Dne repurpose: New purpose for pallets through upcycling

English Translation : Trinity Chan

“I made most of the products from scratch. I’ve never done it before and there is nothing to take as reference, so I remember every project very well.” Maker spirit thrives on learning and growing by trial and error. David, known as “Uncle Pallet”, learns woodworking online and upcycles discarded wood into different products. As the founder of “Dne repurpose”, he hopes to change public perception of pallet wood and other recycled wood with his works.

How pallets came into the life of Uncle Pallet

David first learnt about pallet wood when he was hosting a party. Back then the campsite he ran did not have enough tables and chairs, so he collected 30 pallets from his friends and used them as tables and chairs. Later, he found out that the quality of the furniture made with pallet wood was better than that of the original furniture made with bagasse, so he decided to replace the old tabletops with pallets. Seeing a satisfactory outcome, he then embarked on the journey of creating with pallets.

Photo credit : dne_repurpose Instagram

David used to work as a computer repair technician and only planned to run the campsite on Saturdays and Sundays, but after he started creating with pallets, he realized that he needed to devote more time to it. The business wasn’t making much money at the beginning, so he had to tighten his belt, making ends meet through repairing computers as a part-timer. Being unfamiliar with woodworking, he taught himself online and kept learning by trial and error, as well as consulting his friends with relevant experience. “They all told me not to waste my time, as pallets are dirty and full of pests and nail holes, and to buy some ordinary wood instead.” Recalling his friends’ words, David says it is a common belief, but he thinks that pallets are actually no different from ordinary wood after some cleaning. With so many pallets being discarded every day, he believes that he can make use of them for creating different products.

Challenging public perception with creative works of pallets

From running a campsite and learning woodworking himself to having his own studio in San Po Kong, David has made a number of works with pallets. The most interesting one with a surprising outcome is the product called “Robot R”. He created the wooden robot to give the public the opportunity to hold the pallet wood in their hands and touch it physically. At first, David was quite concerned about the public reception of this work, but the first time he joined a market, a teacher invited him to teach the students from his school to make Robot R. David was worried that secondary school students would find it too simple or boring, but it turned out that they were able to enjoy it and even students with attention deficit actively participated in it, which was something both the teacher and David didn’t expect in the first place.

Over the past two years, online classes have become a new normal under the pandemic, and David has also moved his workshops online. Although people can’t learn woodworking in person, this has inspired them to make use of the extra materials available at home to make wooden robots of their own styles. As there are more and more participants of different ages, David has recently launched a special edition of the 500th Robot R, hoping to change public perception by letting more people use pallets for creation.

Changing the mainstream perception of pallets isn’t something that can be done overnight. “My way of doing it is to make the products more beautiful.” It isn’t as simple as it sounds and takes hard work through repeated trial and error. “Success to me would be like hearing any client say ‘I didn’t know pallets could make such beautiful products’.” Now he has been working with more schools and organizations. He has made a large wooden periodic table for a school recently and received positive feedback from teachers and students, which has provided him with even more motivation. He hopes to expand the studio in the future and hire people with hearing or speech disorders, helping those in need while improving the environment.

Interview Video

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Ms. Angie Zhou

Education Specialist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Angie Zhou is an Education Specialist at MIT App Inventor. She was the founder and CEO of Dreams Come True in Shenzhen, where she developed online coding courses for kids. She also has previous curriculum development, teaching and staff training experience at First Code Academy in Hong Kong.