I guess I should start by saying this is my second attempt at a pallet table. The first met only one of those descriptions, it was in fact a pallet. I would not have placed a box of kleenex on it without some strapping and a pully system. The fatal flaw was my attempt to build the table base out of the pallet's cross beams. This time I went ahead and used some 2 x 4's to build the base and the stability is much better.
A couple of things about pallets. They are typically free if you ask and they look great if you're going for a more rustic, banged up apperance. I'll use this table to serve off of and as a place to put supplies, but I won't do any prep on the table. I've read that these pallets are treated with enough chemicals to make DDT look like a mild laxative. They are also very weather resisitent. Plus did I mention they're free?
I own the Complete Book of Woodworking. Who would have thought all the secrets of woodworking in one incredible paperback? I expected it would be kept in a vault at the Library of Congress, but there it was, next to Cat Fancy in my local Home Depot. The frame of the base was directly from this book. It's easy to follow and has lots of pictures and techniques.
Step one, after you get your pallets, is to disassemble. This is easier said than done. I've had better success with a screwdriver and a rubber mallet to wedge between the slats and the three cross beams. There may be anywhere between 2 and 37 nails per board. After you've wedged in, I take a hack saw and just cut through the nails. Be careful, these boards are easily broken.
After I get the boards off, I use a nail punch to get what's left of the nails out. What you're left with are some gnarley nailed out boards. I took a plainer to some of the edges to take off areas where nails had caused cracking and bowing. Now I "reclaimed" several of the boards from my first attempt, these boards are the stained ones i the pictures. I like the contrast of the old and new, stained and light. I say reclaimed which really just means used again for something else. But if you're into saving the environment, good for you, me too, this is a great "reclaiming" and "repurposeing" project. Together we can make a difference. If you're not, good for you, me too, just spray some extra CO2 to offset your reclaiming.
The length of my table base was 51 inches with a width of 38 inches. The I wanted to add the end caps for appearance, but even then, pallet boards on a conventional pallet are only 37 inches long. My solution was to "stare-step" the boards together for which I think made for a cool pathwork look.
Each board has what I would call a "money side" or side that looks better than the other. Whether it's wear and tear or nail marks or a smoother finish you have to find the money side so the table top looks as rustic/authentic as possible. I may still sand the entire table due to splinters and to help finish it, but for now I'm pleased with the look. I attached the slats to each other using a pocket jig. I'm sure there are better joining methods, I am not that skilled beyond the pocket or butt joint.
One word of caution, these boards range in thickness and so it's best to try to select similar boards so the table isn't entirely uneven. It takes about 2-3 pallets to get the right amount of boards for the project.
Below is the finished product. Don't put a level to it but it's pretty even and you can hide behind the imperfections by using words like rustic, old world, crafted, and no-clue-how-to-build-a-table. So, pretty easy, cheap and if it rotts or blows away, it was a $20 dolllar table. Win, win, win.