Visual interest is the heart of good design, and picking the right materials that introduce a unique texture can make a huge difference in the feel of a room. If you’re looking for a way to add a unique touch to any room in your home, consider this pallet project and make a textured pallet ceiling. As a bonus, the look of reclaimed wood can easily make your room more inviting without losing the more formal touch below.
However, commercial-grade options can be extremely expensive, up to $500 to cover roughly 60 square feet of space. This may send you searching for a more cost-effective alternative like pallet wood. There are several businesses that will sell shipping pallets for close to nothing or free. Depending on the size of the project, you may need more or fewer pallets to finish it. We’re going to outline how to create a pallet ceiling two different ways below.
Wooden pallets are very diverse and popular building materials to give you a rustic and weathered look for your space, and they’re very cost-effective.
Pallet Ceiling DIY – Step by Step Process
This DIY pallet ceiling is something you can accomplish in a day or two, depending on the size of your ceiling you want to cover. You won’t need a huge amount of materials once you source the pallets, and you can complete this project by following the steps below.
- 220 Grit Sandpaper
- Orbital sander
- Brad nailer and nails
- Laser level
- Miter saw
- Molding pry bar
- Orbital sander
- Paint roller and roller cover
- Stud finder
- Table saw
- Tape measure
Step 1: Remove the Existing Crown Molding
If you have ceiling molding (crown molding) running along the top of the wall and onto the ceiling, the first step is to remove it. If you don’t have it installed, you can skip this step and go to step two. Also, if you have a light fixture on the ceiling, you may want to remove it now.
Step 2: Note Your Ceiling Joist Direction
Next, get a stud finder and find the joists in your ceiling. If they run perpendicular to the direction your boards are in, you’re good to move on. If not, you want to cover the ceiling area with ½-inch plywood before you move to the next step. Use 2-inch wood screws to attach the plywood as this will ensure that you have something sturdy to attach the brand nails into until the adhesive sets on the back of your pallet ceiling. On the plus side, once you get the plywood up, you can skip all of the way to step six.
Step 3: Prep Your Ceiling
The beauty of using reclaimed wood for your pallet ceiling is that it’s perfectly imperfect. There will be holes and knots in the boards, and some won’t fit perfectly against the next. This is okay, and this is actually what you want. However, if there is a lighter color under the pallet ceiling, these imperfections will be glaringly obvious. You want to find the cheapest black or dark brown paint you can and put on at least one coat. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it covers the area, and it’s going to be hidden from view for the most part anyway so don’t go crazy getting it perfect.
Step 4: Pick the Boards that Suit the Room
It’s essential that you know that not all pallets are created equal. A lot of the pallets you come across will be southern yellow pine or oak, but you can easily find plenty of other hardwood or softwood pallet materials if you do a little searching. The type of wood you end up with for your pallet ceiling project will have little effect on the durability of the ceiling, so it’s really up to you to decide how your finished space will look.
If you have enough pallets, you will probably figure out quickly that your boards range in their width from 3 ½-inches up to 4 ¼-inches. You should pick out an even number of each width if you can for your pallet ceiling. Look for the boards that have minimal cupping, warping, or twisting. Some distortion will be common when you use reclaimed wood, but the less you end up with, the easier your installation will go.
Next, take the time to piece through the boards and determine what species and which colors you want to display. How much variation do you want in your finished pallet ceiling? You may not get as lucky to find all of the pallets torn down, so you’ll have to carefully deconstruct them and remove any stray nails. This will give you individual boards to look through and examine.
Usually, your wooden pallets won’t be pristine, and some boards will fit your pallet ceiling better than others. Carefully sorting through them will ensure that you get the best results on your finished product.
Step 5: Clean Your Chosen Boards
Once you get your boards laid out and picked, you want to lay them out on your driveway and give them a scrub. You can do so by using a tiny bit of dish soap and water to cut through the grime and dirt using a stiff-bristled brush. Rinse them thoroughly and give them an afternoon to dry in the sun. This process should be very quick so you don’t exacerbate any cupping or warping already present in the boards.
Step 6: Mark Your Ceiling Joist Location
If you attached plywood in step one, this is a step that you can skip. However, if you didn’t, get your stud finder out and locate your ceiling joists. Mark several locations along each joist from one end of the room to the other. Draw a straight line connecting all of your marks to figure out the center of each ceiling joist. You can use a laser level to make this process go quickly.
Step 7: Attach Your Boards Using Adhesive and Brad Nails
Start the process by finding a very straight board. You want to trim enough off each end with a miter saw to ensure that your board has a nice flat surface to fit to the next board. Apply a thick layer of construction adhesive like Liquid Nails to the backside of the board.
