The Ultimate Pallet Guide: Everything you need to know

Used pallets supporting kegs

Table of Contents

History of the Pallet

Some say it’s money, but really pallets make the world go round. Pallets are found in warehouses all over the world but believe it or not this wasn’t always the case. They have only recently come about in the last 80 years. Previous to the creation of pallets, civilizations relied on skids to store their materials. Although we don’t know exactly where and when skids were invented we have seen them used throughout history dating back to ancient Egyptian times.

During the industrial revolution, new designs were being submitted for lifting platforms. The skid was going to slowly become phased out as pallets became more common. This process was sped up during World War II due to the need for increased efficiency while utilizing fewer resources. After a team studied multiple options they concluded that forklift trucks and pallets were the most efficient system to utilize.

From that point forward, businesses began to utilize wooden pallets to transport heavy loads across their facilities. As globalization began to take hold, standardization began to happen. Today, we have international laws and regulations regarding pallet sizes, materials, and processes that must be followed. As the material handling world continues to change we’ll surely see additional evolutions to this basic yet effective invention that we know as the pallet.

Parts of a Pallet

Different Parts of a Stringer Pallet 

Top Deck Opening refers to the space between each of the top deck boards

Top Lead Deckboards are the boards that represent the first pieces of wood from either end on the top deck

Top Interior Deckboards are the pieces of wood located between the leads.

Butted End Deckboards eliminate the space between the lead deck board and the next interior deck board to provide a thicker perimeter on the edges.

Bottom Lead Deckboards are located on the bottom of the pallet to provide a stable, even base that provides more support.

Stringer Boards are spacers that also provide support for the top deck.

Stringer Notches are cut out of the stringer boards to allow for the entry of the forklifts. They can be cut to provide two-way or four-way access.

Blocks are a Rectangular, square or cylindrical deck spacer, often identified by its location within the pallet as corner block, end block, edge block, inner block, center, or middle blocks

Bottom Deckboards support the bottom of the pallet and are attached to the stringers or blocks

Pallet Entry Options

What is a two-way entry pallet? A two-way pallet, or stringer pallet, is often stronger than its four-way counterparts while also being more economic to produce. The downside is that you are restricted in the flexibility making space utilization harder to optimize and we all know that space is extremely valuable and limited.

What is a four-way entry pallet? A 4-way entry design also knows as block pallets, allows forklift operators to enter and lift from any side of the platform which eliminates the need to worry about the initial placement of the pallet. Four-way pallets have several different construction styles which are listed below:

  • Four-way non-reversible
  • Four-way fully reversible
  • Four-way perimeter base
  • Four-way economy
  • Four-way sturdy
  • Baleboard

Pallet Sizes

The standard pallet size is 48×40 but pallets come in an extremely wide range of shapes and dimensions. Due to the available variety, there are several governing organizations that offer rules and regulations that must be followed in order to ship within certain industries or regions. Below are just a few examples of how pallet sizes vary across the globe as well as in compliance with specific organizations such as the ISO.

40 in x 48 in
42 in x 42 in
48 in x 48 in
48 in x 40 in
40 in x 40 in
48 in x 45 in
44 in x 44 in
36 in x 36 in
48 in x 36 in
48 in x 20 in
35 in x 45.5 in
88 in x 108 in

31.50 in x 47.24 in x 5.71 in
47.24 in x 39.37 in x 5.67 in
39.37 in x 47.24 in x 5.67 in
31.50 in x 23.62 in x 5.67 in
23.62 in x 15.75 in
15.75 in x 11.81 in

40 in x 48 in
39.37 in x 47.24 in
45.9 in x 45.9 in
42 in x 42 in
43.30 in x 43.30 in
31.50 in x 47.24 in

Types of Pallet Materials

Wood Pallets

Wood pallets are by far the most common type of pallet that exists today. They make up approximately 58% of all pallets in circulation with 43% being hardwood and 15% being a softwood. There are several different types of wood that are used in the creation of pallets. Some pallets are created using wood in its natural state while others are created using a manufacturing process.

