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Your Back-to-School Decorating Guide

How to Assemble Any Piece of Furniture

This primer will help you put together any piece of furniture―without spitting nails.

By Allegra Muzzillo
Screw driver, nuts, bolts and parts to assemble furniture John Lawton

When Assembling RTA Furniture…

Open those boxes asap. Missing parts are common, and sometimes pieces arrive scratched or gouged. Check out the shipment right away so that if you notice a part is missing or damaged, the company will still have the replacement item in stock. When it’s time to get down to business, heed the THIS END UP and DO NOT OPEN WITH SHARP TOOL warnings rather than shredding through the packaging. “I saw someone slice off a portion of a dresser’s finish with a knife before the pieces were even out of the box,” says Matthews. Place the furniture panels on the floor and clean each one with a cloth so that dirt won’t interfere with adhesives and even the tightest of corners will be dust-free.

Gather your tools. Have these six on hand: a locking metal measuring tape, an Allen wrench (included in most RTA kits), an electric screwdriver or drill, a hammer or a rubber mallet, 60- to 80-grit sandpaper to smooth out any frayed edges, and a carpenter’s level to check that surfaces are straight. Use a muffin tin to organize screws, nails, and pins. Sorting will make construction more efficient, and you’ll be less likely to misuse components.

Choose your work space wisely. It’s best to assemble furniture in the room in which it will live, so you won’t have to carry it up the stairs or take it apart once you realize it doesn’t fit through a doorway. “Once, I put together a bookcase in the hallway of my apartment building,” says Kavovit. “I thought it would be easy because the pieces seemed small in the box. When I started to build it, it took up so much space that no one could get down the stairs. Everyone was trapped! I had to disassemble it, and by that time it was so trashed that I just threw it out.”

And your work surface, too. Try to work on an even, firm floor―that means hardwood or concrete instead of carpeting, which can be bumpy and unstable. It’s also a good idea to flatten out the cardboard packaging and use that to protect your floors and the furniture’s finish. If you must assemble the piece on carpeting, place the cardboard on top of it to create a smoother work surface.

Read More About:Tips & Techniques

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