Saturday, January 30, 2021

Adventures in Bookcase Assembly

Like most bookworms out there I have this dream of having my own personal library with entire walls lined with shelves. Trying to make that dream a reality has been a nearly impossible task. It seems I have the worst luck when it comes to bookcases. Back in 2019 I found the perfect bookcase - it was just the right height, easy to assemble and best of all it had 6 shelves. The only downside was the cost. To fill the entire wall I would need 8 of the bookcases which was a bit beyond my budget. No problem, I thought. I could just buy two each year until I had the entire wall filled. Yeah, nope. When I wanted to buy the second two the design was discontinued and nothing came even close to matching.

Forward to the start of 2020 and I managed to find some bookcases I liked. They only had 5 shelves, but came pre-assembled from a local retailer (saving on shipping fees). I bought two and I was very happy with them. In November I wanted to get the last 2 I would need to finish my project. Turns out they can't source any from their supplier and the one they had in stock was damaged.

Which brings us up to the present. I found yet another bookcase that I liked the look of - the Decofurn Echo Bookcase BC15. Think of it as the South African version of the Kallax bookcases available from IKEA overseas. At least in concept.  With five shelves and the same(ish) height as the original two. The only problem is that they require assembly and the shipping would be quite expensive (about a 1/4 of the actual bookcase price itself). I wanted to make sure about the dimensions of the shelves and the partitions, so I contact the retailer through their website. I got a call back and was put through to the sales floor who wanted to quote the dimensions available on the site to me. They couldn't give me the width of the actual shelves or the size of the partitions because they didn't have any measuring tape or a ruler on the floor. In the end I had to beg them to estimate the thickness of the shelf using a pen as yardstick. 2 standard pens, so approximately 1.5cm which should be sturdy enough. So I ordered two...

And this is where my hellish adventure in bookcase assembly began. I would gladly have paid extra for them to send me an assembled unit, but due to my location that wasn't a possibility. So assembling them myself would be my only resort. I'm not a very handy person. I'm well aware of that fact as my woodwork teacher begged me to take another subject as soon as I was able to choose which subjects I wanted to take. But I'm pretty good at following instructions. And this is where the entire experience fell apart. 

The instructions that came with the bookcase were as clear as mud and left out some very crucial things. You see the actual shelves are recessed from both the front and back of the sides. Which means that you have to find some way to elevate each shelf by about 1cm to make them line up with the slot provided for the back panels. And of course no spacers are provided to use for this purpose. I had to resort to elevating each shelf using some folded pieces of cardboard.

The assembly was a hellish experience. The slightest bump would make things shift, go askew and even have the partitions fall out. In order to get anything done I had to disregard the instructions and put things on out of order. I resorted to first screwing on the sides to the bottom piece in order to get some stability. Then I proceeded to add each shelf with its two partitions, working from the bottom up. This was still not ideal. The partitions kept falling out at the slightest bump. Most of this is due to the recessed nature of the shelves. If you could just have aligned the front or back of the shelves with the front or the back of the sides, things would have been MUCH easier and far quicker. The recessed shelves are an odd design decision. There is no need for the assembly to take this long or be this frustrating. Approximately 20 hours later, after loads of frustration and enough swearing to make a sailor blush I managed to assemble the Echo bookcase. I was amazed that it actually came together and surprisingly, despite my jerry rigging, it seems to have worked. It hasn't fallen apart... yet. 

I think Decofurn needs to seriously look at their design and improve the clarity of their instructions as it doesn't even make mention of the recessed shelves. Recessing the shelves by 1cm from the front seems a pointless design choice and adds unnecessary complexity to the assembly.  

So for my fellow South Africans contemplating getting the Echo Bookcase BC15 from Decofurn I have some thoughts and suggestions:

  • The shelves are 15mm thick and the partitions are 12mm thick. Each partition is added separately using 2 wooden dowels.
  • The dimensions of each cubby is approximately 35.8 cm wide x 39.6 cm high and 26.5 cm deep.
  • The quoted dimensions of the bookcase is 118 (W) x 29.5 (D) x 209 (H) cm. My unit is only 112cm wide so this might vary.
  • The material seems sturdy enough, but it remains to be seen how well it holds up during extended use.
  • The back panels let through light where they are joined. This is not ideal and quite visible when the shelves are empty. Personally I'll be trying to add some black tape to see if that fixes the issue.
  • Definitely pay extra for the assembly if it's available in your area. This will save yourself some serious aggravation and time.
  • If you are going to assemble the bookcase by yourself be aware that the shelves are recessed. You will need to have spacers of approximately 1cm thickness to elevate the shelves to the correct height during assembly process. No spacers are included, which makes for a very frustrating and finicky experience.
  • You'll need a large space to assemble to bookcase and an extra set of hands will be very helpful.

I'll have to see how the bookcase holds up after putting it to use. So far, despite the horrible assembly experience, I'm cautiously optimistic. Now I only need to scrape together the courage and will to tackle assembly of the second unit. Or perhaps I should just set it aside until I REALLY, REALLY need more shelving space...

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