How to Spot Shortcuts in the Pallet Industry
No buying guide would be complete without alerting readers to “shortcuts” some pallet vendors take. If you order (and are paying a lower price for) pallets with these characteristics, finding them should be no surprise. But if you expect new pallets, to your spec, inspect your delivery for these cost-cutting tricks and demand excellence from your supplier.The consequences could be pallet failure, damaged product, injured workers, production line downtime, customs problems overseas, missed deadlines and potential for legal problems and additional costs well beyond the savings or even total cost of the pallet.
You order a custom pallet size, longer than a “standard” pallet. No problem. A shifty pallet provider just tacks on some extension and reinforcement blocks and slaps on another deckboard. The dimensions are what you want, but will the pallet perform?
2) “Why don’t we meet half-way?”
AKA, not full-length deckboards. Sourcing and cutting wood to precision is expensive, and can produce shorter scrap boards. When lacking wood, some pallet vendors will use half-length boards nailed together in the middle or just overlap them one next to another. Sometimes, boards aren’t even trimmed and broken wood is nailed to your pallet.
3) “Bait and Switch.”
Quote you a lower price on your pallet spec, even delivering at least one perfect load. But turn your back and the lumber gets downgraded, substitute materials used, boards taken out, etc.
4) “Used Means ‘Broken.’”
Instead of repairing and refurbishing used pallets to industry standards, pallets are merely restacked and resold with no apparent attempt to repair stringers and/or deckboards. You should get 100% usage from your pallet load.
5) “What We Have is What You Get.”
Even though you have a pallet spec that calls for a specific type and/or dimension of lumber, you get whatever is convenient for the pallet manufacturer. For example, instead of a 1x6, some thin-board 1x4s are nailed next to each other. Or leftover plywood strips are used instead of wood. In any case, you get mismatched pallets that don’t perform to your spec. Or, any old pallet close to your size is what you get, even if it should have been one for the wood grinder.
6) HT Stamp Shopping.
Pallet manufacturers that can provide Heat Treated pallets for international shipping are licensed and audited. They are assigned a specific mill number and internationally recognized stamp to mark their products. Less reputable vendors respond to their customers’ HT pallet requests by cutting any HT stamped lumber out of an existing pallet and using it in “new” pallets. The pallet is then “stamped” HT. Make sure your vendor uses an official stamp, its own mill number and is audited regularly.
7) Shim stock (“peeler core”) instead of 1x4 deckboards.
When boards are resawn from dimension lumber, the edges are square (barring defects), and measures 11/16x3-1/2”. A residual of plywood manufacturing is a round “log” that is too small to provide plywood veneers. If you cut off the rounded edges, you are left with a thin, beveled strip called “shim stock” which approximates a 1x4 but is less than 5/8” thick and 3” wide. It is smaller and flimsier, and although it serves a purpose, know what you are getting.
8) Shiners, stubble, and staples.
Shiners are nails that have gone through one board but are entirely or partially exposed. This occurs when the nail gun is located in the wrong place and after going through a deckboard it misses the stringer entirely, or if the nail gun is angled, the nail goes through the deckboard and through part of the stringer, with the tip of the nail exposed. Stubble refers to portions of nails (sometimes broken) that stick up on a board. Staples are great for paper, and even crates, but are not a durable or reliable fastener for pallets, where screw-type nails should be used.
9) “Promises, Promises…”
Many vendors will promise you the moon, but then not deliver. Sometimes they don’t even show up, leaving you holding the bag.
10) “Don’t be Blue.”
48x40 pallets painted blue and marked “Property of Chep” are rental pallets and only available through Chep. Although there are a number of unresolved legal challenges in the industry, it is clearly illegal and unethical for a pallet recycler to sell those directly to a customer.