12 DO’s & DON’Ts of the DIY Ikea Assembly Survival

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dos and donts

What are the basic DO’s and DONT’s you should consider before a DIY Ikea assemblage?

Ready to assemble (RTA)

Ready to assemble (RTA) furnishing is slowly taking over the world and there’s a reason for that. This ‘how to’ article is geared toward giving you all the most important do’s and don’ts for your first time DIY IKEA assembly. It will take only a few minutes for you to read but when done, you will have solid grounds on what flat pack furniture is and how should we assemble such.

I actually enjoy it.
I build IKEA stress-free and with a smile,
which flat packs are certainly not famous for.

As a professional London furniture assembly company employee, I have built hundreds of units. Modern knock-down furniture assembly and all known flat pack furniture fitting in general. Over the years, I learned how to build IKEA quickly, efficiently, & most importantly, without causing any damage to both the unit and interior. All the way from the simplest furniture assembly all the way to the most complex IKEA installation – we’ve done it.

12 Assembly DO’s & DON’Ts

  1. DO: Prepare Your Building Workspace
  2. DO: Carefully Review The Ikea Assembly Instructions
  3. DO: Inventory, Organise Tools & Furnishing Parts
  4. DO: Keep Receipts
  5. DO: Use Montage Tools That Match Your Assembly Skills
  6. DO: Glue or Not Do Glue
  7. DO: Use One Assembler or DO Use More
  8. DO: Consult ‘How to Assemble’ Videos.. Or DO NOT?
  9. DO: Apply General DIY Building Principles
  10. DO NOT: Re-invent the Wheel
  11. DO NOT: Move Ikea Once Assembled
  12. DO NOT: Call Ikea If You Have Trouble With DIY Assembly

This Fitting and Installation Guide is Meant for the Average First-Timer

Rumours have it that RTAs are hard to put together. It’s a fact that you could handle a simple DIY IKEA assembly by yourself but that’s not the main issue. It’s about assemblage quality, efficiency, long term durability and last but not least – how to avoid collateral damage.

It is based on building by following the original IKEA assembly instructions. We will do our best to cover all the essential gaps in pictogram instructions. These ‘cave drawings’ do not cover everything there is to flat pack assemblage. For those new to assembled Swedish products or those with no prior experience building a RTA item, the assembly instructions are good.

Behold, they are very good.

  • How to perform a montage quickly and efficiently?
  • How to avoid damage to both RTA furnishing and your home?
  • How to do it relatively stress-free and without hurting your ego?
  • Shouldn’t we think a little bit more about the item’s initial propose?
  • What are the basic principles to put a flat pack together?

It’s true, you will have difficult moments while fitting together the component parts of your newly bought purchase. Nobody said building unit, consisting of separate parts, originally meant to be fitted together at a later stage, is easy at all, neither will we. Even us professional furniture assemblers question that every here and there.

“Why the hell did they design it this way?”

Follow these principles and find out what a stress-free IKEA build… that doesn’t induce you or your spouse to file for divorce means.


1. DO: Prepare Your Building Workspace

Ok, maybe this one is a little bit all about common sense.
All ‘how to’ RTA furniture assembly tips generally touch on this point.

All three – you, your home and your IKEA furniture need proper protection. IKEA fittings are easily damaged especially during assembly. If not properly protected you will surely cause damage at some extent. Most of the knock-down furniture is an unfinished soft wood.

Flat pack furniture boxes tend to pick up debris in transport. While boxes can afford great protection for both furniture and floors, be sure to examine the boxes for debris before laying them down on the floor. Carpeted floors, moving pads and/or work tables are great for protecting furniture and your beloved home. Be careful with deep shag carpet as it can make large amounts of tiny hardware vanish like magic… poof!

A tray, small box or bin of some type will help for small hardware. Make sure montage space is large enough to freely move around the item on all sides as it is being built. Most assembly instructions show the item laid flat on your floor, prior to setting it up. To put together the way instructions show helps prevent parts facing the wrong way or being installed out of sequence. Also make sure you have space to rotate or flip the RTA unit if and as required.


2. DO: Carefully Review The Ikea Assembly Instructions

If it’s a new RTA unit – we always examine and learn by the method in the assemblage instructions. This would be our advice as well. Ikea instructions might indeed be funny and look absurd, but nothing is done by coincidence. Have that in mind.

Read through the instructions first to get a general idea of the process. Most ‘tips’ simply say to go step by step through the process and don’t focus on your result.

