Focus on lumber in the wooden pallet industry
We are often asked what type of wood is used to make pallets. All pallets are made from the core of a tree; but, because the lumber used to make pallets is a mixture of hardwood or softwood species, pallet producers usually cannot specify the type of wood. And, mills in different regions of the country use different wood species, depending on what is widely grown and harvested in the area.
So, instead, producers use a grading system to distinguish between softwood and hardwood as well as the different densities of hardwood. However, among lumber mixtures, there are two species of wood found in high proportion: oak and southern yellow pine (or SYP for short).
Oak is used because of its strength and wide availability. There is often a surplus of oak leftover from markets such as housing or furniture construction, which is then used in pallet production. Because it is considered a high-density hardwood, oak is ideal for pallets that must haul heavier loads of fragile goods.
Pine is commonly used in pallets because softwoods tend to be more consistent in weight than hardwoods, giving the product a high strength to weight ratio. Softwoods are also easier to dry, which helps prevent contamination from fungi, molds, or other pests. For this reason, pallets produced with a mixture containing SYP are ideal for industries such as pharmaceutical or food and beverage where pallet cleanliness is paramount.
For more detailed information about material use and production changes in the wood pallet and container industry, please refer to this study conducted by the Virginia Tech Department of Wood Science and Forest Products, in collaboration with the USDA.