When it comes to budget furniture, nobody does it better than IKEA. But part of that cost-saving is labor–the labor that you put in to turn that flat-pack box into a piece of furniture. As with any DIY project, ready-to-assemble furniture is an adventure; a composite of tribulations and accomplishment.

Recently, after a project that was more tribulation than accomplishment, I wrote down some ideas that would prevent the myriad mistakes I’ve made building IKEA furniture. I applied these recently to a credenza from CB2; lo and behold, I managed to build a solid piece of furniture without breaking it or putting anything on upside down. It was a miracle. To me, this meant that these 10 concepts are more than just IKEA assembly tips–they’re revelations worth shouting from the mountaintops to all future flat-pack builders.

I humbly present to you, righteous assembler, The Ten Commandments of IKEA Furniture.

IKEA DIY: ready to assemble furniture

1. Thou shalt prepare thine workspace.

Before you even unbox your furniture, you should physically prepare the area you’ll be working in. You should give yourself enough room that the finished piece could be laid down and you could comfortably walk around every side of it (because, in many cases, that’s exactly how it’s built).

Open the box and read the instructions. Make a mental note of any steps that require rotation and ensure you have enough space to do that. Also, unless you’re working on carpet, use a rug (or the box that the furniture came in) to protect both the floor and the furniture.

2. Thou shalt inventory thine hardware and building materials.

The first section of an IKEA instruction manual includes a summary of the pieces that should be included in the box. First, open up the hardware bags and organize them as you count them. You can use small bowls or get creative–ice cube trays, egg cartons, muffin tins, or a simple loop of tape are recommended in this Reddit post.

LPT - keep IKEA parts in an egg carton, ice cube tray, etc.
Keep your fasteners organized and avoid losing a piece (IKEA doesn’t give extra).

You’ll want to do the same with the furniture pieces to familiarize yourself with each piece. Is this the top or the bottom of the dresser? Are they identical and interchangeable, or are they actually slightly different?

3. Thou shalt keep thine receipts.

The reason we recommend inventorying hardware and fasteners first is because these are the most likely to get left out. Missing pieces are a common IKEA woe, so make sure everything is there. If it’s not, find the six-digit part number in the instructions. You have a few options to get the missing piece: you can visit a nearby store’s “missing a part” section, call your local store (ask for the relevant department rather than going through the operator), or fill out this online request form and get the piece mailed to you.

4. Thou shalt upgrade thine toolset.

IKEA often recommends (wordlessly via a gender-neutral stick figure) the use of simple screwdrivers, hammers, and the included Allen keys to construct its pieces, but you can make the job faster and easier if you bring some of your own tools.

For easier assembly of all IKEA furniture, this is what I recommend you bring:

  • Power drill. This is somewhat controversial in the IKEA community as you can certainly ruin your furniture by over-tightening, but if you turn your torque settings down and drill carefully, you can save a ton of time versus using a screwdriver.
  • Powered screwdriver. The alternative (but rarer) implement, this tool generally has lower torque and more maneuverability. If you have more than one piece to assemble, you may want to consider grabbing this and the power drill to get the best of both worlds.
  • Allen key set. To save your hands from having to use the tiny Allen key – also known as a hex key or wrench – bring this tool (similar to those used for bikes) or an insert set.
  • Rubber mallet. This will help speed up the process for any furniture that includes wooden dowels (hint: basically all of it). One light whack will ensure that the dowels are in all the way. Apartment Therapy recommends using a white rubber mallet to avoid leaving marks, but I used black rubber to no ill effect.
tools needed for assembly - according to IKEA
Don’t believe this man (woman?)

5. Thou shalt not over-tighten.

Let’s face it: IKEA furniture isn’t as sturdy as your grandmother’s antiques. A common mistake is to try to compensate by cranking down on screws or bolts. But most IKEA furniture is made from medium density fiberboard (MDF), which is why it’s not as sturdy as nana’s side tables, and tightening past the boundaries of the pre-drilled holes will cause the fiberboard to split. This results in a looser connection that could lead to an irreparably wobbly piece.

When using Allen keys, don’t torque the bolt in with your full body weight. If you’re using a manual screwdriver, tighten screws until they are flush with the wood and no more. You can tell when a screw or bolt starts to get slightly more difficult to turn–stop there or you’re risking cracking the fiberboard. If you’re using a powered drill, make sure to turn the torque down to the lowest setting.

Ready for part two? Continue reading here.

Post updated by SpareFoot, 3/20/2017.

Tony Emerson