Make the Trophy Wall of your Dreams
A cheap, easy, and professional way to showcase your trophies.
During the winter and spring months I sometimes struggle to find consistent outdoor
opportunities. Sure you can plan for next year’s whitetail season and review your gear (which I suggest), but what else is there to do in those months where daylight is short? One suggestion is to take on some of those projects you’ve been putting off - in particular creating a space to showcase your hunting trophies (current and hopefully future trophies). There are many ways to do this, and a quick internet search will bring up hordes of ideas and videos to match. Today though I want to share something I’ve done that’s very cheap, relatively easy - minimal tools or experience needed, and just takes a little work to create a sharp backdrop to showcase your mounts. Let's look at how to build a fully removable rustic pallet trophy wall.
Pallets have become popular sources for cheap and rustic looking lumber that can be used for home decor and to cover entire walls. You can find them behind stores or other businesses, or by asking local farmers for any they are getting rid of. I’ve had no problem securing these for no cost whatsoever, as many places just throw them out or set them out for the taking. A little hunting and you should be able to find a place you can get some pallets. When you pick your pallet wood pay attention to a couple things:
What is the condition of the wood? If you want a rustic look, you’ll need wood that is weathered and beat up a bit. Some wood is fresh, too fresh for this look, so just have your end in mind when selecting your pallets.
Be aware of the designation of the pallet wood. What was it used for? Does it have any chemical sprayed or spilled on it? If so, this is not a good choice for use in your home as your family will be exposed to these chemicals. Somewhere on the pallet it should have a mark telling you this. Look for markings DB (debarked), KD (kiln dried), and HT (heat treated) as these have not been treated with chemicals and are safe to use. Other markings, in particular MB (methyl bromide) should be avoided.
How much you will need? This really depends on the amount of space you intend to “wall,” but I’d suggest getting 20% or so more than you think you’ll need, as some boards will be destroyed in the process of removing nails and deconstruction. See below for some general estimates of how much a pallet will cover.
Once you have your pallets, the hardest work begins: removing the boards from the pallet frame. Depending on the age of the pallets, the act of removing nails, or ripping the board through the nail and leaving the nail behind, can be tedious and takes patience. I’ve found that trying to sawzall the nails off behind the board will not work due to the nails being sunk too deep into the wood. Hammering the boards off from the back usually just results in broken boards. So, my alternative is using a crowbar and hammer, and hammering the crowbar behind each board where it is nailed and working the board away from the frame wood.
You’ll do a lot of hammering and prying, probably pound a flat spot into your pry bar, and still need to be careful but this seems to result in the greatest amount of undamaged boards. Take your time, and again realize this is a patience and finesse game not a shear strength task. I’ve done two half walls like this that are 4 x 12 feet. To get my needed boards it took about 10 pallets and about 8 hours of hammering (spread over 3-4 nights).
Now many people would just nail or screw these boards to their wall space, depending on what they are mounting the pallet wood to (drywall, wood, bare studs, etc.). This works, but is a very permanent solution. My technique, however, is to put this on existing drywall and do so in a way that actually allows me to remove them in the future with minimal damage to the wall behind it.
To do this I acquire the cheapest wood (not particle) based wall paneling and cut it in 4 foot pieces. Keep in mind I was doing a half wall of 4 x 12 feet. This allows me to make three 4 foot squares and arrange them in such a way that I can pick them up and mount them on the wall in a puzzle piece fashion. Thin plywood would be stiffer and maybe work better, so that is up to you, but realize this will make the entire square heavier and you will eventually be lifting this and mounting it to the wall. The back side of the paneling should be facing out. I arrange this and then paint this side with a dark brown flat color. This makes sure if there are any cracks between boards (which there will be and this is fine) that you don’t really notice it. Remember this is a rustic look and the boards will not be perfect or all straight which produces some less than perfect fits.
You can sand if you like, but I personally only sand very rough edges as I don’t mind this look or roughness. Once the paneling is painted, you can set about the task of placing your rows of paneling how you want them to eventually be on your wall.
