IKEA – I CAN!

If you’re a typical consumer (like me) the last thing you want to do first when you get a new toy, entertainment device or car is read the owner’s manual.  It’s more the American way to just dive into the enjoyment of the new diversion, learning as we go, and maybe unintentionally breaking something in the process.  Reading the instructions is always a last resort.

If you’ve ever purchased an IKEA furniture product, you know that “reading the instructions” is not even an option:  Basically, there’s nothing to read.  Although putting together an IKEA cabinet, for example, is pretty straightforward, the task is next to impossible without the so-called assembly instructions.  And the instructions contain no words.  In typical European (IKEA is made in Sweden) style, the instructions take the form of pictograms.  I have installed kitchen accessories in the past made in Germany or Austria that were the same format:  numbers and line drawings but no words.  (In one case a dimension for locating a drilled hole was specified to the half millimeter!  This kind of precision is laudable, but, good grief!)  What have they got against some explanatory text?  Americans are not big readers, but their attention span, analytical skills and patience are also in short supply…

Recently I assembled some IKEA furniture for a client.  As I went through the thinking process to decipher and figure out the meaning of the various pictures and symbols in the instructions, it occurred to me that some explanation – in the form of words – was necessary to more easily grasp what IKEA was trying to “say” with its picture puzzle.

Allow me to digress by saying (read:  “writing”), there ARE words in the assembly instructions.  109, to be exact.  That is, 109 English words which are translated over four whole pages into 33 – count ’em – 33 different languages!  Doing the rough math, this adds up to about 33 x 109 or 3,597 words comprising three small paragraphs which can be summarized as “Important!  Buy the right screws!  If you think the cabinet is too heavy, add legs!  If you are uncertain about the ability of the wall to support the weight, add more screws!”  You’d think IKEA could assume most of the world understands English and devote a little more space to words actually telling us something we didn’t know, like how to put the damn cabinet together!

I have to admit, the drawings of the humans (you and me) are cute.  They smile when things go right, like when your friend shows up to lend a hand, and frown in multiple expressions when things go south, like when you break something by hitting it on the floor.  There’s a depiction of a confused consumer looking at the instructions with a baffled look on the face and a “?” in a thought bubble.  Beside that is a drawing of a happy-faced goober holding a telephone with a direct line to “IKEA.”  But no phone number appears anywhere in the assembly instructions.

By chance I assembled the three pieces of furniture on carpet; the pictogram advises this to avoid damaging the “wood” parts as they are not real wood and can be dinged up if banged around on the hard floor.  Lay out a rug or at least some cardboard to soften the blow and protect the floor.

I started the operation by, believe it or not, “reading” the assembly instructions to familiarize myself with IKEA-ese.  Then I unpacked all the parts and fasteners.  I grouped all the identical parts together for organization and to make sure I had the amount of each noted in the instructions.  Better to find out at the start that you’re missing a screw, than an hour into it and wonder if you accidentally kicked it under the refrigerator…

The drawings are adequate but study them carefully as they are relatively small in size and so it might be easy to miss a detail, like a hole the size of a fly speck, or this period.  There are multiple holes typically, so lay out the pieces according to the drawing and note which holes are being referenced in the current step.  The picture has a helpful rotating arrow to show you which way to turn the screw (rolling eyes emoticon…)

A slot head and a Philips head screwdriver are listed (read:  “pictured”) as tools to use for assembly.  Only one operation has a picture warning “do not use a screw gun.”  I used a screw gun with a Philips driver for every operation.  In a future article I’ll discuss using the clutch on a typical screw gun to ensure you don’t overdrive the screw and strip the threads in the hole or worse.  If you are familiar with this feature, go for it.  Otherwise, get out the Ben-Gay and Ace bandage(s) for your wrist(s) to treat the carpal tunnel syndrome resulting from turning all those screws in by hand.

As you proceed through construction, frequently examine your work and make sure everything is fitting together evenly and equally.  These are precision-made parts; everything should line up and be square.  If something doesn’t fit or work properly, you probably used one piece where another is supposed to go, or put it on backwards, or upside down or both.  Take a break if you get frustrated, except if you live in Colorado, Washington or Amsterdam, then wait until you’re finished to “take a break.”

The plastic inserts that accept the bolts holding the drawer fronts on should be tapped in flush with the surface of the drawer front.  The picture shows using a hammer and board to transfer the hammer blows; the idea is to not mushroom the plastic before it seats in the hole.  A plastic hammer works well for this and you don’t need the board.

You’re probably getting good at this by now, so I’ll leave you with the drawer adjustments to figure out on your own.  There are only six of them depicted in three drawings.

Go figure.

PS  If you have any left over parts, just kick them under the refrigerator…