Sunday, July 4, 2010

Knock down, drag out

I'm in Portland over the 4th of July weekend, visiting The Mom Unit. These are great weekends, where we kick around, catch up and tackle a few home improvement, gardening and/or computer projects that she's lined up. This weekend, it's assembling a living room end table to replace another that's always been a little unsteady on its feet.

I'm going say this straight-up: I'm a frickin' prodigy when it comes to assembling knock-down furniture kits. Ever since I was knee-high to an IKEA coffee table, I've had the superhuman ability to visualize how things go together upside down and in reverse order. And to do so without written instructions.

I first became aware of my unique powers at the age of 8 or so when I singlehandedly put together my very own Barbie's Dreamhouse . . . even the sliding door. Since then, I've progressed through equine model kits, Lego kits, Playmobile kits (although the Wonderfully Patient Spouse trumped me in Playmobile by putting together a pirate ship and all its rigging one Christmas Eve when the boys were little) numerous bookshelves, a computer station, chairs, a bedroom set (with the WPS' invaluable help since some pieces were bigger than me), a barbecue and lawn furniture.

I think it really boils down to two things: The uncanny ability to get inside the head of some Scandinavian or Southeast Asian living half way around the world to see what he saw when designing the dadgum piece of furniture and the fact that I have a low center of gravity, allowing me to contort into some of the most bizarre positions possible. Of coure, this comes in handy in a variety of situations, but never more so than when attaching the legs to knock-down furniture tables.

I will not bore you with a blow-by-blow of assembling said end table for TMU, but instead share some key nuggets of the wisdom I've accumulated over the years regarding the care and feeding of knock-down furniture:

Organize and inventory all pieces first

To paraphrase the old bromide, "Measure twice, cut once," I say "Count twice, return once." It's inevitable. In the course of your knock-down furniture career, you WILL encounter a kit that's missing a key panel, leg or screw. Better to find this out up front. (Consumer note: If it's a Dania piece, you're usually in luck. They typically have a stockpile of extra pieces piled somewhere in the warehouse. I'm not sure what this exactly says about Dania, that they have piles of extra pieces laying around, but let me just note I consider Dania The Bomb of knock-down furniture manufacturers so I don't dwell on it too much.)

Walk a mile in their sandals

As noted above, the ability to mind-meld with the designer of your knock-down furniture piece is critical. Case in point: The Mom Unit's end table -- I was somewhat puzzled at first as to how to attach the table aprons to the table top until I read the label "Made in Vietnam." Of course. What better way to avenge the terrible war in their country than to: (1) suggest attaching the skirt by dropping a teeny, tiny screw down a 3 1/2 inch "tube" in the apron; (2)require that it (the screw) line up with a near-invisible pilot hole; (3) and then dictate the screw-driver-ing be done "blind." Vietnam 1, Bermtopia 0.

Never tighten a screw until you have to

Another piece of knock-down inevitability -- you WILL have to start over at some point with a project. Stay loose for as long as you can.

Know when to surrender and/or improvise

Now, this next revelation may come as a surprise: Sometimes, knock-down furniture pieces don't come together perfectly. And sometimes, mechanisms like drawer glides, especially wood ones, don't work. I know this is hard to believe about a piece of furniture that costs less than $100, is made in somewhere in Asia, and requires home assembly. But there it is.

In the case of our little end table, the wood drawer glide did not, in fact, work. The screws were too short to hold it in place, and even after securing the sucker with carpenter's glue, the drawer refused to "glide." Please, just give me METAL glides in the future. Thank you.

Nevertheless. Surrender. Improvise. And glue the g-d drawer front to the table. Done. Done. And done.

So, there you have it. Knock-down furniture words of wisdom for the ages. Take them to heart, go forward and do good work. See you at Dania.

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