Stacked hardwood pallets

  • Hardwood Pallets provide increased strength and durability as they are simply built out of a stronger material such as Oak. While they can carry more weight and tend to last longer, they may not always be necessary. If you’re shipping a lighter product then you may be able to save costs by going with softwood or manufactured pallet.

An image of a common Presswood Pallet

  • Presswood Pallets are created from wood fibers, sawdust, shavings, particles, and even veneers which are then put under immense heat and pressure to bond everything together. The benefit of Presswood pallets is that they are still durable and typically cheaper than plastic. They can also be nested to save space while still being easily accessible due to their 4-way design.

    There are several downsides of working with Presswood pallets though including the fact that they can suffer from water damage if left in the elements. Many warehouses are also not designed with Presswood pallets in mind and as such, moving them between warehouses can be difficult. The reasoning behind this circumstance is due to the reason that they can be difficult to store in the existing racking system.

An image of a type of Plywood Pallet

  • Plywood Pallets – Plywood pallets can be a great addition to your warehouse as its the perfect solution for storing light to medium loads that require a tough packaging option. They are extremely lightweight and can help save your bottom line during the shipping process. It has a smooth surface and has minimal issues with moisture absorption.

    However, much like Presswood pallets, plywood pallets suffer from many of the same issues. For example, even though it has low moisture absorption it can still be susceptible to water damage when left outside. They are also not the most common option in the industry and as such, you may find them difficult to transport between warehouses or to store in your racking.

Metal Pallets

An image showing two different types of Metal Pallet decking styles

When it comes to strength and durability you don’t get much stronger than a metal pallet. Metal pallets are often used in the automotive industry as well as other sectors that deal with metal processing. Often times steel pallets follow the design guidelines of their wooden counterparts. This allows them to fit in standard warehouse racking and still be transported by forklifts and other heavy machinery.

Plastic Pallets

An image of a ventilated plastic pallet

Different types of Plastic Pallets – When you’re looking for an alternative to wood pallets, plastic is a great option. They offer more durability than wood, they do not splinter, and they are resistant to chemicals and moisture. They are also easy to clean and meet all the requirements of the food industry. Not to mention they are lightweight as well as earth-friendly due to their recyclable nature construction.

  • Export Plastic Pallets – Shipping internationally can be cumbersome and if you aren’t up to standards then your shipment may never make it to its destination. These plastic pallets don’t require fumigation as pests tend to stay away from them since they are not made of wood. Not only will you save money on shipping costs and labor but you’ll also save space due to their nestable design. Export pallets are used in a wide range of industries including automotive, food processing, chemical manufacturing, beauty supplies, and more.
  • Rackable – Rackable pallets provide a heavy-duty solution for long-distance shipping as well as heavy unit loads. They are impact-resistant and can withstand extreme cleaning when required. If you’re looking to increase the safety of these pallets they can also be made with FDA-approved materials. These pallets offer the ability to maximize your floor space without having to sacrifice your storage or safety. 
  • Stackable – If your facility deals with high stacking requirements or multiple rack configurations then stackable pallets would be a great addition to your facility. These pallets offer a double face base on the bottom which gives them their stacking ability. As with other plastic solutions, stackable pallets are easy to clean which makes them a great solution for companies worried about cross-contamination or FDA regulations.
  • Nestable – Nestable pallets are a great economical option for your business. When you’re spending too much money on wooden pallets due to wear and tear or heavy loads it’s time to upgrade. You’ll instantly reduce the cost of transportation due to their ability to stack compared to their wooden counterparts. Oftentimes you’ll find these pallets located out in the open in retail environments due to their more aesthetically pleasing appearance. These pallets remain compatible with a 4-way pallet jack and forklift entry.