To do this you need some floor space, like in a garage or pole barn. Lay out your pieces of paneling as they would be on the wall, and start the game of laying out your boards onto them. You’ll need to start with various length pieces to make sure boards don’t end at the same location, kind of like a wood flooring arrangement. For example, start on your left with a 1 foot piece at the bottom, then the next row start with a 2 foot board, and the next row start with a 3 foot board. This gives a good staggered look. Make sure you are not extending any over the top, bottom, or ends, and are very close to the edges of the paneling. As you set this up (and cut the paneling previously) make sure to allow about ¼ to ½ an inch gap on the ends and top to bottom for ease of setting it in place on the wall. As you work across from left to right placing your boards, it is VITAL that you realize the puzzle piece aspect, and leave space for the boards to hangover from the right to the left. This allows you to place the segments on the wall from left to right without any issues.
Remember, this is a puzzle piece and you have to think about how they will go up and fit together on the wall. I’d pay attention to width of boards and also stagger your rows for variety in this way. For example with my last wall, I had some boards that were 8 inches wide and some that were 4 inches wide. I made sure to have several rows of both and neither right next to each other.
Once they are all laid out and you are satisfied with how they look and fit, you can now start gluing them to the paneling. This is all you need to do, if done correctly, to keep them on the wall. I use liquid nails and this seems to work very well. About 4 tubes was all I needed for my 4 x 12 wall. As you carefully work through the boards, gluing them piece by piece, make sure dust and dirt are brushed away to ensure a good hold. Also, make sure you DO NOT glue the edge pieces that will overlap on the wall. Remember, you are putting these up in pieces like a puzzle.
Give about 2-3 days for proper drying of the glue, and in the meantime now is when it is best to apply polyurethane if desired. I used a variety that dries and seals quickly with one coat. My first wall was without and has a dry and rougher look. My second wall was with polyurethane and has a bit of a darker and more finished look. This is really up to your preference, as I like both. As you wait for both the glue and polyurethane to dry, now is the time to prep your wall space to receive the pallet segments.
For my 4 x 12 wall space I bought, stained, and polyurethaned 1” x 2” finish wood pieces for the bottom and ends of the wall. These act to visually finish the space, but more importantly to secure it to the wall. The bottom strip is used to hold up the 4 x 4’ segments, and really helps tremendously when setting and screwing them to the studs. Measure and again make sure this is level and allows about ¼ inch extra gap from the ceiling. Mark where your studs are and use a 3 inch screw to secure this to the wall. You may want to drill pilot holes to prevent cracking. Once this is up, level, and secure, it is time to transport the 4 x 4’ segments of pallet wood wall, one at a time, and from left to right (in my example) to the wall for mounting. I slide each piece on a stiff piece of plywood for transport because if they flex too much the pallet wood can pop the glue, so you need to be careful. Once carried to the room, measure and put at least 4 screws in place that will hit your studs, carefully upright the piece, and lift it into place.
Quickly screw it in and it should be set. Continue this process with the other segments, making sure to fit them correctly and as best as possible before screwing them in. In a short time, your wall will be up.
Now is the time to put a few more screws in each segment into the studs and make sure all boards are secure. You may have had a few boards pop off and need to reglue them. No problem. If a few boards are sticking out a bit on one end or the other and you don’t want to pop them entirely off to reglue them, simply tacking them down with 1.5 inch drywall screws works well. I do this where ever needed on my wall until all are secure. Next, simply put your finish pieces on the end and your trophy wall should be firmly in place and look great. It’s amazing how quickly this transforms a room, and how good your mounts will look on it. And the beauty is that if you ever change your mind and want to move it, you can. The last thing to do is get your mounts and secure them to your new trophy wall. I would still make sure to stick to the studs for whitetail mounts, but with lighter euro mounts and fish this isn’t necessary.
And there you have it. A great looking wall that accents and displays your trophies professionally, that didn’t break the bank and only took a little ingenuity and hard work.
About the Author: Adam Lewis is an avid whitetail hunter with 30 years experience. His writing is
found in a wide variety of outdoor magazines including Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Deer and Deer Hunting, and Woods N Water News. He is a sought after speaker and founder of soundbarrierhunting.com. To contact him about speaking or writing, email him at email@example.com.
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