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I assembled this bookshelf from Ikea, and it is unstable - the top part can move left and right.

enter image description here

This remains so when I put the inner shelves in place, so I fear they might be unstable too. I verified that all screws and nails are tight. What more can I do to stabilize this bookshelf?

enter image description here

Here is a close-up of the dowel (I loosened it a bit to take the picture; the problem remains even when I tighten it back).

enter image description here

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  • Did you fit the dowels as well as the screws?
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 5 at 6:42
  • Do you mean the wooden pin shown in the picture i added? Yes, I used everything in the package. Jul 5 at 7:05
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    How is the back attached? I see no nails or staples in the photo. - It looks like the bookshelf cannot wobble unless the back is free to slide around a little. Jul 5 at 14:17
  • @A.I.Breveleri There are nails at the bottom part of the back panel - you can see them by enlarging the second photo. Jul 5 at 17:48
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    When I recently assembled something similar from Ikea, the structural stiffness was supplied by some plastic shims which are forced into the same groove as the back panel from the rear, locking it into place and stopping the entire cabinet from skewing. If you dont mind me asking, was this book case brand new? It doesnt look it - if it really isnt brand new, perhaps theres something missing…
    – Moo
    Jul 5 at 23:40

8 Answers 8

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That back panel is not decorative, it is a vital part of the structural integrity of the whole cabinet. Have you actually nailed it in? It is fiddly to do so, but it is what is supposed to stop the wobbling.

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    I nailed it at the bottom, as shown in the instructions. But at the top, the instructions show it sliding it in its rail with no nails. Should I nail it at the top anyway? Jul 5 at 17:47
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi how tight was the fit as you slid the back panel in? If it was really tight and you had to work it in, that means the back panel runs edge to edge inside the grooves in the sides and is preventing it from racking. If it was a piece of cake to slide in (as is likely because of the bulge in the side keeping the sides from fitting properly), then the back panel isn't doing much to really hold it together. I've not come across any flat-pack furniture with a slide in back, so there's no telling if/how you might be able to nail through the back and sides.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 5 at 18:01
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    It should be a snug sliding fit to get the back panel in, and you have to make sure it's all the way in at the top before nailing. A hack is to lie it face down, make sure it's square, and bleed wood glue in around the edges of the back panel. Of course this is permanent. Another permanent hack is to nail into the back of a couple of shelves, in several places per shelf. But I've only had to do either of these on shelves that have been dismantled few times. But ail at the top and edges if you can. You may be reading the instructions too literally - how many nails did you get?
    – Chris H
    Jul 6 at 11:03
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    That looks like the "Billy" bookshelf. They only have 4 nails along the bottom. But they do have two "L" brackets that mount on the underside of the top panel and then you attach it to the wall. I assume that would keep it from wobbling. If you don't want to use the brackets then pick one of the answers that you're most comfortable with. Although 40 nails like @mazura suggests is probably easiest and least expensive. Jul 6 at 13:40
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    Every Billy bookcase I've assembled (and trust me, there have been a LOT) has instructed me to nail the back panel around all the edges. Sometimes, it's a separate step from nailing the bottom edge, i.e. first you put a few nails in the bottom edge, then you turn the page and -ta-da!- there are the instructions for nailing around the rest of the edges.
    – Martha
    Jul 7 at 17:07
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It looks like you may have damaged the side panel here:

snip of original picture highlighting area of damage

That may make it difficult to tighten the side panel to the bottom shelf and leave the whole thing a little wobbly.

If you're very careful, you should be able to remove the nails from the cardboard backing without causing significant damage to the cardboard. I've done this before a couple of times. Even if you damage it a bit removing one or two nails, you can still reuse it. I usually pry the nail up with a small screwdriver before getting the claws of a hammer underneath to pry the nail out. Be sure to keep the hammer head along the edge of the wood, otherwise, you'll end up pushing a big hole through the cardboard backing and that's not good.

Once you've got the cardboard off the back, release the cam-locks so you can remove this side panel. Take a look at the damaged area here - you may be able to flatten this area by reassembling and hitting the outside (gently at first, harder as necessary) with a rubber mallet to flatten it down. You might be able to smash it back into place by directly hitting the bulge with a mallet, or squeezing it in a clamp.