Paper Pallets

Variety of Sizes that Paper Pallets can be made in to

It’s hard to believe that paper can be used as a base during the transportation of heavy goods but it’s true. If you’re worried about cost or the environment then paper is the perfect solution. They are extremely cheap ranging from $5-$20 per pallet. If you’re shipping to locations nearby and offer a lighter product, then there is no need to pay for strength that you don’t need. Paper pallets come in a wide variety of shapes and materials and can be designed to fit nearly any need you may have for them.

Pallet Decking Styles

  • Open Deck / Ventilated Deck – This decking style has openings in the surface in a grid or mesh pattern. Not only are these pallets often cheaper due to using fewer materials but they are often lighter as well.
  • Closed Deck / Solid Deck – These pallet decks consist of a solid surface without any grated openings. Most closed deck pallets have a smooth surface with a lip around the perimeter to stop products from sliding off the top.
  • Double Face Pallet – These pallets come equipped with decks on the top and bottom. The bottom deck not only helps distribute the product weight evenly but also increases the strength of the pallet. These pallets come in reversible and non-reversible styles. The Non-reversible come with additional planks that are meant to simply provide additional support. The reversible variation can be used on either side.

International Laws for Pallets

Looking to take your business overseas? You’ll need to be well versed in international laws regarding the types of pallets you’re allowed to use and the requirements of other nations. Although we can’t cover every specific rule for every nation, below are some of the most common regulations in regards to the European Union and the United Nations.

  • Wood must be treated at a temperature of 132.8 degrees for a minimum of 30 minutes and marked to indicate where the pallet was treated.
  • Each wooden pallet will need to go through a fumigation process to kill off any bugs.
  • A chemical dip must be completed on the pallet before shipment.
  • Pallets must be stored in a controlled storage atmosphere.
  • Chemical pressure impregnation of the wood must be completed prior to shipment.

Not sure if your pallets qualify? Speak with your local Indoff Material Handling Partner to discuss which options we have available and make the most sense for your business. Not checking all the boxes above, plus any others that may exist for each specific region or country could result in your product not making it to its destination.

What is a Skid?

An image showing the difference between a pallet and a skid

Oftentimes in the material handling world, you’ll hear the words pallets and skids used interchangeably. The fact of the matter is that they are very different and serve different purposes during the storage and handling processes. While you can probably get away with calling a skid a pallet, we thought it best to explain the differences between them.

The biggest difference is that skids have no bottom deck. This means they are oftentimes used as a more permanent storage solution as opposed to being used in transportation. Due to the missing bottom deck, they lack the stability, strength, and durability that pallets can offer. They are an option for less permanent storage or smaller transportation tasks but oftentimes companies opt-in to spend a little bit more on pallets for their added benefits.

Differences from a Shipping Crate

An image of a shipping crate

The shipping crate is drastically different from the pallet offers protection from all sides by forming a box compared to the flat design of a pallet. They are a great option for products that need extensive protection or supplies that can’t be easily bundled. They offer increased stability and additional volume but due to their shape and size, it makes them harder to transport. Additionally, they require more materials to create and as such come with a higher price tag.

Courtney Brazell

Courtney joined Indoff in 2010. She brings years of experience in project management and tech solutions and is responsible for supporting our Partners’ sales efforts.

Phone: (314) 997-1122 ext. 1291

Josh Long

Josh joined Indoff in 2013 as part of the acquisition of Allied Appliance, a nationwide appliance distributor. He is responsible for the day-to-day management of our appliance division that is comprised of Allied Appliance and Absocold, a manufacturer of refrigerators and microwaves that Indoff acquired in 2017.

Phone: (314) 997-1122 ext. 1107

Jim Malkus

Jim joined Indoff in 1988 after spending 5 years at Ernst & Young, where he specialized in audit and accounting for privately-held businesses. Jim is responsible for the day-to-day management of Indoff.

Phone: (314) 997-1122 ext. 1203

John Ross

John’s background includes the start up and acquisition of several successful business ventures, and he provides strategic planning and overall corporate governance.

Phone: (314) 997-1122 ext. 1201