For a long time, wood pallets have been used as containers for shipping or storing products.
The previously cast aside or thrown away as shipping waste, wood pallets are increasingly becoming popular as unique pieces of furniture.
Pallets have emerged as a favourite building material for Kenyans looking for affordable, versatile, recyclable furniture that can easily be assembled and dismantled.
The high demand is due to the rising cost of furniture and the influx of low-quality items.
Oscar Mwai of Pallet Furniture Kenya says that wooden pallets are currently in vogue because they are relatively cheaper and durable compared to modern furniture.
They can also be used to make a wide range of home furniture including seats, tables, TV stands, shoe racks and beds.
“Pallet beds are stronger than most sold around. Use of threaded nails as the hinges make them even stronger. A table can go for Sh4,500 to Sh9,000; sofa sell for Sh9,000 to Sh48,000 while beds from Sh7,000 to Sh28, 000,” he says.
With good workmanship, the items can be made in many designs.
Daphine Okonji, the managing director of Elle Interior Designers, says the pallets can be reused in the house or an office.
“They can be used in making customised outdoor lounge tables, indoor coffee tables, storage furniture, desktop surfaces, kitchen islands, soft structures and so many more,” says Ms Okonji.
The designs, according to Mr Mwai, come from searches from the Internet especially on Pinterest and personal designs.
“Clients describe what they want, then we draw sketches. Some clients bring us pictures as a reference point,” explains Mr Mwai.
The finishing also comes in different styles. For some, a high gloss is applied. Others are stained, burnt or left bare, which is not advisable.
Furniture makers source the pallets from Europe or Nairobi’s Industrial Area. Most people prefer European ones because they are high quality and of higher gauge measuring 47.2× 31.5×5.7 inches. They are mostly used to make tables and TV units.
Mr Mwai explains that most wood pallets come from pine tree grown in huge plantations in Europe under controlled conditions unlike in Kenya hence the good quality.
“The pallets are used to hold imported goods. The importers sell them to us,” he says, adding that a single pallet costs between Sh500 and Sh700.
He explains that a good pallet should be clean, without any oil marks and heat-treated to deter insects and to make it stronger.
Not all treated pallets are good, warns Mr Mwai. He says that those stamped with the letters “MB” means that they were treated with methyl bromide fumigation, a dangerous pesticide that should not be brought into a home.
The founder of Pallet Furniture Kenya states that European pallets (E-pallets) are preferred as they come already treated with the “HT” mark to mean heat-treated.
“If there are no markings on the pallets, that means they came from a reputable source (meaning they weren’t used to ship something dangerous) and they look clean, then you’re good to go.
If they have a stamp, see if you can find more information about the code online to see if they are safe. When it comes to coloured pallets, red is generally safe, but other colours may have been subjected to dangerous fumigation techniques and should be avoided,” he adds.
Mr Mwai says that he ventured into the pallet business in August last year.
To make a bed, he uses about two to four pallets depending on whether it is a double or queen bed.
“A typical order takes between three and seven days depending on the complexity of the design,” he says.