Thursday, July 22, 2010

Disassembling the Armoire

Andi has this ginormous antique armoire that is a family heirloom. It’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe big. Someday, while I’m not necessarily paying attention, maybe reading a fantasy novel or something, I fully expect a proper English-speaking faun that looks eerily like James McAvoy to pop out of it. Unlucky for the James McAvoy-looking faun, he’ll have to wrestle with all of the co-axial cables and HDMI cables and power cords and home electronics and plasma TVs just to get out of the armoire. And books—of which one of them may or may not indeed be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

This baby is 7'-0" tall by 4'-6" wide by 2'-0" deep and weighs at least 28.5 stone when fully loaded.
She’s hauled this brute everywhere she’s lived—Ithaca, NYC and now SF. It’s too large to move as a whole, so each time she’s moved she’s hired a professional to take it apart it one place and re-assemble it in another. Usually this professional is a $50/hr carpenter found on Craigslist.

Well, it’s movin’ time again, so Andi combed Craigslist and Yelp* and found a well-respected general contractor/carpenter for the job. He made a visit to our current apartment, took a look at the massive piece of furniture, admired the post and dowel construction, and quoted her 2 men for 5-6 hours totaling $450.

Well, what self-respecting DIY bloggers would pay $450 to disassemble an antique, and quite possibly invaluable, family heirloom? Not us! So Andi sent me to the hardware store to find some tools to take it apart. Apparently, according to her, the last carpenter used a pair of really flat tweezers to yank out the dowels.

I visited Cole-Fox Hardware on 4th St near Mission to accomplish my tool-finding task. The people at Cole-Fox were extremely helpful, but none knew of any fancy dowel-removing tweezers. The salesman pointed me toward the tweezers they did have in stock, and I selected a General UltraTech LED Visions Lighted Tweezer, because it looked sharp and useful in a prison brawl, had a laser-scope, and might do the trick. He also offered another solution—drill out the existing dowels. Since the armoire had been disassembled before, and since Andi never recalled a drill ever being used, I did not think this was necessary but listened to his instructions anyway, just in case (use a small drill bit to drill out the middle of the dowel and keep increasing the size of the drill bit until the hole is clear).  And then I saw it, the possible messiah of the armoire dowels—a nail set. If you don’t know what a nail set is (I didn’t until today), a nail set is a steel rod that looks much like a blunt ice-pick that is used to set finish nails or any unhardened nail below the surface of the wood. In my inexperienced opinion, the perfect tool to push (hopefully) semi-loose dowels out of an armoire.

Me and the nail set.

Happy with my purchase and armed with new 8 oz rubber mallet, laser-scoped tweezers, a nail set, a bag of new 3/8” dowels (just in case I ruined a few in the task ahead), and my brand new Frequent Shoppers Club card, I headed home to try out my 3 possible armoire-disassembling solutions.

My next problem: determine in what order to take the armoire apart. Obviously the doors came off first. Two nuts per hinge per door attached the doors to the armoire. Three minutes later, the doors were off. After further examination, Andi and I deduced that the crown should come off next since it looked like it held all of the sides together. Thirteen screws were removed and the crown was off.

Next we scratched our heads and brainstormed possible deconstruction scenarios and decided that removal of the top panel was the best course of action. But we needed to remove the dowels. Since my last resort was to destroy the existing dowels, since some of them still looked like they may be originals, and convinced that the nail set was my million-dollar solution, I decided to try the nail set first. As the Brits say, it worked brilliantly. We removed all the dowels and had them stored in a plastic baggie in minutes. I used the rubber mallet to dislodge the tongue-and-grooved top pieces and we took off the door header and the top panel. Next we removed the back panels, three pieces total, almost careful enough not to drop one of them on the ground. Almost. After the back panels were removed, disassembly was a breeze. We removed the doorsill, propped one side panel with our Jamie Oliver cookbooks, removed it and then removed the other side. After carefully (this time) stacking all of the pieces in various places around our apartment, the job was complete. 

Time:  less then 45 minutes
Cost:    $24.20
Savings (1/2 complete): $200.80



  1. Jeremy from BrooklynNovember 11, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    This is now my favorite blog (sorry, Yael). First, I can't believe that there are tweezers with a laser scope! Second, I just ordered the tweezers with the laser scope. It's $12.50 -- a no brainer, for sure. Third, I can think of countless ways to use this tweezer-laser scope (on furniture and maybe even me). In the interest of decorum, I'll simply say that when this tweezer is delivered, I'll be fixing something in my apartment; perhaps I'll begin with the electrical outlets. I'll let you know how it goes.

  2. Nice job Dean. Good luck with the whole project.

  3. Great work Dean! Love your fearless DIY approach and humor. Keep it up!

  4. Nice... Please tell me all of what I will need again