Assemblage gurus will qualify such ‘advice’ a bit.. unreliable. Setting up goals and visualisation, for instance, starting with your knock-down unit done in mind, is quite powerful. When we build a piece of flat pack furniture, even as professional assemblers and adept visual learners, sometimes struggle with visual-only instructions that can be more than confusing. That’s why we would advise you to give stop and take a few moments of preparation before you dive into any flat pack project, be it a simple chair, table, or end-to-end DIY flat pack kitchen.

While it is highly recommended to follow the sequence, especially if you’ve have never assembled a RTA unit, it is always very helpful to observe and examine the default instructions a step or two ahead and/or view the final picture while setting-up or building your knock-down. This way you could clarify a current step, indicate which direction a piece should face, or clarify how the piece of partially assembled furniture should look. These are some of the most common mistake people do. If you execute the current step in the process correctly you won’t have to dismantle and go all over it again. The unfortunate reality is that some learn the best via visuals, while others do it differently. Thankfully, the more montage practices you have, the better assembler you become, but a first time is always a first timer.


3. DO: Inventory Of Tools and Furnishing Parts

As professional fitters we often build right out of the box filled with furniture parts and the box/bag of hardware. When we know how setting up and building has to be done, inventory can be a non-essential step. If you do not have solid experience with the RTA unit, this step becomes essential.

Unpacking the pieces allows you to verify which ones need to be first in the assembly sequence. It allows you to compare parts that are almost identical. It gives you the opportunity to move aside, or stack out of the way, parts that you do not need early in the assembly process.

Inventory of hardware can be non-essential due to assemblers having tons of spare parts on hand. However, from previous experience with commercial fitness equipment, we definitely consider this an essential step for any DIY IKEA assembly. Some items have literally several hundred parts to put together!

If inventory is missing, you will want to go to IKEA or the hardware store before starting your montage. The reason is obvious. More importantly though, some parts and pieces are pretty similar. This might lead to confusion and from there on – to irreversible unit damage. Compare any two similar pieces and count the quantity of each bolt, nail, screw and etc. It will help determine you have the correct pieces. If you have the wrong length hardware, it can go through the finish… ouch! This is really important even when you’re doing diy furniture hacks.

And another thing on Ikea furniture assembly here. The wrong hardware can be too short to fasten properly. For an example – cams and cam bolts. Some flat pack fitters will clean up and toss packaging at this point. Based on extensive experience – we advice you not to do that. For one, building on the box itself is a great to avoid potential floor or carpet problems. Two, It has happened to many experienced furniture assemblers to toss out essential parts with the trash, which is nothing less than more problems and nerves.


4. DO: Keep Receipts For Your Knock-downs

Hold on to receipts!
You would not want to Return to IKEA twice.

IKEA will provide replacement parts and ship them right out to you, should you damage a piece during the assemblage. Have in mind: No more than 90 days after furnishing has been purchased, you can order any replacement building parts. From there on – not even if you want to buy those.

And another thing. Items and units do sell out. Often the RTA item could be discontinued if design is changed or something is missing. If it’s just a piece of missing montage inventory (not a damaged flat pack part) that you need, then a trip to IKEA is just what the doctor ordered. (You do not have to walk through the entire store). Just go directly to the Refunds/spare parts area by the checkout or to the “As is” area. This is one of the things I personally love about IKEA. When you are missing any of the montage parts, even if you’ve lost it, they will most likely provide it for free.

I have been one too many times to the IKEA spare parts department, or to the “As is” area parts bin, looking for a piece of hardware I did loose with a particular installation. Can’t recall if they have ever charged me a penny for such inventory requests, even though the as is bin says to have a co-worker price. Nice!


5. DO: Use Montage Tools That Match Your Skills Level

Ikea  recommends to build your furniture using the tools provided in the box and/or a simple kit of hand tools:

  • One, power tools can be a safety hazard and have a learning curve. Most ready-to-assemble furniture is designed for everybody to build safely.
  • Two, without finesse power tools can damage the furniture during the assembly process… often making the furniture then not attach properly and/or creating a safety hazard. Some internet assembly tippers recommend using no power tools at all, not even an impact driver.

We would suggest buying a cordless drill and a rubber mallet to your tool kit for average DIY’ers. Experience is important! Chuck type torque settings if not experienced with a power tool. Experiment with torque settings and use the minimum setting necessary to drive a given piece of hardware flush. The assembly of such stuff would be slower for the inexperienced. Adding tools will make it much easier and quicker. Impact drivers are fine if you have the finesse to use the trigger to control force effectively (experienced only).