Ensure that you position your board to run in the same direction you want the rest of your pallet ceiling to go. Very similar to laying the first piece of a hardwood floor, the first row will set the direction of all of the rows that follow it. Start on one side of the ceiling and run parallel to the nearest wall, especially if you have a square wall. Secure each board in place using several brad nails. If you didn’t attach plywood, try to put at least two nails in at the joist location for each board. Ideally, you’ll use two-inch brad nails to make sure you get it well into the joist.
Once you get a row placed, start the adjacent row of your pallet ceiling right up against the first one. Remember to stagger your boards a bit to form row to row, at least ¼ of a board length. Since each piece of plywood is slightly warped, they will fit together like puzzle pieces. It’s a good idea to grab three or four boards of the same width and place them to help find the best fit for the next placement.
Usually, this will give you minimal gaps between rows in your pallet ceiling. However, some gaps are unavoidable as the wood is imperfect. Your finished pallet ceiling will have gaps that range from 0 to ¼-inch, but most will be ⅛-inch or less. You will need to flip pieces of your pallet wood around and slide them back and form along the edge of the previous row to get the best fit possible.
- Make sure any boards you place end-to-end in your pallet ceiling are almost the same width
- Stagger your boards in each adjacent row by ¼ of the board length
- Get a jigsaw to cut out the shapes for the vent covers, skylights, lighting, etc
- You won’t have to place the boards right tight to the wall if you’re installing molding, but make sure your molding will overlap by a minimum of an inch
- Sand each piece of wood lightly with 120 grit sandpaper for a few seconds before you install it if you want a less weathered, lighter wood tone
Step 8: Install Molding (Optional)
Many people love crown molding as it can work to add a very finished or timeless look to your pallet ceiling. Plus, it’s a great way to hide small imperfections where the ceiling and wall meet, especially with imperfect pallet wood.
Lately, there has been a trend with more designers going away from old fashions like crown molding in favor of a more simple look. There is a very strong trend toward more modern, clean lines in interior design over the past year or two. In many ways, it’s a revival of modern and contemporary design. Also, sleek materials are commonly set alongside natural, warmer tones like your pallet ceiling. So, if crown molding isn’t your thing, you can get away with it. Just ensure that your boards meet the wall tightly.
So, how did your pallet ceiling project go?
How to Make a Pallet Ceiling in a Converted Bus
Now for a slightly more involved pallet ceiling project. Converted school buses are very popular modes of transportation, and it can be very expensive to finish it, depending on what you want to do. There’s so many ceiling options for school buses, including skinny shiplap, tongue and groove planks, cedar planks, tin tiles, or simply painting it. Tongue and groove planks are going to be very expensive, as is cedar for this project. So, for this project, we’re going to do a pallet ceiling. You can find it cheap or free, and you’ll spend money on polyurethane, stain, and nails.
Since the roof is curved and the pallet boards are relatively skinny, you can make it work to finish your school bus pallet ceiling. You may even find free pallets on Craigslist or in your local Buy Nothing groups on Facebook.
Converting an old school bus is a great way to get a multi-purpose vehicle to take around on your adventures, and a pallet ceiling is a great way to finish it.
Things to Consider When Your Work with Pallets
Old pallets are just that, aged and have transported a huge amount of different materials. So, it’s important that you know where your pallets have been and where they originated. The most important aspect of picking pallets is to think about where they came from and whether they got sprayed with chemicals or not. If they aren’t, you can move on to creating a pallet ceiling in your school bus.
Pallet Ceiling For a School Bus – Step-by-Step
Here’s the material list you need to gather before you start converting your school bus ceiling into a pallet ceiling.
- Liquid Nails
- Nail gun with nails
- Paint brushes
- Palm sander
- Staining rags
- Table saw
- Water-based polyurethane
- Wood stain
1) Deconstructing the Pallets
This first step may take you a while to figure out if you’ve never taken a pallet apart before. You can try prying out the nails or drilling a few holes next to the nails to take the pressure off. However, many people would rather keep the nails in the boards rather than deal with a lot of small holes in the boards. Then, you’ll get a sawzall and work at the boards. This will take a lot of elbow grease and time. Make sure you wear your safety glasses and gloves since this is a very rough process and the nails could fly.
2) Run the Boards Through Your Table Saw at a 45°
In order for your pallet boards to curve with your school bus roof, you’ll want to run them all through a table saw and cut them at 45° on one side, and this allows them to line up so you don’t see the plywood behind them. You’ll then put them up alternating the front and back across the width of the bus. If you skip this step and don’t cut your boards at 45°, you’ll see small gaps between each pallet board.
Most of the pallet boards you’ll get will be pretty rough, and you only have six feet above your head and the school bus ceiling, so you want your pallet ceiling to be smooth. You don’t want any slivers from the boards, so put on your work gloves and sand them all down. A palm sander works well for this process.
