The Invaluable Allen Wrench: Assembly Required

Print this entry

I am looking at an Allen wrench on my desk, placed there because I forgot to take it out of my pocket. It was poking me in the leg as I sat at this computer. On the next trip to the shop, this lowly Allen wrench will join a host of others collected over the years while putting together various pieces of furniture.

Once again, July became moving month, except this time it was getting daughter Abbie to Denton, where she begins graduate school at the University of North Texas this month. This involved buying her a bed and couch, selling her old bedroom suite, giving away another bed frame to brother Gregg, and buying a new king bed for our master bedroom as well as a new queen bed for the spare bedroom.

None of this furniture is fancy or expensive. When one has pets, buying expensive furniture is a fool’s errand. As a friend once said, “You can have nice things, or you can have pets, but not both.” We choose the critters.

As always, it was my job to put together these pieces of furniture, purchased online and arriving in boxes, accompanied by assembly manuals. In every case, an Allen wrench was the sole tool needed for assembly and provided in the same vacuum-pack supply of bolts and washers.

An Allen wrench, for those folks who have never assembled cheap furniture, is an L-shaped piece of steel with a hexagon shape. They’re also known as hex keys, but most folks call them Allen wrenches, named for the Connecticut-based Allen Manufacturing Company which launched its own version by that name in the early 1900s. The six-sided screws were deemed superior to the square-head screws than in vogue because it provides six points of contact. In addition, traditional Phillips head screws and slot-head screws are much easier to strip out, as I have learned over the decades.

One can buy a set of hex heads to fit on a drill, which would have come in handy during these construction projects, though in several places I wouldn’t have been able to fit the drill into various tight spots. I developed calluses screwing together first Abbie’s bed, then the sofa. By the time I finished putting together two beds in as many days back at home, my fingers were pretty tender. I am going to invest in a set of hex heads on the next trip to the Big Box Store.

I have learned over the decades that one must approach assembling furniture with many pieces in an organized fashion. I pull everything out of the box, take off the protective plastic wrap, and lay all the pieces out. I study the parts list to figure out what goes where. Some of the pieces were labeled, such as “B2” or “D3,” but not all of them. Then I study each page of instructions. Thankfully, all four pieces of furniture used line drawings with minimal verbiage. The worst set of assembly instructions unsuccessfully combine excess verbiage with muddy black-and-white photographs. I strongly prefer line drawings with exploded views.

Such projects require patience in abundance. I must accept that almost certainly I am going to screw something up — put a piece on backwards, or something. When younger, this might have resulted in a string of epithets that can’t be repeated in polite company, but with age comes, if not wisdom, a type of self-knowledge. I just shrug, take apart the backward piece and start anew. Funny is, that seems to be my approach to most matters these days as another birthday creeps up. Don’t sweat the small stuff. There is enough sweating occurring during this dreadful Texas summer.

It looks like we’re finished with moving and assembling furniture. Once the weather cools down — probably mid-October the rate it’s going — I can get back to finishing the bookcase I began building months ago but abandoned when summer rudely arrived in early May and made it too hot to work in the shop. No Allen wrenches will be required for that project.

Print this entry

Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required