An Ikea assembly done with impact drivers by anybody inexperienced will often destroy your furniture before it’s even close to complete. One caveat on the impact driver and that’s it. I find it indispensable compared to furniture assembly, done by a pro. It’s just way faster and it conserves battery power. Just be very honest about your assembler skill level and you will avoid the hassle and nervous mistakes that come with it.


6. DO: Glue or Not Do Glue Units

This is a key point. There is much argument on this point and both sides are half-right. If you are new to IKEA assembly, using any glue is likely a very bad idea. Most DIY’ers make that mistake along the building process. They will put a piece in the wrong place or face it the wrong way. Then partial disassembly and reassembling will be required in order to even try to complete the whole piece, again.

Glue might cause literally the destruction of some parts if disassembled. To damage a piece of furniture while assembling is quite common. If glued, you cannot replace that one damaged piece cheaply, you would likely have to buy the entire piece again.

Another aspect to consider is the size and structural integrity of the completed piece of furniture.

  • Will it be moved?
  • Is it structurally sound enough, even with glue?
  • Is it safe to move it when fully assembled?
  • Will it fit through any entrance or doorway in assembled form?

Many professionals wouldn’t relocate nor insure IKEA products in their assembled state. You will have to dismantle it and flat pack it in order for any professional to take the risk. IKEA bed frames have to be at least partially broken down upon relocation. To move those without any damage would be tricky. So just take a moment to consider it before glueing flat packs.

Recommendation: smaller items that fit easily through doorways and entranceways, will be more likely to be moved a  built by someone experienced, who can glue properly and thus enhance structural stability. Of course, it is all based on your specific circumstances. When we built high-end John Lewis flat pack we glued all of it. Of course, we were very experienced and extra careful. Items to be built into your home and left for life of the item, such as Pax cabinets in closet remodels are great to glue for added structural stability and permanence (again, you do give up the ability to replace damaged parts). Bed frame parts should never be glued in our humble opinion.


7. DO: Use One Assembler or DO Use More

This one is really tricky. It really Depends on who you ask. Some say to never ever use only one assembler, while others will recommend to always deploy two. This is because of the tendency to interpret instructions differently, or to argue and fight, especially with couples.

While we would challenge assemblers to build almost any IKEA item without helping on other, there are certain types of items and installs that are just safer, or more efficient when built by two fitters. Again, if it’s about a DIY flat pack assembly – be brutally honest with yourself here. Other people say, on many RTA units, that you must have two fitters. Not really 100% true of course.

With literally thousands of flat packs assembled efficiently and without injuries, without damage to the home and without damage to the furniture – it depends on the piece of furnishing, that has to be built. Some key examples are king size beds, Pax cabinet installation, and Liatorp or other large wall units with bridges.

King size beds?
Never met an IKEA king which couldn’t be made short work.

Might be helpful for certain steps or for some DIY’ers to have help.

Pax installation?
An extremely skilful and motivated furniture assembler can build any Pax cabinet efficiently and quickly, even the taller 93 1/8″ height but it will take quite a while. If low clearance or tight space prevents building on the floor and then moving into place, they can still be build upright.

One caveat… if you are vertically challenged, the 93 1/8″ height cabinet built upright will likely not be doable by one person (I am 6’4″). Also if you have a large Pax installation, you will need 2-3 installers because of the volume of work necessary to complete the project. You actually can DIY Pax systems with one person but it will be highly insufficient.

Liatorp wall units & storage?
Commonly known as the “divorce-maker“. These are quite difficult for amateur fitters… especially if they involve a bridge between them. I almost always use two installers, depending on the flat pack configuration.

You better hire a professional flat pack fitter for such units, trust me on this.


8. DO: Consult ‘How to Assemble’ Videos.. Or DO NOT?

Here is a great one. Many people say just consult some ‘how to’ videos or the web. But these can range from helpful, to irresponsible, to completely pointless. Thanks to portable cameras  anyone can post a video. There are plenty time lapse videos – cool, makes assembly team look awesome, make great ads, but help out with a flat pack assembly… no.

DIY IKEA ‘how to’ videos – some are helpful, some are irresponsible or not well thought out at all (glaringly obvious to an expert installer). There are professionally shot videos with scantily clad models – these can both be helpful or distracting. They do get a lot of views but again instructions are often questionable to irresponsible.

IKEA ‘how to’ videos – can be good, but again there are glaring mistakes that make it obvious they were shooting professionally and didn’t take into account things specific to setting-up and building in an actual home.

So then what should you do?

The top choice that will be genuinely helpful to you: ‘How to’ videos by real professional assembly companies (not time lapse) are some of the best.


