How to assemble flat pack furniture

Flat pack furniture is meant to be quick and easy to assemble, and make buying easier. Follow these simple steps and your lovely new items will soon be built and ready to use.

  1. Check the instructions before you start. You will typically need:
    • Cordless drill with range of drill bits

    • Tape measure (metal retractable)

    • Hammer

    • Flat or Phillips head screwdriver of appropriate size

    • Spirit level (longer levels give more accurate readings)

    • An extra pair of hands – it’s good to have help at hand for larger items

  2. Read the instructions well beforehand and be organised! Ensure you have everything within easy reach that you may need. Make sure you follow the instructions as you go, too, to sidestep any mishaps.

  3. By reading up ahead of time, you’ll also know how many people you will need on hand to help, as it is usually indicated. This is vital for the physical assembly, not to mention avoiding injury and stress!

  4. Flatpack assembly can be time-consuming so make sure you (and your assistants) start early in the day, you are also well rested and mentally fresh. Allow several hours and be realistic about how long it can take. As a rule of thumb, allow four to six hours for a wardrobe, which will not only need to be built but also usually secured to the wall. Even a relatively straightforward chest of drawers can take the entire afternoon, especially if you are a flat pack novice.

  5. Before you start, ensure you have a clear space to work in, ideally in the room where the finished item is to go. If the item is large and has to be assembled flat on the floor, remove any furniture or objects (particularly anything fragile) that may get in the way when it is stood upright, and ensure there is room to manoeuvre.

  6. Lay out all the parts and check that everything shown on the instructions is there. Don’t throw out packaging until you have double-checked that you every last item, including nuts, bolts, hinges, tacks and screws and caps, and anything special such as Allen keys. If a tiny item is missing, recheck every fold in the packaging. It is better to find out at the start if anything needs to be replaced, as it saves you the angst of half completing the job.

  7. As you unpack, identify pieces against the instructions. Many larger items have long pieces of wood that look very similar, so sort out what’s what to avoid confusion later. Place small items in bowls, to keep each type separate and safe.

  8. Place the packaging on the floor and use it as cushioning; this will protect the flooring and the furniture from scratches or any other damage.

  9. As you start assembly, make sure everything is aligned correctly and placed in the right spot as stated on the instructions. Use a spirit level from the beginning if appropriate to ensure the final product is put together accurately. If, for example, you have four screws or bolts to tighten, do them two at a time and diagonally to ensure the correct tension is achieved and the item remains aligned correctly.

  10. If using an electric screwdriver, stop before the screw is completely in and tighten the rest by hand, to ensure that the screw does not go in further than needed and split the wood. Do not over-screw even when tightening by hand.

  11. Before tightening hinges, make sure that the doors of furniture are straight and that they open and close well. It can be handy to have an extra person to help with this.

  12. Watch out for common mistakes from the outset. They are surprisingly easy to make. Make sure the backs of cabinets, wardrobes, and drawers face out correctly – you should see the finished side when you open the units and the unfinished back of a wardrobe should face the wall. Also check that drawer components themselves are not upside down. The key to building any type of storage unit is to get the frame right. The top and the back must be aligned properly and the frame must be straight and square. Anything off kilter simply won’t be stable; doors won’t open and shut properly, and drawers will not run smoothly. Check that hinges are placed the right way around, and don’t completely tighten them without checking that all is aligned: doors must open and close properly and drawers run smoothly.

  13. Don’t get over-confident and start anticipating the next step without checking the instruction sheet. You may miss out a small but crucial stage, and have to go back and undo work. This is not only frustrating, but could also damage the item you are building.

  14. If you get frustrated, take a break! Put your tools and small items somewhere safe and go and have a break for a while – if possible, even until the next morning if you’re very stressed. Have a cuppa, a chat, and then come back, refreshed. You will feel more calm and more in control.