Big hammer saves the day
Jan. 16, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

“Assembles in minutes,” the optimistic label on the box proclaimed.

That should have been my first clue.

It was one of those little projects that sounds simple in the beginning, but which ended up taking a lot more time and effort than expected.

It all began when I decided to buy some utility shelving to help me organize the detritus that has been accumulating in the spare room at the bachelor pad.

Miraculously, a sale on the very shelving I wanted just happened to take place at the local supply warehouse at the same time.

I measured the space, studied the shelving sizes available, and made my purchase.

Have you ever noticed the kind of subdued optimism on the faces of shoppers at those home improvement stores?

One can almost see the wheels turning as customers envision how the project they are planning will make their lives better.

That is before they start the job, of course. The inevitable complications soon wipe the smiles off of their faces, and so it was with my little project.

I am no stranger to assembling and building shelving. I have done my share over the years. From small bookcases to rows of pallet racking in a distribution center, I have done it all.

The photo on the box looked simple enough, and the description of the contents seemed reasonable.

It wasn’t until I got the thing home that things began to go badly.

I don’t wish ill on any man (well, hardly any man), but I must confess that before the day was over I began to have some distinctly unfriendly thoughts about the shyster who wrote that cheery description about how easy this unit would be to assemble.

I even had fleeting thoughts about what I might like to do to this person were I ever to have the good fortune to be alone with him in a dark alley for a few minutes.

I’m not suggesting the marketing department of the company that sold me the shelves is made up of frauds and liars. I am merely suggesting that they subscribe to an alternate version of the truth.

The problem is not the design of the shelves. The concept is simple, and I concede that, properly made, they would absolutely have been easy to assemble, and one could have done so “in minutes” as advertised.

The problem is that the materials were manufactured to such sloppy standards, it sometimes seemed like any correspondence between the parts must be purely coincidental.

The basic design involves beams with tabs that are supposed to fit in slots on the posts.

Unfortunately, they are so poorly made, and the tolerances so loose, that it required significant persuasion to convince the tabs to enter the slots.

The manufacturers, in their optimism, suggested that no tools are required for assembly.

I found that, in the real world, the tools required are three; a set of pliers for bending the components into a workable shape, a large rubber hammer to persuade the pieces to fit together, and a cocktail shaker to steady one’s nerves by the time it is all finished.

The assembly process also turned out to be somewhat delicate, because the metal was flimsy, and if one applied too much force, it simply folded up like a cheap lawn chair.

If the tabs were bent too far one way, they wouldn’t fit in the slots. If they were bent too far the other way, they would gleefully work their way out the holes on the opposite side of the post, and one had to separate them and begin again.

What the manufacturers should have included on the packaging is the sort of parental advisory used by the music and motion picture industries.

One tries to be calm and collected during these little adventures, but it must be said that the shoddiness of the product resulted in some language that would not have been appropriate for all audiences.

Nonetheless, I persevered and finished the shelves, and was able to rearrange the spare room.

I ended up with only one extra part; a beam that is twisted into the shape of a pretzel. I can’t help but wonder if the manufacturer included this extra piece deliberately, knowing that at some point in the proceedings, anyone reckless enough to attempt to assemble their shelves is bound to take out his frustration on the product.

I am satisfied with the result of my adventure, but it served once again to prove that, craftsmanship aside, the most important tool in my toolbox is the big hammer. It has carried me through situations that subtlety and logic just can’t conquer.

When confronted by poor design or sloppy manufacturing, a big hammer is what one needs.

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