Friday, November 27, 2015

A Closer Look At Pallet Siding

Throughout our tiny house build, as well as in all aspects of our lives, Jess and I strive to reuse and recycle as many things as we can.

Not only did this give us a good head-start on saving tons of money during the build, but it also helped to keep us grounded. Our society tends to operate on a “use and dispose” ideology which is causing tons of problems for landfills (pun intended) and the environment in general. The most labor intensive aspect of our build was our pallet siding.

A few weeks ago we resumed work on our siding and almost finished three of the four walls. We are still debating whether or not to use pallet siding for the back wall. We still need to stain what we've put up but it feels good to have more of it done.

I’ve spent hundreds of man hours working on our siding all in the name of reclaimed materials and it occurred to me that we hadn’t put up a post giving in depth detail to our process. (Also, Jess is so busy with the bakery that I thought I’d take a whack at writing a blog post or two…and this may be the only thing I’m qualified to speak on, heh heh).

FIRST THINGS FIRST: When choosing your pallets you will encounter two different types. They are marked by a stamp on one side and these stamps tell you how that particular pallet was treated. Make sure to ONLY use pallets marked HT, which indicates that they were heat treated. The pallets to avoid are marked MB, which stands for methyl bromide.

When choosing pallets as your siding option (or embarking on any project utilizing reclaimed materials) you have to be prepared for the best lesson in opportunity cost you’ll ever receive. If you can’t remember that economics class from high school, don’t worry… you will.

By far, the biggest draw of using recycled pallets for our siding was the cost. Without counting the cost of the gas I used to wrangle pallets from every corner of the state, the grand total comes to a whopping zero dollars. But don’t let that unicorn of a price tag fool you, after all, your time is worth something.

After you’ve chosen pallets as your siding of choice (and your significant other has failed sufficiently at changing your mind to an easier option) your first step is to find some pallets! And, by all means, DON’T PAY FOR THEM! Craigslist will be your best friend in finding pallets to start. Make sure, when your cruising Craigslist, to find several viable options for pallet pickup. Plan a route of at least two separate places (there is nothing worse than planning your entire day only to find out that someone snagged all the pallets from your spot). If you find plenty at the first spot then just keep the other locations you find in your back pocket for the days when you’re not the early bird.

After amassing a truckload of pallets you’ll have to disassemble them. This is not as easy as it seems. Pallets are generally built to hold several hundred lbs of freight and are built with the sole purpose of NOT breaking apart.
I’ll save you some time and muscle soreness right off the bat, rather than pry every single nail out of a pallet, grab a skill saw or sawzall and cut down each side, perpendicular to the boards you want to take off (not all boards will be usable).

After each side is cut you’re left with an assembly that looks like a ladder with one brace board running down the middle of 5 or 6 boards. With a hammer and a pry bar these boards will pop off fairly easily and the mind numbing repetition of this process will turn you into a pro by the end of your second truck load.

When choosing your pry bar make sure you have one with a flat edge (sometimes referred to as a flat-bar). The length of your pry bar is also important. As with any lever the longer the pry bar, the easier the prying. However, with some extra long pry bars (AKA deck rippers or roof rippers) they simple have too much force and end up damaging the boards in the process. 

At this point the boards that you have ripped from your pallets will be full of nails. As stated earlier, these pallets are built to last so there will be up to 5 or 6 nails in each connection point. The nails used in pallets are usually 2.5 to 3 inch nails with spiraling towards the point. This design makes it extra hard to pull them out and their length pretty much guarantees to infuriate due to nail bending whilst trying to hammer them out of the boards. Your best option is to use tin-snips to cut the nail down to about ¼ inch which makes it much easier to pound it through the board, exposing the head so you can pry them out with your claw hammer or pry bar.

After de-nailing all your planks you'll be left with a pile of boards with a variety of edges. Remember that pallets are generally made with wood that has already been used a couple of times and due to their purpose, they don't need to be very pretty. Your next step is to cut all these boards down to a uniform width. We chose 3 inches for our siding width because most of our boards were around that width anyway and very few were smaller than that.

 You'll need a table saw to rip all the boards down to your chosen width. Make sure you look at each edge to determine which would be more beneficial. In some case it might make more sense to cut both edges if it is a particularly ugly piece of wood but some may still have a factory edge making two cuts a little redundant.

The next step, and my personal favorite, is to plane each board to reveal the new face of your siding. You will need your surface planer and depending on the look you want for your siding you may want to consider planing each board to the same thickness. For our house we didn't worry about using a common thickness because we liked the idea of having some texture to our siding.

When you plane your first board you'll quickly realize why the surface planer is my favorite tool. You can put some seriously funky looking wood through that thing and out comes a beautiful and unique piece of wood on the other side.

While your planing you will create A LOT of wood shavings. Depending on what your plumbing situation is for your dwelling you may want to collect these shavings to use as your carbon additive if your plan is to have a composting toilet. We were able to collect a huge amount of wood shavings during this process which came in very handy for our composting toilet.
Your final step in this process is to take your clean, planed and ripped pallet boards and bevel or ship-lap them so they fit together creating an overlap for weather tightness. We chose to ship-lap our pallets because we felt that would allow for a tighter fit. “Ship-lap” means to make a cut with a depth equal to approximately half of the board's thickness. There is an equal and opposite cut performed on the other edge of the board. A ship-lapped board will have a shape resembling the letter “Z”, like in the picture.

The best way, in my opinion, to make this cut is to use a dado blade. It can also be done with a router but I found that to be a little less consistent than a table saw with a dado blade setup.

