Save Money: Build Cat-Focused Furniture Using Upcycled Pallets
By Heather Stiletto, LVN
Co-administrator at 1001pallets.com, recyclart.org, and 1001gardens.org
Let’s face it: children, including our beloved four-legged ones, can be expensive. Just like with your human family, you find ways to save costs while keeping your pets well-fed, comfortable and entertained. In addition to your current methods to defray the costs of pet ownership, you can easily build durable, comfortable and customized pet beds, cat patios, cat trees, and even a kitty-sized moon cradle while helping the planet a tiny bit. How? Use pallet wood! I began using pallets because I WOULDN’T afford the ridiculous prices for poorly-built, imported wooden loungers. I had no woodworking experience, but I did see ideas that inspired me. My husband suggested that I use pallet wood so that if my experiment didn’t work, there was no hit to our bank account. That got me started. 37 pallet projects and growing, I’m here to share some of my personal cat-centered projects, as well as others on the interweb to hopefully help you save money and spoil your little fuzz-busters absolutely rotten!
Pallet wood gets a bad rap in general, and those ubiquitous wooden squares we see at stores, warehouses, and at construction sites are made of oak, pine, ash, poplar, maple and more! It’s functional wood, but it has more “defects” than would be acceptable for furniture. For woodworkers, defects mean more character like knotholes, strong grain lines, and “wrinkles and crow’s feet” so that you can build rustic projects without having artificially add the look. Sand the wood fine, and it looks like any other beautiful wood. Leave it with a little character, and it looks lived in. It’s a win-win for anyone on a budget because you can make it look like an heirloom piece of furniture to ultra-modern for the hippest apartments. Take a risk and follow me on a tour through the possibilities of Pallet Pet Furniture!
Now before you panic because you’ve seen those ratty, dirty-looking pallets leaning against buildings, let’s talk pallet safety. You bring up a good point – there ARE things to consider when you use pallet wood. One of the most important things is to avoid using pallets treated with chemicals. DO NOT use any pallet marked “MB”, as this stands for Methyl Bromide. Pallets marked “HT”, Heat-Treated, have only been baked to kill off bugs, such as the Pine Beetle. The other issue is condition. Splits, splinters, staples and nails can all wreak havoc on Empress Meow-Meow’s adorable “squish-beans” (the pads on their paws). These considerations are something you should address when upcycling ANY wood, and especially pallet wood.
Just because that wood looks nasty, silvered, and weathered doesn’t mean there isn’t gold hiding under there if you’re willing to invest a little time to make it cat-friendly. First you have to find them. Do not just take a pallet that you see sitting behind a store, as many larger companies reuse and recycle them. Simply ask before you take a pallet from a business. You can find them for free when you look on Craigslist, other yard sale apps, and sometimes you’ll find them at the curb with a “FREE” sign on them. Don’t load them up if you see that dread “MB” stamp. Look them over. **safety alert** WEAR LEATHER WORK GLOVES! Sometimes the pallets have sat a while and there may be spiders. There are definitely splinters, nails, staples, and road grime too. Do they have a lot of damage, or a ton of nails to remove, or other physical issues? Now look closer: if it’s got weird stains, smells funky, has obvious black mold, or is painted, always default to “When in doubt, THROW IT OUT!”
Congratulations! You’ve found pallets. What’s next? Dismantling them. There are many ways, but the most basic is with a hammer and a crowbar. The boards covering the top and bottom are called deck boards. The heftier supporting boards that the deck boards are installed upon are the pallet stringer boards. Both types can be used, but the stringer boards end up having more nails embedded, so use extreme caution with a power planer (and your bare hands). Always thoroughly check each board, top and bottom, for nails or staples. Remove them all. Sand the boards, and then the only thing holding you back is your imagination.
