How-to: Zen and the Art of Assembling IKEA

Zen IKEA Le Handyman
"Assembling of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind" - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig.

This advice is given by Phaedrus, the main character in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, during a discussion about instructions. Phaedrus argues that to assemble is to test our own serenity. If we do not have it when we start a project and maintain throughout the task, we are likely to build our own personal problems into the machine, or furniture in our case. The furniture cannot be right or wrong: its Quality lies within our relation with it. Or simply put, the satisfaction it gives you.

Later in the book, the author Robert Pirsig explains that to maintain that serenity, one must be aware of gumption traps and avoid them. He defined gumption trap as an event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm for what she is doing and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project.

To simplify there are setbacks, which are cause by external events (i.e. you are missing a piece) or lack of knowledge, and hang-ups, which are internal factors that distract from the job (i.e. you got impatient and damaged a piece).

Before we get too philosophical, here is some down-to-earth advice to avoid falling into these traps when assembling IKEA furniture. It's all about the preparation.

You might find some of the advice here a bit excessive but remember the goal is to retain peace of mind. And I guarantee it works.


1. Choose the right box

It seems obvious but if you chose a dented package there is a good chance the furniture inside is damaged/scratch. The packaging is very thin, only a cardboard, and does not offer much protection to the pieces inside. Since you have made the trip to Ikea, you can choose the package yourself so carefully inspect them and pick the right one.

2. Bring it home Safely

Once again, because of the low protection you will need to be careful when loading/unloading the package in your car. Do not force it. (If you happen to live in Lille, we provide a pick-up service).

3. Know Thyself

Although IKEA is known for designing easy-to-assemble furniture, I have witnessed a great sophistication in their method lately. If you adventure above your current skill level, which I encourage, you should expect to experience setbacks.

We often underestimate of the amount of time a job will take. When doing something for the first time, we are likely to make mistakes or at least be quite slow. As a result we first become impatient and then plainly angry. Which inevitably leads to more mistakes.

A simple solution for this is to approach to task with modesty, allow more time and if necessary break the job into smaller parts.

This one holds true for any DIY project.

If you feel it is just too difficult for you, hire a pro.

4. Make Space

Clean the room you will work in to have as much floor space as possible. This will allow you to have a good overview of all the pieces and easily move around them.

5. Gather the Tools

While Ikea is known for providing the tool, I would recommend you get your own. It will save you a lot of time while being more enjoyable as well.

Ikea commonly require hex bits. Their hex key (little bended tool) can be useful at the end to hand-tighten but you should do most of the work with a proper screwdriver, or even a electric screwdriver. It will be way easier.

A screwdriver with interchangeable bits will be your best allie here. It is commonly sold with all types of bits, including the hex ones (we recommended this one in a previous article).

Another tool you might also need is a rubber mallet. Simply put, it is a soft hammer, allowing you to push the pieces in place without damaging them. If you do not have a rubber mallet, you can also wrap a towel around a regular hammer.

6. Layout everything

Layout all the pieces on the floor, arranging them by category. Check the inventory. There is nothing more frustrating than realising you miss something when you are way further into the process. Be careful not to damage the pieces, the wood -melamine- is fragile.

Open the plastic with the hardware and display them in a white plate or bowl. This allow you to quickly identify the one you need. And also not to lose them. It is okay to have leftovers.

7. Read the instructionS

I would advise to first check that the pages are in the right order and re-arrange if needed. Read it from start to finish to get a good understanding of the tasks.

What can be frustrating about instructions is that it implies there is only one way to assemble the furniture. It is done this way so it fits most people's logic but we are not all wired the same way. The key is to understand how the different parts relate to each other. Therefore instead of following closely each step, you can proceed in the sequence you feel is the most appropriate.

8. Start Assembling

Now you may start assembling.

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