Assembly—and patience—required

Consumer Reports News: December 11, 2008 12:09 AM

It probably won't surprise you, but when they assemble Ikea bookshelves, cabinets, bedroom furniture, and the like, men tend to plunge headlong into the project and end up having more problems putting together the Swedish retailer's products than women do, according to a company official.

"Men never look at the directions and have the most problems with construction because they always think they can do that," said Petra Hesser, the head of Ikea's German unit, in a December 8 report from news agency DPA. Hesser added that women are also more likely to carefully sort the parts and read the directions.

Our past reviews of ready-to-assemble (RTA) home furnishings have found
them generally to be easy to assemble and durable. Ease of assembly, instructions and fit and finish are key to our evaluations of RTA furniture and similar products like kitchen-cabinet and closet and garage organizers.

I spent most of the evening this past Sunday assembling an Ikea table and two chairs. Perhaps because my wife and our 4-year-old-daughter were involved, I read all the instructions—pictorial diagrams intended to be universally decipherable—but the process was still not as easy as it looked. After you read my story, post a comment below detailing your experiences, good or bad, putting together RTA products.

I've had mixed results with RTA from different companies. One time, a cabinet included shelf fasteners with burrs of metal sticking out from the edges. I had to file them smooth before reinserting them into their slots. (Note that my recent Ikea experience does not reflect Consumer Reports' testing or analysis.)

• The instructions (shown above) indicated that we needed two screwdrivers and an adjustable wrench.  My adjustable wrench could not fit in the table's tight corners, so I had to get my box-end wrench set. While I was gone, my daughter was able to tighten the nuts nearly all the way since her fingers are so small. Tools like box-end wrenches or deep sockets can make the assembly process easier in some cases.

• The front and rear legs of the chair had to be fastened with a hex-head bolt. The directions didn't indicate if the crosspieces had to be installed facing in any particular direction (shown right), and the predrilled holes on them didn't line up with the holes in the chair seat. I lost a few minutes taking apart the chair legs and reinstalling them so the holes lined up.

I'll admit that male stubbornness could "en-gender" mistakes or delays, but unclear instructions can also make the simplest jobs a challenge for anyone.

My daughter loves her new table and chairs, and they cost less than assembled furniture. Still, RTA-furniture makers should try to simplify assembly wherever possible.—Gian Trotta

Essential information: Read "Tools: 10 Essentials for Every Household" so you've got all the gear you need to assemble holiday gifts. Also check out our coverage of household glues and cordless drills, tool kits, and screwdrivers.

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