Some Assembly Required

My top five classes in high school were (in alphabetical order) Advanced Math, Algebra, American Literature, Psychology, and Woodworking.  There was some speculation that Woodworking made the top five because it was a class full of cute boys and while I denied it vehemently there may have been something to it (truth to be told, I took Auto Shop for the same reason.)

I can’t remember for sure, but I think I may have even taken more than one woodworking class.  I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the whirring of wood lathes, the humming of saws, and texture of the wood as it transformed from something rough and non-descript to something smooth and beautiful.  I must have inherited it from my grandfather. My Grandpa Herb built everything from picnic tables that were the envy of the neighbors, to end tables which were perfect for showing off knickknacks, and bookshelves for a young girl that last a lifetime.

I haven’t made anything out of wood since high school, but lately I’ve had more than a few opportunities to create something useful and attractive out of a pile of pieces and parts.  I’ve become the queen of putting together furniture which is delivered to my door in boxes and advertised by the manufacturer as “easy to assemble.”  This weekend I graduated from intermediate to advanced furniture assembly, more specifically I advanced from putting together end tables to building a desk.

I converted the top of my stairs to a writing/work area when my landlord gave me desk that fit perfectly in the space. Although it served me well, I found that I needed more room to spread my wings and my papers so I ordered a desk with “some assembly required” from It was delivered right on time and one day before I was headed out of town for a week.

I eyed the longest box warily, concerned that I somehow measured things incorrectly. My fears were confirmed when we got it upstairs it exceeded the width of its intended space by at least four inches. In an uncharacteristic moment I decided not to panic and I rationalized that there must be at least two inches of Styrofoam padding on each end of the box and worst case scenario I’d figure out a way to return it.

I carefully planned my Sunday and based on my previous experiences I set aside two hours to put the desk together.  First things first, I held my breath and lugged the top of the desk out of the box and held it up to its new home under the window. “Whew!”  It fit.

Somehow the manufacturer had managed to fit over twenty desk components, ten bags of hardware, and six pages of instructions into two large but not overwhelming boxes.  After carefully laying out the pieces in a logical order I settled in to glance through the directions to see what was in store for me.  Under a section labeled Important they stated “It is recommended to have 2 adults available to build this unit.”

After weighing the additional time that would be required to go to Sears and buy an extra screwdriver, the discussion that would be required if two people tackled it, not to mention what it would take to persuade Christian that it would be fun, I decided to tackle it on my own and ask for help if I needed it.

Outside of the fact that I wasn’t sure my hands were going to survive the use of a Philips Head Screwdriver for the duration, I was confident that I would successfully complete my task even if I didn’t have any idea what a Camlock Screw was.  I made it through step one with flying colors, the screws were fully tightened in approximately forty locations, and then it got technical.

Steps two and three involved attaching the Drawer Slides.  It quickly became obvious that the individual pieces were taped together in a way that would minimize space the pieces would take up in the overall packaging and had nothing to do with how they fit into the assembly.  I held the diagrams every way possible to determine which way the pieces should be attached.  I finally did what seemed logical and hoped for the best.

After two hours I was finally on step four out of eleven, which as it turned out required a trip to the Sears Hardware Store.

“Can I help you miss?” inquired the very young man who instantly earned bonus points for calling me miss and not ma’am.

I pointed at step four, “Ummm…yes, I need a 4 millimeter Hex Wrench.”

He perused the case of wrenches with an expertise beyond his years, “Four millimeters huh, I’m not sure we have them that small.  I’d recommend this set of adjustable wrenches you can get a set of three for twelve dollars or the one wrench for ten.”

“That looks like a crescent wrench to me.  Is that the same thing as what’s in the directions?”  I asked.

“Oh yeah, this is what you need if you’re putting something together,” he said.

Once home it didn’t take me long to realize that a second trip to Sears was in the cards.  This time I took the hardware with me and the sales associate was able to show me how a Standard Flathead Screwdriver would do the trick. After that it was smooth sailing; the pieces were heavy and a little awkward but I was able to maintain my one person assembly status until it came time to attach the top of the desk to the base.

I lined everything up and pushed one end in, worked my way around the side, and pushed the other end in only to watch the first end pop out of place like I was making a bed with a fitted sheet that was too short.  I tried everything I could think of, I even considered lying on top of it, but given my general propensity for klutziness it seemed wiser to say uncle and ask for help.

Christian and I evaluated the situation and after a few more failed attempts we determined that the culprit was one lone misaligned screw; I think there’s one in every unassembled piece of furniture out there.  Based on the number of screws holding the desk together we decided it was no risk in removing it.

I maneuvered the desk to its location and flew through the final steps of drawer and keyboard assembly.  Six hours after project writing desk began I took a deep breath, inserted the first drawer and breathed a sigh of relief when it slid smoothly into place.  Thankfully the second drawer and keyboard tray followed suit.

It took a whole lot longer than I thought it would but I’d have to say I’m pleased with both the accomplishment and the piece of furniture.  I repurposed the other desk as a drawing space and decorated both areas with things that inspire and delight me.

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10 thoughts on “Some Assembly Required

  1. This entry is excellent. Balanced with your flashbacks to high school, the blow by blow descriptions were spot on with enough but not too much detail. Since IKEA’s easy-to-assemble projects have been part of my life several times, you captured the struggle and the feeling of accomplishment perfectly.

  2. John was laughing as I read this , in fact he. Was finishing your sentences for you.
    You continue to amaze me and all who love you !!!

  3. Just for future reference, those cam locks usually work once. They often break if you have to take something apart because you did something backwards or out of order or whatever (my husband is usually really good at doing things so thinks he doesn’t have to read directions or if he does, he tends to not believe me when I say he’s doing it wrong) which I have learned first hand. Sometimes they are just bad. Don’t force them ever! That said they are great little things to put things together aren’t they?

    Good job on getting two work spaces now!

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