Friday, September 5, 2014

Futon Misadventures

So, remember that futon we found at a yard sale way back in July? Well, as it turns out, it took us six weeks to put it together.

This was not a case of simple procrastination on our part. We made our first attempt to assemble the futon just a few days after buying it, only to find that the hardware that came with it—which the buyer had assured us was complete—was actually missing one small but crucial piece. It was a specialized sort of nut, with a screw slot on one end and a hole in the middle. We didn't even know what it was called until I Googled "types of hardware nuts" and found that it was apparently what's known as a cross dowel nut. And, furthermore, it's something you can't just go and buy at Lowe's or Home Depot.

Since we knew the futon had come from White Lotus originally, our next thought was to go there, show them the piece we needed, and ask if we could buy a replacement. When I tried this, the guy at the store said the frames weren't made on site, so the only way to get the one piece we needed would be to order a complete set of replacement hardware from the manufacturer. At first I thought, "Oh, great, that's going to be way too expensive," but when I asked, the clerk said it should be covered under the warranty on the frame, so there wouldn't be any charge. Even though we'd bought the futon secondhand? Yes, apparently that didn't matter. So I happily left him my address and he said they'd order the hardware and send it to me.

When two weeks went by and the hardware hadn't arrived, I stopped by the store again to check on the order. This time I spoke to a different clerk, who said, after checking the computer, that she had this listed as an "in store pickup" and that I would get a call when the hardware arrived. After two more weeks and no call, we stopped in again, and this time the clerk said she couldn't find any information about the order and she'd have to get the first guy I'd spoken to to call me. Several days later, he called and said the company apparently hadn't sent out the order, so he'd ordered it again and he'd call me as soon as they had a tracking number. And finally, after I was starting to wonder whether it was even worth waiting any longer, he called and said there had apparently been some misunderstanding and they now had my hardware in the store. He offered to send it to me, but I didn't want to take a chance on anything else going wrong, so I ran hastily out to the store to get the package.

So on Wednesday night, at long last, we were ready to assemble this pile of pieces that had been sitting for weeks in our spare room into an actual piece of furniture. We opened up the package, examined the contents—and found that they didn't look anything like the hardware for the piece we'd bought. A glance at the instructions enclosed with them showed that the company had apparently sent us the hardware for a completely different style of frame.

Still, we thought, perhaps all was not lost. After all, the only piece we actually needed was that one missing cross dowel nut. A search through the package revealed that the hardware they'd sent us did indeed include several cross dowel nuts—but they were too long. If we tried to insert them into the pre-drilled slots in the frame we had, the hole in the nut wouldn't line up with the corresponding hole in the wood.

The hole in the nut itself was the right size, however, so Brian's first thought was that maybe we could still use the overlarge nut if we simply drilled the hole in the frame to make it bigger. We'd have to drill clean through the wood, which meant the end of the nut would be visible, but perhaps if we stuck that piece on the back part of the futon it wouldn't be too noticeable. However, after a little consideration, he decided to try a different approach. He stuck the nut into a vise, got out his hacksaw, and started sawing the end off the nut. And sawing. And sawing. And, about five minutes later, he showed me the result: a cross-dowel nut that was now short enough to fit in the existing hole.

With that out of the way, assembling the rest of the futon only took about twenty minutes. It took both of us to hold the various pieces in place and fasten them together at the same time, and we had a few minutes' confusion trying to figure out how to switch the three-position frame into its fully upright position (turns out you have to move it into its fully flat position first, then switch it from there), but we got it done.

I guess all's well that ends well, but the whole experience has definitely shed new light on a few old clichés:
  1. There's more than one way to skin a cat. If we'd simply settled for the first solution we came up with—drilling the hole in the wood to make it bigger—it would probably have worked, but it would also have showed. Cutting the nut down to size with the hacksaw was more work, but a fix for the problem.
  2. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We could have given up on this futon when we first discovered that the nut was missing, or when we found that the hardware stores didn't have a replacement for it, or when our new set of hardware still hadn't arrived after one month, or when we got the new hardware and the piece turned out to be the wrong size. But instead, every time one path turned out to be blocked, we just kept looking for a new one, and in the end, we were able to fix the futon without having to spend a penny. (Although we did have to wait six weeks, so if we'd been under any sort of time pressure, we would have been better off just finding some way to order the nut online and eating the shipping costs.)
  3. Let the buyer beware. If I'd actually bothered to check the hardware packet at the time we bought the futon and make sure all the pieces were there, we might have been able to avoid this whole problem in the first place.
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