9. DO: Apply General DIY Building Principles

If you have done any DIY construction or assembled furniture, this may be old hat. Measure twice when installing cabinets, wall units, etc.

  • While building, make sure parts are correct by visually matching pieces to the pictogram.
  • Look at number of holes, placement of holes, edges for cues.
  • Make sure pieces face in correct directions.
  • Make sure everything is flush, level and square as you build.
  • Fully tighten bolts, fasteners, cams but not before it’s all put together.
  • Do not over tighten and try not to strip threads or heads of bolts.

If you screw up, you will need to be able to remove and re-attach these to complete your project..


10. DO NOT: Re-invent the Wheel

Some professional assembly techs would say: don’t use all the nails to attach the back panels on your furniture. Their main reason is that people aren’t that good handling a hammer and thus damage furniture. If you are not good with heavy tools – use the small plastic nail set tool provided. Just don’t skimp on the nails. There are some professional experienced assembly company employees who do the same thing and also tell their techs “don’t use all the nails on the back panel.”

The result?

Pax cabinets that are wobbly and not structurally sound, call backs to fix cabinets sitting crooked, and entire cabinets needing to be replaced. With regard to Pax specifically, don’t re-invent the wheel. IKEA spent countless hours and money to design and test flat pack furniture. With Pax, the back panel may seem flimsy, but it is a structural piece. If in doubt, try building or moving Pax without one. You can push them over and they collapse like a house of cards. It is this 5th structural piece that makes them an actual cabinet. The packs of nails are generally the same quantity for all sizes of Pax cabinets, so you don’t need every nail in a smaller cabinet. One every couple of inches is overkill.

Nail packages were designed so there are exactly enough nails for the largest 39″ x 93″ cabinet. If you take a provided nail package and use every one on the largest Pax cabinet, you will find that there will be a space of about 5-6″ between them. This is ideal spacing to use on all Pax back panels, and they will be as structurally sound as Pax are designed to be.

Don’t use a staple gun, they will not secure adequately and will cause damage. If the space between nails averages 8″ or more and the cabinet is moved you will also have problems, as it will not be structurally sound. On my personal Pax, I drill pilot holes and use screws on the back panel instead. This is extra work but results in a very sturdy Pax wardrobe. Also, then the back panel can then be removed without damage, and the cabinets repacked flat and moved if needed.

With respect to other IKEA furniture, like dressers or nightstands, you can sometimes get away without the use of all nails provided in the flat pack kit.

  • One, the back panel is usually only a structural support piece on Pax cabinets.
  • Two, because of the huge number of different dressers and sizes, often nail packs are generic and there are way too many nails. In example, a nightstand back panel does not require a nail every inch. Common sense on that one..


11. DO NOT: Move Ikea Once Assembled – Huh?

Laughed at this one. This is not feasible in many cases, due to assemblage space available. Build as close as you can to where the piece will end up at. Consider whether it will ever be moved or not. If there is the need to move it after it was build or is assembled into a tight space, it might be better of to call a pro furniture removals company to take care of your flat pack.

Glue can strengthen items, or cause damage if used on the wrong part of something that has to be moved. It depends on how far are you about move it and your skills and/experience.


12. DO NOT: Call Ikea If You Have Trouble With DIY Assembly

An assembly contractor once said that you should call IKEA if you are stumped in the middle of your assembly. Maybe it’s different where they do business, not sure. None of the IKEA locations in London doesn’t have fitters available to just send out right when you need help, nor do you will get them on the phone easily. They also don’t seem to want to do after sales assembly or recommend a contractor if you open the package or start on it yourself. If you’re really stuck, that’s no help. If you need after sales IKEA assembly help, especially if you need it done quickly, call a local professional like us and we will surely get it handled for you.


DIY IKEA assembly doesn’t have to be a nightmare. You could technically handle your DIY project alone. There are both pros and cons of flat pack furniture but It absolutely doesn’t have to be grounds for divorce, I promise! You don’t need to stress. It can even be fun, and it can be a tool to actually improve communication between couples. Be patient, take your time as you begin, and do play off each other’s strengths. And be nice.

To survive any DIY IKEA assembly, read this flat pack furniture assembly handbook carefully. If you would not want to risk the fantastic furniture assembly of your knock-down fittings – simply hire experienced furniture fitters and save yourself the hassle and nerves.


Guest post by:
Dmitri Kara

Ikea Assembly, Pick up, Home Delivery and Dismantling of Ready-to-assemble Flatpacks.