9 Tips for Buying and Assembling IKEA Furniture

Choose Your Items with Care

IKEA boxes

Many IKEA customers find themselves simultaneously enthralled with the reasonable prices and modern styling of the company's RTA (ready-to-assemble) furniture pieces, and also stumped by the wordless pictogram instructions and strange hardware that comes with IKEA furniture. The alien assembly process is a source of both wry amusement and frustration shared among veteran buyers of IKEA cabinets, beds, dressers and other furniture pieces. 

But decorating your home need not be a frustrating or time-consuming process. To avoid regrets over your next flat-packed furniture purchase from the Swedish giant, here are some tips for buying and assembling IKEA furniture.

  • 01 of 09

    Stick to Your Skill Level

    ikea shopper

    IKEA says their products are designed for easy assembly, but if you're a novice to the flat-packed furniture world, be aware that you will find some items from IKEA much harder to put together than others. This is especially true if you are lacking in basic handy skills. If you have found yourself struggling to assemble any other products, including American-made goods with instructions given in well-phrased English, then you should be realistic and not be surprised by difficulty with IKEA furniture. Individual items that come packaged in more than one or two boxes can be an epic challenge for first-timers to assemble.

    To anticipate when a given product might be above your skill level: 

    1. First, go to IKEA's website and find the webpage for the flat-packed item you wish to buy.
    2. Next, click production information.
    3. Look at the section titled, "Package measurements and weight." It shares the number of boxes that contain the product's parts. For example, one simple bookcase from the ​​Billy Series is packed into one compact box, while another bookcase from the same collection comes unassembled in nine different packages.

    To make the assembling process easier, IKEA has created how-to videos for eight of their best sellers, which includes the PAX wardrobe, MASKROS pendant lamp, and HEMNES desk.

  • 02 of 09

    Don't Buy That Dented Box

    how to shop ikea

    Picture this: You just returned from your IKEA shopping trip and discovered that the flat-packed bookcase you purchased is damaged. For most retailers, this wouldn't be that big a problem, but with IKEA, you should avoid buying any product inside a damaged shipping box. 

    IKEA flat-packs their furniture using minimal packaging materials, and it doesn't include familiar padding materials such as bubble wrap or crinkled cut paper. This is why a dinged package so often is an accurate prediction that the goods inside the box are also damaged. 

    Don't let this happen to you. Here's how:

    1. Carefully inspect each box for damage before buying.
    2. If a package is nicked, dented or scraped, no matter how small the damage, put it back, grab another, and repeat the inspection process.
    3. No undamaged packages available? A clerk or store manager, if the damage is pointed out, may agree to move the carton to the "as is" room and mark down the price, sometimes substantially. This can be something of a gamble—the damage to the furniture inside the carton may be very minor, almost invisible, or it can be quite serious. 
  • 03 of 09

    Avoid Damage When Assembling

    how to assemble flat packed furniture

    That melamine veneer we love on IKEA furniture because it is so easy to clean is also fairly easy to chip and scratch during the assembly process. You can avoid scratching or nicking your new purchase by prepping your work area before beginning assembly. You will need:

    • Plenty of clear floor space. To calculate how big your work area should be, double the item's measurements. 
    • A clean rug or canvas drop cloth to cover your work area. You can also use the cardboard boxes that came with your purchase. Even small bits of grit and debris can scratch the thin veneer surfaces on IKEA furniture. 
  • 04 of 09

    Don't Be Intimidated

    Trick to Reading Ikea Instructions
    Deirdre Sullivan

    Baffled by IKEA's wordless assembly instructions? Here's the key to understanding each step:

    • Review the instructions from start to finish before getting started. 
    • Notice that each illustration provides important visual clues for proper assembly. For example, the drawing shown here gives a clear indication of which direction the exposed edges of the particle board should be facing.
    • Lay out the components you're connecting in exactly the same orientation as shown in each of IKEA's diagrams. 
    • Don't begin assembly until you mentally understand what each step entails. Build the piece mentally several times before beginning the process for real. 
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Use Glue

    Glue Screws and Joints
    Deirdre Sullivan

    Flat-packed furniture that is loose after assembly looks cheap and will have durability issues. IKEA's hardware should ideally make for tight-fitting, secure joinery between pieces, but in practice, this isn't always the case.

