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Recycled Board Tips: Getting the Most from Your Recovered Material
Reclamation Project: Experienced pallet recyclers share insights on how best to run board recovery operations from sortation to sawing functions.

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 10/5/2018

With lumber prices continuing to rise, reclaimed boards have never looked so good—especially financially. But how do you get the most out of recovery efforts and produce great looking stacks of pallets? Here are five tips from industry insiders.


#1  Sorting for thickness:

 “A lot of companies will sort by length,” Clarence Leising, the late recycling expert, wrote in his book, Pallet Head. He noted that new pallet manufacturers love recyclers who sort used wood by length because they will wind up making pallets that teeter when stacked because of deck board height variations. Instead, he recommended sorting by thickness, and cutting to length when needed. He suggested sorting thicknesses of 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch and 5/8-inch.

Ron Young, owner of Wisconsin-based R.B. Pallet Service, uses a similar approach. “We only sort by three thicknesses, and that’s thin, medium and thick,” he said. “And that’s it.”


#2  Cutting to length:

While Leising’s approach was to sort purely by thickness and then cut to length as needed, R.B. Pallet Service employs a slightly different strategy. After dismantling, material is conveyed to a round table for sorting. Here, two people run trim saws. One is just for 40-inch material. If a 40-inch board can’t be recovered, then it goes to the next saw, which cuts to other lengths, including 36, 34, 32, 30, 24, 20 and 16-inch.  It doesn’t cut all of those sizes at once. “We go for maximum recovery, but there are times where we run light on certain sizes, and we’ll cut to fill that order as fast as we can,” Young stated.


#3  Sharing material:

Some operations develop too much of one type of material and not enough of another. Rather than leave it to sit in the yard until it goes black, one solution is to share the wealth. Pallet Consultants, a multi-site pallet company in the Southeast, takes such an approach. When I was visiting their Savannah, Georgia location recently, they were getting ready to ship a truckload of short boards that were needed for a pallet order at another of the company’s locations. “We communicate between our locations to state what we need and what we have in excess at each location on a weekly basis,” explained Brian Groene, company president. “Sometimes that ends up in transferring trailer loads of components, or sometimes pallets.” You may not be part of a multi-location company, but it might be worth networking with other local companies recovering lumber to look for opportunities to utilize excess material.


#4  Balancing the demand for stringers:

Some companies end up running short of used stringers, but not R.B. Pallet Service. The company relies on its PRS Unstubber/Sizer which presses nail stubbs and sizes the stringer both at the same time. Young cautioned that it is important to keep it greased and the teeth sharp, but the effort is worth it. “The Unstubber/Sizer is awesome,” he said. “It makes all of those stringers the same height, and that makes all of the difference in the quality of your pallet.” Having the Unstubber/Sizer has eliminated the problem of machine operators having to spend time identifying tall stringers and deciding upon inside/outside stringer placement. With the sized stringers, they are all the same height, resulting in better pallet quality and productivity.

R.B. Pallet Service notches recovered stringers with a Hazledine notcher that Young also purchased from PRS Group. Employees are trained to feed stringers with the least amount of nails down. “You hardly hit any nails, and the teeth last a long time—as long as to be expected,” Young said.


# 5  Don’t underestimate the importance of training:

Ultimately, maximizing reclaimed board recovery comes down to employees, “and that is training, training, training and more training,” Young stressed. He sends his sorting employees to each spend a day with a machine operator as part of the training process. Once they see the problems the machine operator is having, then they understand the importance of sorting accuracy. “We leave them with the machine operator all day, and they get a really good understanding of it,” he said. “Once they figure out what they have to do and why they have to do it, it is definitely worth the effort. Especially nowadays. It is so hard to find employees—just train them so they know what they are doing. It makes their job so much easier.”

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