You are now the proud owner of a stack of lumber! COOL! Are you getting excited? So, Let’s talk projects for Fuzzinator and Wigglebutt. Should you make a cat tree? How about a pet bed, or a double-feeder to keep those rescue cats from fighting over a single bowl? Perhaps you need to keep Snowball away from your coffee with her fluffy tail, so you build an end table with a purrfect kitty bed built-in! For those who live near busy streets or near areas where wild animals could harm Prince or Captain Fuzz, build a feline patio so they can get fresh air, watch the outdoors and remain safe. Don’t forget that pallet projects can even be solutions such as a sliding, barn-door style screen to keep your cats in or out of sections of your home. Think about how handy this would be when you’re bringing in those loads of groceries and you have one cat who takes an open door as a personal challenge to dash out. Simply herd them into the washroom, slide the screen door, and go about your business while your cats act like drama queens wrongfully jailed. All these ideas, and more, can be built. Most projects are easier than you think, but they may be time-consuming. If you’re willing to put in the sweat equity, you can skip the three hundred dollars (or more) for a large cat tree and make it yourself for around fifty dollars! Now you instantly have $250.00 that you can add to your vacation fund!
Building it yourself allows you to customize it to the size of your home, the specific location you want the piece of furniture to be, and to be as creative – or outrageous – as you want it! Additionally, using pallets allows you to address urgent needs of those outdoor kitties dealing with the cold. Below is a feral cat shed built with a few pallets, straw for insulation, and half-doors to keep dogs out and to cut down the wind.
Here’s a three-story cat condo that opens up for easy cleaning (or to fetch Catzilla and Picatzo who know they’re heading to the vet) and a simple cat tree. When others brag about that little plastic igloo they bought, or that little scratching post, show them what YOU made and bask in the admiration!
I’m hoping you’re feeling inspired, but now you’re wondering how to keep these projects clean, or you don’t want the rustic look, and don’t want to sand for days on end. You CAN safely stain, paint, or simply seal a project safely. The staining part is easy. Try a water-based stain such as Pure Color stains. They’re kid and pet safe; can be applied indoors and smell very reminiscent of those fun watercolor paint sets that we all got as kids in our stockings. I’ve used them myself and am not paid by them. Their products apply beautifully, can be watered down for softer tones, mixed to make a custom color, and their packaging is also eco-friendly. There are other brands – so just search for “pet-safe stains” to find the one you want.
Paint is another category that is beginning to change for the better. There are recipes aplenty on the interweb for DIY homemade pet safe paint. There are now brands like Ecos Paints that are marketing as pet-safe. I haven’t tried either of these. You don’t have to go crazy over pet-safe paints, stains, sealants. Think about it – your pets are in your home, on your sealed wood floors, painted walls, and stained furniture. Here’s what MANY sites recommend for common-sense approaches to painting pet furniture. Here are the rules to remember:
- If at all possible, paint your projects outside, away from Purrmione Grainger’s nose, whiskers, and fluffy tail. ?
- Don’t bring it back inside until it’s dry – not just to the touch, but so that it isn’t stinky anymore.
- If you must paint indoors, arrange for Jude Paw and Fuzz Pawldrin to visit the grandparents for a couple days or board them at your favorite place. Keep them away until the paint is dry and doesn’t smell. Remember – we can go outside and get away from the smell. We can open the windows. Katy Purry and Meowly Cyrus can’t. They’re stuck in the house, breathing those fumes all day long.
- Don’t use a weird, bloated can in the garage that lost its label years ago, but you can tell it once was a baby blue color. You have no idea if it contains lead (although hopefully it’s not THAT old of a can).
Sealing a pet-friendly project gives you many options. You can use food-safe oils, such as those to seal cutting boards. Natural waxes can be applied to protect and provide a gentle sheen. You can indeed use polyurethane, too. I personally prefer the water-based stuff, as I think it stinks less and seems to cure quicker. If you use a polyurethane, shellac, or varnish, follow the rules of paint. Let it FULLY CURE/DRY before it is brought around Oprah Whiskers and Bing Clawsby.
So, what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time to spoil Fleas Whiskerspoon and Puma Thurman rotten (again)? And the best part is that you don’t have to tell anyone that your awesome project started out as an abandoned pallet.