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I have one of those large metal self-assembly shelf units made from five shelves welded from thick wire (thin rods) and eight hollow metal half-poles that are joined by four cylindrical springy inserts.

The inserts are slotted cylinders of springy sheet metal, about 10 cm long and 2 cm in diameter. Two of them are free and two of them somehow got shoved down into the poles so that there's nothing sticking out to grab a hold of.

The cross-section of the inserts is not circular, it is wider in the direction containing the slots and a few millimeters narrower on the sides.

I only have basic "apartment tools" but there are plenty of DIY and machine shop supply stores around if there's something specific that I can buy to try to pull these out with.

Question: How to extract the cylindrical metal inserts that hold the two halves of the poles together for steel shelves?

I'm thinking that WD-40 or similar is one of the ingredients, but I don't know if I should try to find strangely shaped, strong, thin needle-nose pliers, or some kind of hook device...

note: That handy-looking hole at one end is near the top in one pole-half, but at the far end of the insert in the other.


Click on image for full-size view:

metal insert stuck in shelf support pole metal insert stuck in shelf support pole metal insert stuck in shelf support pole metal insert stuck in shelf support pole

3 Answers 3

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Make a hook, done similar before.

But not always easy.

Or, get a washer, or similar of the correct diameter and push the offending bit out from the other end, using a rod or similar.

Update based on comment: So you could add an insert in the middle "fat" bit to stop that bit compressing then it will not slide fully in any more.

It slides in because the shoulder is rounded - if it was sharper ie 90 degrees then it would not slide in so easily.

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  • The washer idea is really interesting, maybe I can get a 1.3 meter long piece of dowel stock from a DIY store to push it with. Sadly no access to anything that I can think of to make a hook with. I wish there were some way to slightly compress the insert; these are designed to grip, and only come loose when slightly compressed.
    – uhoh
    Sep 26, 2022 at 6:46
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    So you could add an insert in the middle "fat" bit to stop that bit compressing then it will not slide fully in any more. See update.
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 26, 2022 at 8:52
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I would suggest a long hook and pick set should have something that will reach into the pipe, give you something to grab hold of the hole with, and give you enough handle to yoink it out of there.

Something like this:

hook and pick set
Source: Amazon product listing, no endorsement of product or vendor intended or implied

I've linked to an Amazon.com search result, but they are available at many hardware and auto parts stores in a wide variety of sizes and prices. They're handy to have around the house for all sorts of other uses. I've got 2 sets, one fairly small (about 4" total length from hook to handle end) and one larger (about 8" total). You can find some that are fairly long (about 12" total reach), but they're getting more expensive at that end of the scale. If that's what you need, though, that's what you need.

Figure out how far down the deeper of your two holes is and get a set that's long enough to reach that one.

You may need some sort of lubricant to help slide the insert out, as well. I'd suggest a dry lube such at a PTFE or graphite spray. You can, of course, use WD-40 (not a lubricant "WD" stands for "Water Displacement"), light machine oil, or just about anything. The advantage of the dry lubes is that they're much less of a mess to clean up when you're done.

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    Beautiful! I can just show this photo around at the local tool stores and I should be able to come home with something very similar with which hopefully I'll only put one eye out (not both). If I get two hooks behind the narrow sides that want to be compressed to release, they may even provide a little squeezing effect.
    – uhoh
    Sep 26, 2022 at 13:31
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Deadline + skinny pliers + coffee + WD40 (not recommended)

  • Deadline: having guests tomorrow and need to make room, so these shelves gotta go up today!
  • Skinny pliers: run to a local tool store and find a cheap pair of skinny-nosed "snap-ring pliers" that will fit in those little gaps due to the insert being intentionally not-round
  • Coffee: essential ingredient in any DIY projects (mine at least, decades have taught me that it works better than beer)
  • WD40 or equivalent: by trial-and-error I found that this is more effective in between the metal surfaces than in the coffee.

The springy metal insert is quite soft, so the small gap was all that was necessary to get the pliers in and work them down.

But what actually released the insert was pulling and twisting at the same time, compressing the spring by pulling one end of its "C" shape towards the other.

Release was sudden - exercise (more) caution (than I did).

Since one of the insert was somewhat damaged/compromised I'll be careful not to overload the upper half of the shelves, and toss the whole thing next time I move.

somewhat successfully extracted metal insert for shelves

gap that allowed the skinny pliers to get started for a somewhat successfully extracted metal insert for shelves

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