrylic paint is more expensive but more durable and has a longer lifespan.
When picking the paint, consider the type of wood, the project requirements, and your budget. Once you’ve your paint, apply it correctly to enjoy your beautiful painted wood pallet project to the fullest.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.