Nuts, Bolts Of Building A Shelf

SATURDAY'S HERO

September 15, 1990|By Rob Kasper

I am suddenly serious about shelving. It started last weekend when I assembled a five-shelf unit with joiners, with rear and side braces, and yes, with corner gussets.

That is shelf talk. It means I spent the better part of a weekend putting together metal utility shelves that just barely made it under the heating pipe that runs through the laundry room.

Getting the shelves under the pipe was important. If the shelves turned out to be taller than the pipe, they wouldn't fit in the laundry room, unless they were tilted to look like the leaning tower of Pisa.

To make sure the shelves would fit, I did some research. I stood under the laundry room pipe. I figured that the "72" in the maze of numbers on the box that the shelf parts came in referred to the height of the thing. When assembled, it was supposed to be 72 inches, or 6 feet tall.

I, too, am 72 inches tall. So I surmised that if I stood under the pipe, and didn't get hit in the head, the shelves would be in the clear.

I was right about that. But I was wrong to think that 72 inches was the most important number in the shelf-assembly process.

The most important number was the number of bolts and nuts that were needed to hold the thing together. In this case that number was 67.

That is a lot of tightening, especially when the little nuts, which you hold with your fingertips, decide to become fugitives and flee into the dark inner reaches of the shelving. When this happens, you bang on the shelves with a screwdriver to scare the fugitive nuts out into the open. You don't bang too hard, because if you do the whole five-shelf unit with joiners, rear and side braces and gussets suddenly takes on the Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa look.

You don't find out that you have to cope with 67 skittish nuts and bolts until you read the instructions. The instructions are inside the box. You don't see them until you have bought the shelves and brought them home.

This is probably a good idea. If this kind of information -- "You will have to struggle with 67 slippery bolts and 67 arthritis-inducing nuts" -- were on the outside of the box, it would probably scare you out of buying the shelves.

The assembly instructions for the shelves were pretty good. I followed them, pretty much.

The instruction writers were right when they told me to "loosely" tighten the 67 bolts and nuts. What they didn't tell me, at least not right away, was the reason why.

The reason you initially loosely tighten the 67 bolts and nuts is that soon you are going to have to take most of those 67 nuts and bolts apart and put them back together .

It turns out, you have to take the nuts and bolts apart when you put in the side braces, the rear brace, and the joiners.

I discovered this after I had severely tightened the 67 nuts and bolts. I was angry that the instruction writers had not told me the whole story.

But in retrospect, I understand why the instruction writers were less than candid. Suppose they had said: "Be sure to keep these nuts and bolts loose because just when you think you are finished, you are going to have to start all over again." Anybody with a whit of sense would quit as soon as he read that. The shelves, the joiners, the braces, the gussets and the 67 nuts and bolts would remain in the box. Another household project would fall into the "someday" category.

But once you have got all those shelf pieces put together, however loosely, the structure looks impressive. Moreover, at this point taking it down would almost be more work than removing the loosely tightened 67 bolts and nuts, tucking in the braces and joiners, and retightening the nuts and bolts.

And so it is when the shelves are up and teetering that the instruction writers deliver the bad news. At this point, pride, and the heating pipe, wouldn't let you turn back. In shelf-assembly-instruction writing, timing is everything.

So you finish the shelves. And they don't fall down. And the kids are impressed and say "Wow! Awesome!" And your wife says maybe now you could fix the hole in the wall behind the shelves.

And late at night you find yourself sneaking down to laundry room, staring at that mass of steel, and telling yourself and the crickets, "You know, I put that sucker up, with my own two hands."

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