If you want your pallet ceiling to be a little lighter, you’ll go with a lighter stain. You can buy it on Amazon or in your local store. You can stain all of the boards, or you can stain half of them and leave half raw. If you do half and half, you’ll have to pay attention to how you hang them so you get a mix of raw and stained boards. All you have to do is lightly dip rags in the stain and gently wipe them across the boards.
You want to make sure your pallet ceiling is sealed really well in your school bus. The best thing you can find to accomplish this goal is polyurethane. A water-based polyurethane is better than oil-based with your pallet ceiling because you don’t want it to change the color of the wood. So, this will allow you to completely seal the ceiling while keeping the original wood look. You can get a water-based polyurethane on Amazon, and you want to do two or three coats on each board on both sides.
The final step is to hang your pallet ceiling. Behind your school bus ceiling you’ll want to put up ¼-inch finished plywood with a layer of spray foam insulation above it. This plywood gets screwed into the ribs of the bus. You want this plywood base so you’re able to nail your pallet boards right to the ceiling and they stay put.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re putting up your pallet ceiling is to make sure that you have enough of the same size width boards to run the length of the bus. Also, make sure your boards are going the same way when you cut your 45° angle. So, you’ll have multiple of the same size front boards as well as with the back boards. You’ll alternate the front and back board width throughout the bus. Then, you’ll put them on the ceiling and add a bunch of nails to hold them up. You could also glue them up with Liquid Nails and then nail them to the ceiling to make sure they stay in place.
Also, during this step, you’ll have to figure out where to cut the holes for the ceiling lights. You’ll want to get a ¾-inch drill bit to make the holes for the lights, pull down the wires and solder them before putting them back in the ceiling.
When you get your pallet ceiling in place in your converted bus, you’ll get more insulation to help regulate the inner temperature during both hot and cold months.
Five Top Tips for Working with Pallets
Taking on a project like a pallet ceiling can be a lot of fun, and they allow you to make some very creative and fun projects. Pallets are different than normal wood boards in a lot of ways, and the following five tips will help you work with pallets easier.
Tip One – Use Clean Pallets with no Chemical Treatments
Some pallets get sprayed with UV, insect, or mold inhibitors, and this makes them better suited to use outdoors for things like patio furniture. While this can be great for the pallets, it’s not fantastic for you. When you look for your pallets, make a point to look for untreated ones. Some of the tell-tale signs of a treated pallet are spraying signs. The coating get sprayed on without a huge amount of finesse, and you can usually spot residue and over-spray.
A second way to know if a pallet has been treated is to take a look at the coloring. Anything that is dark with a tint of yellow or green or an unnatural color is an indication. You may also be able to smell the chemicals. If you spot any of these signs, you want to skip these pallets for clean ones.
Tip Two – Take Apart the Pallets Very Carefully
Pallets are rough, and they aren’t made from the best wood products. They’re also not finished to be handled by most project wood. A pallet gets designed to move by a forklift and to hold freight products. So, when you take apart your pallets, you want to be very careful.
It’s not uncommon to find very sharp splinters or random nails in places where you shouldn’t see them, and you may find other debris like metal or glass. Again, pallets aren’t normal for woodworking projects, so they’re not treated great by the people who use them. You want to handle your pallets carefully to avoid injury and keep the wood intact as you pull it apart.
Tip Three – Take Apart Your Pallets Before Starting a Project
This goes without saying, but you would be amazed at how many people skip this step in the preparation process. Before you start any projects with your pallets like a pallet ceiling, take them apart first. Once you get the pieces separated, organize them. Not everything you have is easy to see, and you shouldn’t have to struggle.
Tip Four – Clean Up Your Woodworking Pallets Before Using Them
Most of the time, the pallets you pick up are going to be very rough. This is very normal, and expected when you take on pallet woodworking projects. However, you can clean up the boards a little to get a very refined look. Pallets tend to have grime and dirt on them, and this is from being slid around the floor, boot and shoe scuffs, and liquid being spilled. Getting these things off the surface will make the whole project look better.
One of the easiest ways to get rid of the grime is easy with a little soap, water, and a scrub brush. A rag also works, but you should be careful of splinters. If you can’t get them off by cleaning, sanding is the next step. Just sand away any bad looking areas to get clean-looking wood.
Sanding the wood for your pallet ceiling is a great way to remove any stubborn stains, scuff marks, or grime to ensure you get a neat, even finish at the end.
Step Five – Wear Your Safety Gear
Finally, pallets can cause injuries as they are rough to handle. Make sure that you’re being careful and using your safety gear when you work with pallets. The equipment you use is up to you, but we recommend a couple key pieces to start. Safety glasses are the number one item you should always wear. You can’t do much without your eyes, and you’ll also want to get a good dust mask, gloves to protect from splinters, and ear protection.
Creating a pallet ceiling shouldn’t be a huge-scale project, and it’s fairly straightforward from start to finish. You can follow our guide and create your own pallet ceiling to add warmth to your space and give the room a whole new look.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.