Pallets vs. Skids: Understanding the Difference and Exploring the Use of Wooden Skids in Material Handling

In the vernacular of logistics, we often use the terms “pallet” and “skid” interchangeably. The fact of the matter is that skid and pallet refer to two distinctly different load platforms. Pallet nerd alert! In this article, we’ll look at how they differ, explore the history of wooden skids, examine their design, and discuss their application in supply chains.

Pallet Skid ≠ Unit Load

Before we drill down on the difference between pallet and skid, we should clarify that both differ from the term “unit load.” We frequently hear instructions on the warehouse floor, such as “Restack that pallet over there,” “Move this skid to the loading dock,” or “There is another skid of milk in the cooler.” Keep in mind that both pallet and skid are types of unit load bases. Unit load, on the other hand, refers to the load itself – the combination of the base, products on top of it, and stabilizing material such as stretch wrap or banding. 

Now let’s get to the bottom of the difference between pallets and skids. Pallets have deck boards on both the top and bottom, with stringers or blocks and stringer boards sandwiched in between. Skids, on the other hand, lack bottom deck boards and rest on the ground or floor on their stringers, similar to a sled on runners. But there’s more to the story. 

The History of Wooden Skids

The skid significantly predates the invention of the pallet. The use of skids in material handling can be traced back centuries. They have been utilized since ancient times, as evidenced by their use in moving building materials to construct ancient Egyptian pyramids. Fast forward to the early decades of the 1900s, and using skids in conjunction with early lift trucks became increasingly popular. They were employed for storing and moving materials, typically within factories, offering a simple yet effective alternative to handling individual items. The double-faced pallet finally appeared in the 1930s.

Skids, alternately known as sleds, also played a crucial role during World War II. For example, in the Pacific theatre of war, sleds were designed to slide smoothly over the coral atolls. Unit loads of provisions or ammunition strapped to sleds were dragged by tractor two or three at a time from the island shore to the inland ammunition dump.  

The Design and Use of Wooden Skids

Wood skids offer a cost advantage over pallets because they require less lumber and fewer fasteners. Additionally, skids can be interlocked when empty to increase the quantity in each stack. As a result, more skids can be delivered on a load, and they take less space in the warehouse to store.

Wooden skids continue to find favor in some material handling applications. For example, the base is often a skid in custom crating solutions for products such as heavy equipment, engines and drivetrains, boilers, metal stamping, and robotics. Skids also make sense when products, such as landscaping supplies or agriculture, will be set directly on the ground or to keep heavy equipment elevated off the ground in storage. 

While skids offer practical solutions for specific applications, it is essential to recognize that they may lack the stability and compatibility required for other material handling scenarios. Skids, without bottom deck boards, may be less stable for transporting unitized items. Likewise, because of the concentrated load weight under the stringers, they are only suitable for stacking on top of rigid materials such as bricks, blocks, or lumber. With their top and bottom deck boards, on the other hand, pallets provide superior stability and better weight distribution when stacked. They offer convenience for forklift handling, racking, and storage.

In today’s supply chain, skids and pallets serve different roles. With their inexpensive, straightforward design, Wooden skids continue to make sense for many use cases, such as a base for custom crating and other applications. For most use cases, however, pallets are the preferred choice. If you aren’t sure which is best for your application, why not contact PalletOne? Our pallet solution experts can draw upon our deep experience, leading-edge design software, in-house technical center, and nationwide coverage to help pair you with the best unit load base for your supply chain. 


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