There are two types of dado blades to choose from; a “stacked dado” or a “wobble blade”. A stacked dado blade set includes two 1/8th inch blades, a number of thicker partial blades called chippers and some spacers of various thickness. 

To use this type of dado you determine how many chippers and spacers you will need between you blades to create a blade with a thickness equal to the depth of your ship-lap cut. A stacked dado blade set comes with a chart that will tell you exactly how many chippers and spacers you will need to make up a specific width.

A wobble blade is a dado blade that can be adjusted to rotate on an angled axis which creates a wobble in the cutting edge. Because the blade is wobbling it effectively cuts a swath through the wood at the depth that you set your wobble blade to.

I was unable to use my wobble blade on the table saw I was using so I ended up buying a stacked dado blade and was very happy with the results. I strongly advise you to find a table saw guard specifically made for a stacked dado blade. Not all table saws have the room to safely install the dado blade.

As a guestimate, towards the end of our project I could process about 7 or 8 pallets in a day, which includes traveling from our house (where I ripped apart and de-nailed pallets) to my father's property where I used his table saw and electricity ( I didn't really feel the need to see how fast a surface planer and table saw could drain our battery bank ha). And those 7-8 pallets generally would turn into about 40 square feet of siding.

I hope this helps anyone who has a passion for reclaimed materials. I truly believe that a combined effort to reduce, reuse, recycle, upcycle ...(you get the point) not only helps our planet but also adds an element of history to anything built with those materials.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Nostalgic Saturday And The Seasonal Compost Flip

Last weekend, we took a break from our own day to
day hub-bub and helped out some fellow tinies.

It felt really good to build be around a still forming tiny be around a pair absolutely lit afire with excitement, conviction, and determination. Our friends, Justin and Jenny, first found us through our blog. They began following along- avidly- earlier than most. With every post they commented and shared our enthusiasm- helping propel us forward on days we couldn't quite do so by ourselves. Then, we started a totally unrelated business, but they embraced that with the same bright delight as our tiny house journey- nearly every week, one or both would visit us at the farmer's market, buying a smattering of items each time. They even put us in contact with a possible restaurant collaboration! 

Before and After in the "Bedroom" :)

They also came over a few weekends back, our first dinner party of any kind! It was a great time, full of enlivened conversation and a genuine desire to learn about one another. We learned that our timelines had certain similarities. In October of 2013, as we moved into our tiny house- still not quite complete- they moved into the small RV they currently call home. It was a strategic step on their part, not only did it help them financially in preparing for the project, it prepared them for living tiny before they even began prepping the trailer. They have faced two hellish winters (for RI anyway) in that small, scantily insulated RV. During the especially bitter days of February, when we couldn't keep the propane coming fast enough, they had to retreat to a family members house. Now that's commitment!!  With all that on our minds, Dan and I just really want to see the marvelous couple enjoy this coming winter in the comforts of their new tiny house. 

We arranged to come help them out some Saturday. With the markets winding down and the weather closing in, we committed to a weekend. We headed out that morning, all layered up, tools in hand, pencils behind the ears, ready to put in a good days work. We showed up to help at a great point in their build too-- they were beginning the interior finish surfaces. We can SO relate to this couple on a level that is hard to describe to anyone who has not faced this kind of project. I remember the utter joy that pulsed through me as we put up those first few beautiful blonde planks of pine. AT LAST! No more bloody insulating! No more ugly insides of the walls to stare at! This is our finished wall! 

We quickly split into teams. Justin and Dan went to work on putting up the rest of the ceiling insulation- up to the bathroom, while Jenny and I worked on installing the first pieces of dry wall in the bedroom area. They have a goose-neck trailer, and like many with that trailer type, decided to put the bed up in that space. I was excited to see a goose-neck design in person. 

By the end of the afternoon, Dan and Justin had completed the ceiling insulation, and started putting up the ceiling sheets. Jenny and I completed all drywall in the "bedroom" and the step down area up to the front door. It was so much fun working with them and getting back to a project like this. Don't get me wrong, I love to bake, but it was a welcome change of pace for the day. Follow their story and root them on as they race to move in before the snow slows them down! Checkout their blog here

Just last weekend, we did our semi-annual flip of the compost piles. I was quite amazed to see how quickly the first year's pile shrunk. The compost bay that was mounded over full this April, only had inches of material left! Our second bay was nearing full, and could use a toss and a good infusion of carbon materials, so we flipped it into the first bay. Dan slowly tossed segments of the pile as I tossed in buckets full of leaves. It was a perfect time-- ample leaf piles had collected along the road and driveway. The material had already started to darken and breakdown. A rich earthy smell rose up from every new stab into the pile. 

This was mounded over the top just 6 months ago!
It's amazing in a way- to stand in front of a years worth of your own bio-material. It doesn't add up to as much as I thought. I had my worries about managing the actual mass of our heap when we first began. I don't know why I thought we would produce mountains of the stuff! Turns out that two compost bays measuring roughly four feet by four feet is enough for the two of us. It took us minutes to assemble using recycled (and totally free) pallets.

Ready for another year's worth!

We got lost in the numbers as we worked the heaps, calling out how much water we saved, how much energy saved for water that didn't need to be treated...the amount of chemicals that never got dumped into the water....the rippling waves of benefits seem to extend out into oblivion. All through such a simple, humbling practice. I am glad we chose to do this. I am glad we did not cling with fear to the porcelain bowl. An effect I didn't anticipate is perhaps my favorite: I feel so much more connected to everything around us, now that we are completing the true nutrient cycle...what we cannot use, we put back. 

Thanks for reading!
Like Us On Facebook