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.

  • Craig

    Using wood glue on the wooden dowels dramatically strengthens any ikea furniture. However, it also prevents dis-assembly, which would be important if you lived in one of those weird ass European countries where, when moving, you take your kitchen cabinets with you.

  • MikeB

    Using the right tools will make sure the assembly goes much faster. Use a cordless drill but be sure not to over tighten as mentioned in commandment 5. http://www.assembly360.net/furniture-assembly/ikea-furniture-assembly/

  • Yvone

    Good friend of mine assembles it all one time, then takes it apart and Glues and Screws for good measure. I should add he’s a Piano Tech and has built RTA as well as re-building pianos.

  • Pingback: Assembling IKEA furniture - The SpareFoot Blog()

  • Amy Nash

    Obviously you can use glue and extra screws. I personally wouldn’t bother to assemble it myself, went through that once and I would definitely NOT do it again. After some research I stumbled upon a very cool Furniture Assembly Service in London, they actually also DELIVERED my items, great job, I cannot be happier.

  • sung lee

    I also love ikea furniture, ikea furniture have simple style, and i love simple things. I and my friends are all love go to ikea store, feel the warm feeling.www.melodyhome.com, in this furniture store, I can find some others furniture style, also my love furniture.

  • James O’Donnelly

    He may know the 10 Commandments of IKEA, but he’s no baker: even I know that using a muffin tin to sort nuts and bolts will ruin the finish. Use something plastic (like those deli containers you put leftovers in). Then, if you scratch it up, you just toss it into recycling. And then make some muffins; they go well with coffee while you admire the finished furniture.

  • doucheee bagget

    where the fucq is part 2 gowdam it

  • http://www.av123.co.uk Edwin Cooke

    I build furniture for a living and build lots of Ikea stuff – 12 years in now! I never glue it, it doesn’t need it either. The reason it breaks is simply you are trying to shove too much stuff into the drawers or wardrobe space. I have had the same pax wardrobes and malm chests for over ten years and they are still as good as the day I bought them.

    I agree assembling furniture for some people can be frustrating, especially if you are not good with your hands and prepared to take your time. Furniture is big and heavy and will take a lot longer than you think to build and it is physically demanding. This is something most people forget.

    Ikea is probably the easieast out there to build, you should see some of the stuff I am presented with! Even well known household brands can be aweful. However I have to say some of their modifications (the Malm bed diagonal bits, the sot close mechanism for the Pax slidng doors, the light systems) are so Heath Robinson you could cry.

    The thing that annoys me the most are:

    – second hand goods being passed off as new. This is rife in the furniture industry, if the boxes show any signs of repackaging reject them.
    – damage to the exterior of boxes. This generally means the contents are damaged, becuase it has either been bashed or dropped. How hard is it to take care carrying furniture when you are paid to do it?

    This irriates me so much, because I will see it immediately when I arrive to build someones furniture and know I will not be able to complete the job, won’t earn what I need that day and will have to come back at the drop of a hat when the replacement finally turns up.

    So I have set up a second business where everything I sell, I deliver and I build it. That way I know it is delivered with care and assembled properly. 18 months in and it is going really well, my customers are delighted with the furniture, it is all mid range and with all the service I offer costs no more than buying off anyone else. The business Andre Victoire (www.av123.co.uk), please have a look, some one is out there trying to give people a better experience.

  • MensRightsCanada

    They don’t even include all the right setup parts… missing several screws here and there… pathetic company.

    • AAAMinuteman

      Oh come on now, admit it, you lost the screws during assembly… and over the last few months you’ve found them, one by one, in the carpet when you stepped on them in your bare feet, going to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night.

  • http://www.nyhandymannyc.com/ Dan Kogan

    This may be true but I think this is not possible without
    the help of a professional. Therefore, we need a trained and experienced
    handyman to get it all fixed in the right place.

  • Estes_Kefauver

    It would be really really nice if they would suggest a drill or electric screwdriver would be good, before you end up with “Popeye” sized arms from all the screwing with a regular screwdriver. A power-tool would also cut assembly time by 80%.

    Thank you IKEA, you meatball engineers.

    The furniture is great, I’m happy with it, I’m sure I’ll buy more … I just won’t be able to use my arms for the next two(2) days from all the screwing.

  • http://www.simpleassembly.co.uk/furniture-delivery/ Simple Assembly

    Flat pack is designed to be easy. Problems occur when you face them unprepared or inexperienced. The instructions show you what happens, or what is suppose to happen, but we don’t share the same mind. Most people that have had difficult time assembling flat pack actually misinterpret the instructions differently from most. On that subject matter here are some easy tips from another blog.


  • Dario

    You missed the most important tip (imo): Get some Posidrive bits for your bit holder or power screwdriver. Every single Ikea screw that looks like it may be Phillips is actually a Posidrive. Your life will be a lot easier when you stop using Phillips, or hex, or star drivers in these screws.

  • http://www.radicaltorque.com.au Christian Morales

    Planning, Workplace, Preparation and Proper Execution is the most important to having a better result.