Alternatively, so long as there isn't an assembly hole in this area, you could get away with chipping the bulged out area away so the two boards can sit tight together.

No, the vertical board won't be quite the same any more, but it's unlikely to cause any significant, long-term structural damage, even if this is a wall hanging cabinet.

Once you've reduced the bulge by pretty much any means necessary, reassemble the cabinet, make sure the cam locks are good and tight, especially in this area. Square the cabinet up and nail the back on again. If you damaged any spots in the cardboard, just avoid putting nails back in those areas. They give you more than enough nails to securely hold the back on and provide structural integrity, so even if you leave a couple out you'll be fine.

If you'd like, you could glue the dowels in by putting a couple of drops of any standard woodworking glue into the dowel holes then inserting the wooden dowels. Some of the flat-pack furniture I've assembled has come with a little tube of glue and instructions to glue the peg into one hole. Some have instructed to glue it into both holes. Most, including those from IKEA, have no glue and no instructions to do so. As far as I can tell, all 3 methods yield reasonably similar structural rigidity. Remember that anything you glue together will be fairly permanently assembled - an important point if you ever expect to take these apart to move them. Do not bother to put any glue around the metal/plastic cam-lock pins, their threads, or the cam-locks themselves. Standard wood glue not stick to these parts very well, and this will simply be wasted time and effort.


Another option has occurred to me.

Since this appears to be a floor standing cabinet, screw a piece of 1x3" lumber (reasonably cheap at the local big-box store) to the uprights at the top back of the cabinet. Two screws inserted through pilot holes into the uprights will help stabilize the cabinet by providing a small amount of additional triangulation. However, more importantly, the solid wood will provide a good material for holding the cabinet to the studs in the wall with a couple of screws. Once it's screwed into the studs, the cabinet won't go anywhere, no matter how wobbly the construction actually is.

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    Some good advice here. I avoid kit furniture for the problems we see here, but it can be salvaged with some good old-fashioned carpentry. Due to the cabinet's size I wouldn't hesitate to permanently secure the components with glue. It'll perform much more satisfactorily and still be reasonably portable.
    – isherwood
    Jul 5 at 13:06
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    Noe the use of "cardboard" in this answer must be meant to be derogatory; it's not literally true. It's either thin MDF or hardboard (AKA masonite) depending on the model and colour.
    – Chris H
    Jul 6 at 11:04
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    I wouldn't count on it, @ChrisH. I've had some flat-pack cabinets where the back was folded in half in the packaging so it would fit in. It might not be corrugated cardboard, but it wasn't much thicker or different in material than a cereal box.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 6 at 11:14
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    @FreeMan the Ikea ones that fold in half don't fold the material itself, but use cloth-reinforced tape as a hinge. They're an important little bit more robust than some of the other flatpack stuff I've built though I've never come across a back panel that could be folded Anything that flimsy wouldn't hold nails very well either
    – Chris H
    Jul 6 at 12:15
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By the bulge shown in the joint, you did not have the surfaces tight when you screwed them together and damaged the joint surfaces.

Not easy to rectify that now, except by adding metal angle brackets at the corners / edges and also reducing those bulges. These brackets ac be on the inside corners and on the backside to reduce the visual impact so they are not "ugly".

Edit: To show a commenter what can be done, which does reduce the "swaying" then this is what I did in the top internal corners. One can see the damage caused by the original owner where the door hinges were pulled out - the damage to the joints is now less visible. enter image description here