    To make your IKEA furniture look more professional and expensive, use glue during assembly. When applied correctly, the glue will prevent wobbling and make for strong, good-looking furniture that will last for many years.

    Assembly experts recommend using either white Gorilla glue or Gorilla construction adhesive. White gorilla glue is a fast-drying, 100-percent waterproof glue—a polyurethane glue that is much stronger than standard carpenter's glue. It is excellent for a wide range of materials, including wood, plastic, and metal. Gorilla construction adhesive is an even stronger version of the classic polyurethane glue, and it will bond to almost everything. It is applied in caulk-gun tubes, making it good for large projects. 

    Be aware that polyurethane glues expand to fill available space. This is helpful for bonding the porous edges of particle board panels, but it also means the glue needs to be used sparingly to avoid being visible along seams.

    Used correctly, either Gorilla Glue product will make for rock-solid furniture pieces. 

  • 06 of 09

    Hammer in the Dowels

    Hammer Wood Dowels
    Deirdre Sullivan

    Use a hammer or rubber mallet to place wood dowels accurately and to seat them fully into the bored holes. Then use Gorilla glue to install them. The tiny openings make it nearly impossible to insert the wood dowels far enough down to create an entirely flush fit for the connecting pieces—unless you use a hammer to drive the dowels. 

    1. Dab a little glue on the end of the wood dowel.
    2. Twist the end covered with adhesive into the predrilled hole. 
    3. Using a hammer, tap the dowel lightly until it reaches the bottom of the predrilled hole. At this point, roughly one-third of the dowel should be sticking out.
    4. Wipe off any excess glue with a rag. 

    Note: It is also a good idea to use a dab of glue to bond each screw and cam lock permanently, too. 

  • 07 of 09

    Enlarge the Dowel Holes

    Drill out holes for dowels
    Deirdre Sullivan

    Now you need to make sure the wood dowels you just added will fit flush when the next component is fitted onto them. It may be possible to do this by using a rubber mallet to tap on the back side of the joining panel as you try to join them, but an easier strategy is to slightly enlarge the predrilled dowel holes on the panel piece. To do this, you'll need a drill bit that is exactly the same diameter as the wooden dowel. (Remember, IKEA tends to make the holes slightly smaller than the dowels.) 

    1. Set your drill in reverse so you don't drill all the way through by mistake. 
    2. Use the drill to widen the dowel opening. Make sure to hold the drill bit steady, without wobbling. The goal is to make the hole exactly the same size as the dowel, no larger. 
    3. Next, take the component with the attached dowels and join it to the piece with the holes you've just enlarged. Add a small dab of expanding glue to the exposed portion of the dowels before joining the pieces. 
  • 08 of 09

    Don't Worry About Missing Pieces

    building furniture to say oops

    Just like you, IKEA makes mistakes. If the furniture piece you purchased is missing parts or hardware, the retailers will send them to you free of charge. You'll need to contact their customer service department with the following information:

    • Your name and address
    • Contact information including address and phone number
    • Order number
    • The product number for the item that's missing parts
    • Explanation of the missing parts, including their reference numbers (for small parts like dowels and screws, you'll find this information in the assembly instruction booklet)
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Ask for Help

    Professional Help Ikea

    If you're not very handy or dread the thought of putting together flat-packed furniture, you should know IKEA understands your pain and can offer assistance. IKEA outlets offer an in-store assembly service, called Task Rabbit, with prices starting at $36 for the least expensive furniture pieces and running as high as $350 for large wardrobes. This service is available only at select stores, so check to see if it is offered at your store. 

    IKEA also partners with experienced local professionals who can deliver and then put together your in-store purchase. An item's retail cost determines the price for assembly, which starts at $89. Sofa delivery/assembly has its own pricing tier, ranging from $39 to $79.