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Ready, Set, Assemble

Tips on Putting Together Furniture without Losing Your Mind

A new bookcase would help organize the books and magazines that have been piling up in your office for years. If you had a computer stand, you might actually have space to write at your desk. Holding client meetings around a conference table would increase your company's professional appearance. And what you wouldn't do for a chair that actually offers some back support.

Nice ideas, but buying new office furniture simply isn't in the budget right now.

What you might not know about ready-to-assemble furniture

Have you considered ready–to–assemble furniture? Do–it–yourself pieces can be significantly less expensive.

"A factory–assembled bookcase that costs $2,000 in solid wood and veneer costs $400 in an assemble–it–yourself laminate version from Sauder [Woodworking]," according to the New York Times article, Memo to Assemble–It–Yourselfers: Rome Was Not Built in a Day by Terry Trucco.

Before you cast aside ready–to–assemble furniture as an impossible feat, consider the following:

  • The quality and styling of ready–to–assemble furniture continues to improve as the category’s popularity grows – and its popularity is on the rise. "In 2000, assemble–it–yourself furniture sales in the United States totaled $3.5 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 1996."1
  • A variety of pieces are available, including desks, hutches, credenzas, bookcases, printer stands, mobile carts, chairs, conference tables, file cabinets, and more.
  • Manufacturers continually try to improve the construction instructions.

Sounds great – but could you really put together furniture? Following are tips designed to help you put together furniture without losing your mind.

Transportation

Before you make your purchase, check and see if the item will fit in your car or truck. If not, arrange for delivery.

Do-it-yourself?

Do–it–yourself does not mean do–it–alone. Carefully take stock of the project and the size of the item you are constructing. You may want to ask a friend, employee, or family member to help you, especially if the kit contains several large pieces.

"The greatest challenge lies with the large pieces outfitted with shelves, doors, and drawers, like buffet cabinets, entertainment centers, bureaus, and armoires. Such pieces can require two people to set them up," writes Trucco.

Make time

Ready–to–assemble furniture will save you money, but the construction process often requires a significant time commitment.

"Buyers who have experience with unassembled furniture can expect to put in two to four hours to construct an ordinary multifaceted free–standing piece, manufacturers say. Something elaborate like a computer work center with doors, filing cabinets, stationary shelves and pullout shelves can take an experienced amateur six to eight hours. A system with cabinets installed onto the walls, like a complete home office, can take several days for one person."2

Put the furniture in its place

Assemble the piece in the room where it will stay. If you build the piece in another room, basement, or garage, you risk that when it's fully constructed it will not fit through the doorframes or stairwells on the way to its new location.

Take an inventory of parts

Carefully match up the parts that come in the package with what the instructions say you should have. Place small parts into the individual sections of a cupcake tin to keep appropriate parts together and prevent them from getting lost.

Read the directions

Do not skip this step. According to Jack Burton, author of the article Ready to Assemble Furniture, reading the manual before you undertake the construction of furniture "will give you a clear understanding of what is required in the way of time, manpower, and tools. "

Having the suggested tools is imperative; a kitchen knife is not the perfect substitute for a screwdriver. Furthermore, if the instructions state that you should not use power tools, such as a drill or electric screwdriver, heed this advice. The manufacturer's warranty typically will not cover any damage you cause while putting the item together.

If for no other reason, read the directions to find the telephone number that many manufacturers include for consumers to call with questions or problems they encounter while constructing the furniture. Keep the help line's hours of operation in mind and try to build the piece when assistance is available.

Take breaks

Once you begin the project, take breaks as needed – especially if you're working through a particularly difficult task or you've begun to lose your patience.

Tricks of the trade

For an assembly process that is as smooth as possible, Burton recommends these tricks of the trade.

To make inserting screws and bolts easier, place a smidgen of dish detergent onto wood screws that are giving you a tough time.

If the assembly procedure requires that you cut some of the pieces, place a strip of masking tape along the cutting line to help prevent splintering.

Do not place small parts on carpets; they could get lost or damaged. Burton also says, "carpet fibers can become entangled in fasteners, making them more difficult to use."

Do not tighten bolts and screws completely until you have put the entire component together.


1Trucco, Terry, Memo to Assemble–It–Yourselfers: Rome Was Not Built in a Day, New York Times, February 15, 2002, Section G; Page 12; Column 1: Nesting
2Ibid.

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