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  • @isherwood why change "flush" to "tight" in my post? Given the damage evident then th4e brackets will provide support - they can be on the back or inside in the corners so "ugly" is not necessarily relevant, unless you would put them on the outside visible for all to see.
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 5 at 14:13
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    Because I don't believe you meant flush. You meant tight. They aren't synonyms. Apologies if I'm wrong.
    – isherwood
    Jul 5 at 14:14
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    Brackets usually don't resolve this issue, hidden or not. They're difficult to mount robustly enough to do any good. They seem like a convenient idea, but in practice they fall short. They certainly won't add much diagonal stability to a tall cabinet, which is the primary issue here.
    – isherwood
    Jul 5 at 14:16
  • @isherwood have 4 tall (2 metres) cabinets from Ikea given to me that were damaged in much the same way. Used 3" brackets and large (fat) screws with pilot holes and they are as good as new. Common sense works.
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 5 at 14:17
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    Again, you're addressing the wrong issue. Sure, you can hold a corner tight with them, but they won't keep the cabinet from swaying. That's the question that was posed. Common sense isn't a factor here.
    – isherwood
    Jul 5 at 14:18
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Attach the top to the wall with a metal bracket. That will also prevent it from falling over.

Most shelving units from Ikea come with instructions and the needed hardware for wall anchoring:

Ikea wall anchoring instructions

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    I was thinking the same thing. But I wouldn't use a metal bracket, I would use TWO metal brackets. One is enough to keep from falling. But two (which should not be a problem at all if the bookshelf is at least 3' wide with 16" studs), together with the base firmly on the floor, guarantees it won't tilt left or right. Jul 5 at 14:36
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact - in my experience, IKEA stuff comes with two brackets for stabilizing, though it may depend on how tall the cabinet is. Other brands I've used may only come with one. I do, usually, add a second one. Not because I've got little kids running around the house, but because my floors aren't exactly level after ~130 years...
    – FreeMan
    Jul 5 at 17:53
  • What do the brackets do that a pair of screws through the back panel wouldn't (without the aesthetic side effects)? I'm guessing that those brackets ship with cabinets lacking back panels.
    – isherwood
    Jul 5 at 21:25
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    @isherwood The back panel is usually 4mm thick pulpboard, it is weaker than the 18 mm thick particleboard they use for the sides.
    – jpa
    Jul 6 at 6:05
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Another inexpensive option: create an "X" behind the back panel using braided steel wire attached to screws at the corners. Tighten the wires using a turnbuckle on each diagonal. This will not add weight or greatly increase the overall dimensions but will greatly resist the "racking" you are experiencing. Pre-drilling for the screws in essential. They should be at least 2" long. Eyelet screws or hooks are a good option. All available at any hardware store.

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    IKEA sells ready-made X-braces. Or used to, for use with a shelving system whose name I have forgotten, with shelves and verticals made of untreated softwood. I have several of these at home.
    – nigel222
    Jul 6 at 11:42
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    @nigel222 The IVAR, GORM, and ALGOT series all include cross braces. Very useful.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 6 at 12:27
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That back panel seems woefully inadequate. If possible then it should be installed as outlined here. It is in essence a sheer wall which provides immense lateral strength.

enter image description here


If this is not a possibility and Ikea is truly such $hit then buy some 5mm plywood, cut it to size, and tack it on with small nails along the outside edges.

Note: if you do not have the means to cut it yourself then measure the rear of your cabinet and have a big box store cut it for you. Home Depot and Lowe's typically have one of those sliding saw apparatuses and an employee will cut it for free. You do of course have to buy the whole sheet.

4x8 foot sheet of 5mm poplar sanded plywood

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Glue it!

All around, using wood glue. To ensure proper adhesion roughen the portion where glued with sand paper. Also be aware that the rough/cut side will absorb lots of glue (due its porosity) so apply generously.

If you are planning using any kind of metal brackets, know that is a low density particle boards about 1/2" to 5/8" thick, and screws wont hold in it. You need to use bolts.

After gluing, you will not be able to disassemble if you decide to move it with you to another home.

The actual problem is the back wall--it just slides in and it is not holding anything. The back-wall function is when nailed to prevent any sideways movement.

It looks like you did not nail the bottom part of the back wall.

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If repairing the blown out panel per the first part of @FreeMan's answer doesn't work to get the back tight, you can add blocks at the corners around the back panel. As others have said, that panel is the primary "anti-wobble" bit, but it's usually too thin to nail in properly. If you add small blocks at the four inside corners of the cabinet, up against the back, you can screw those to the cabinet and to the back. enter image description here

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