Building your own furniture

Feb 20, 2006

I just spent the better part of my past two days constructing two new desks. These days, if you buy cheap furniture, it comes in a box containing a pieces which you're supposed to assemble yourself. If you buy anything fancier, it either comes readymade or it makes sense to have pros build it (such as a kitchen), but for simple stuff like chairs and desks, I find assembling them myself and doing other types of home maintenance to be a very liberating and relaxing experience.

I find it important to maintain my "manual work" skills. This includes knowing and understanding your way about nuts, bolts and screws, and understanding the basic physics of furniture construction. Such as, "one 2mm screw will NOT hold 100 kgs of weight". Or, "a wood screw is supposed to be screwed in wood. You cannot attach metal pieces with it and you cannot screw a nut onto it." Or even "concrete anchor (where you can screw screws into) and Gyproc anchor are very different. Trying to hang things into a Gyproc ceiling with concrete anchor does not end well." I find that I need this kind of thing to stay "on the edge" and if you're claiming you're good at anything at all which includes getting things done, knowing your way around nuts and bolts can help. I used to know all about computer mechanics too, but these days the PC case and component architecture is going too fast to know all the keywords to detail. But I can still tell between PCI, AGP and ISA/VESA slots :)

So... I built these desks. There's always this feeling "OMG WHAT IS ALL THIS STUFF" when you crack open the package. It's important not to panic and first sift through all of it until you find the instruction sheet. It usually has the assembly steps in phases. So first you count all the pieces and see they match the quantities on the sheet, and then it's helpful to pile similar items such as screws of same type, into piles, so when you get to assembling it, you can just reach for them and not go into the bigger pile.

During the Soviet times, the quality of furniture was much worse. There were often holes that were missing so you had to drill them yourself, or misplaced holes, or not enough screws (everyone was stealing including the factory line folks) or all those stupid things. These days the quality is actually pretty good and the holes match.

There's one part I don't like -- glue and glueing. Sometimes you have to glue the fronts of the drawers onto the other parts. When I was a small kid, my grandma used to get me these plane models you could assemble with glue, and I always made a horrible mess with it because I couldn't put enough glue into the right spot, so I just put more and made a horrible mess of it. I guess I've got a bit better by now, but glue is still the part I'm not thrilled about. The rest -- drilling, screwing, pegs, nuts and bolts -- are all pure fun.

A mistake I did once is I had to assemble a big wardrobe closed, and I obviously was too optimistic about the dimensions. So I assembled it all in another room and when it came to moving it into the right place, I found out the hard way that even though it may fit through the door, it just doesn't turn around the corner :) So I had to disassemble like half of it and then move it in half-pieces and reassemble again. So it makes sense to assemble close to the site of actual place of installation. This obviously assumes you have enough room -- more room helps, because there will be pieces laying around and you will need to turn and move the thing, so do yourself a favour and temporarily remove all the stuff which can be removed.