Wood Pallets

Written by Shirley Parker
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Wood pallets are a familiar sight in warehouses and sometimes in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) warehouse stores, where aisles or entire departments are blocked off to foot traffic, while stock is being off-loaded from a forklift. Most such shelf stocking is done on the night shift, but with stores staying open longer to accommodate the buying public, some daytime restocking of lumber or palletized items becomes necessary. However, insurance regulations require that non-authorized persons be kept out of the area.

Wood pallets are used in shipping many commodities, including groceries. In fact, the standard pallet for the industry is called the GMA 48 x 40 4-Way flush pallet, or simply, the GMA pallet. GMA stands for Grocery Manufacturer Association. Otherwise known as the stringer pallet, it is available in as many as 100 sizes apart from the standard. These pallets are bought and sold throughout the industries that use them.

The term stringer refers to the longer outside and center boards of the pallet, from which the length is measured. These are located between the upper and lower deck boards, which are always shorter and are the width of the pallet. The stringer boards may have notches cut in them when manufactured, or they may be solid. Notched boards allow a forklift to get under them from all four sides, but a pallet jack can only get under them from the front. If the stringer boards are solid, the pallet can only be got under from the sides.

Choosing a Stringer Pallet

Wood stringer pallets are easily and quickly mass-produced. And with so many sizes of stringer pallets available, a buyer has to figure out which ones will match the actual use. How much will the product weigh? A printing run of books will weigh a lot more than resin porch chairs when stacked, wrapped, and tied down on a 48 x 40 pallet. Bags of cement headed for the DIY store will probably weigh even more.

Other considerations will include the type of moving equipment on hand at both ends of the shipment, any automated (robotic) warehouse equipment, and how the sheeted or unwrapped shipment will be racked. Not least is the cost of new pallets as opposed to used ones. Then, too, new pallets may be in short supply and very expensive. What else will withstand the weight?

Because it is a valuable commodity, a damaged GMA pallet is repaired and generally reconditioned. It will be graded as Premium, A Grade, B Grade or C Grade, or sometimes as Premium, then #1, #2 or #3. Premium- or Grade A-rated pallets may be suitable substitutes for new.

Specialized Wood Pallets

One type of specialized wood pallet that needs to be customized is that used for shipping products with varying footprints. These include washers, dryers, ranges and freezers, to mention just a few examples. If the delivery person is going to retrieve the pallet for re-use, it needs to be manufactured to more solid standards and from higher quality lumber. If it's a one-way shipment, then the pallet may even be stacked in a receiving yard for trash pickup. Some employers allow employees to take such pallets home for building small tool sheds, lean-tos or compost bins. Actually, all of these uses are better than adding to landfill, but the demand may not be high enough. While throwaway pallets are certainly not construction grade, some probably find their way to communities of homeless, because the poor cannot afford to be picky.

With live plant health restrictions now in place in many nations, lumber packaging must have been heat-treated, fumigated, or had an approved chemical pressured into it. An alternative is for the shipper to use engineered wood pallets. Engineered wood products undergo high heat and pressure during manufacture and are not subject to what are called phytosanitary regulations.

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