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IKEA furniture often has wooden dowels that are used to hold pieces together. The problem is that these wooden dowels break easily when you're trying to disassemble IKEA furniture:

Enter image description here

In the first picture I could just use pliers to pull the broken dowel out, but what for the second picture? I got a screwdriver for a watch screw and tried to use a hammer to try to get it sufficiently far in there such that I could kind of lever it it, but that did not help.

So what are my options for the second picture?

And what can I do to prevent this from being an issue on future IKEA purchases? If the dowels were metal they'd probably be a lot harder to break, but alas, I have been unable to find metal dowels. Plus, I gather that the dowels can come in different sizes...

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    Looks like someone used glue, which is "the furniture will never be flatpack again" and sheer crazy in my opinion. I have old Danish flatpack some of which is 1950's and 60's vintage that still has the original dowels, unbroken, many moves (disassemblies and assemblies) on, probably half or more before I got it. So it's not technically Ikea, but it's the idea they eventually took and ran with, just with nicer quality veneers...
    – Ecnerwal
    Dec 6, 2022 at 1:58
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    @Ecnerwal - I have never used glue to assemble IKEA furniture. I may hammer them in excessively (or maybe not idk lol) but I've never used glue
    – neubert
    Dec 6, 2022 at 1:59
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    @Ecnerwal I don't need glue on Ikea. But some other brands have such sloppy dowel holes combined with worse 1/4 turn fasteners that you do need glue if you don't want the result to wobble. If you're lucky you can glue one side only - but you also have to be careful/patient to ensure no trouble form excess glue
    – Chris H
    Dec 6, 2022 at 11:26
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    Based on a sample size of 2, dowel quality has declined in the last 50+ years. Dec 6, 2022 at 17:00
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact: Both actually, now that you mention it! ;-) Dec 7, 2022 at 4:34

7 Answers 7

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There are several techniques.

  1. Locking pliers gripped to the dowel (perpendicular) and hammer on the locking pliers to pull the dowel out of the material.
  2. pre-drill the dowel slightly smaller than the diameter of a #8 screw, screw into the broken dowel and then use technique 1.
  3. sometimes the dowels are actually glued, in that case you can cut flush and then use a drill and drill bit to drill out the portion of the dowel still in the hole, generally you take a replacement dowel and find 1/2 the length and mark that on your drill bit so you don't over drill. a drill guide can also be used to keep the drill bit centered on the hole. Generally I just get a piece of scrap wood that is at least 1/2" thick and then clamp or hole it such that the hole lines up with the cut off dowel. The guide will help you keep your drill plumb with the hole as you drill out the left over dowel.
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    I've got a pretty good idea about how one would use "vice grips & hammer", but you may want to expand on that for those who have less experience with tools/DIY. Also, for general knowledge (international audience) ViceGrips™ are a brand name for locking pliers that has become a "common name" (like Kleenex™ for facial tissue, or Coke™ for soda). In the UK, they're called "mole grips".
    – FreeMan
    Dec 6, 2022 at 13:32
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    Yah - it's unclear to me what "vice grips & hammer" is referring to. Do you hammer in a nail and then use a vice grip to pull the nail out?
    – neubert
    Dec 6, 2022 at 13:45
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    @neubert I would clamp the vice grips around the unbroken part of the dowel and then use the hammer to strike the vice grips near where it clamps to the dowel. You can (carefully) twist the vice grips, too, but this may lead to the dowel breaking further. Dec 6, 2022 at 14:51
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    Further to @user2259438's advice, put a scrap of wood between the ViceGrips to protect the edge of the panel before hitting them with the hammer. The metal of the ViceGrips will damage corners of particle board...
    – FreeMan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:52
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All of the other answers provided great solutions to your problem so I just want to address this thought:

If the dowels were metal they'd prob be a lot harder to break

Right, they wouldn't break. You know what would? Your furniture.

The dowels are supposed to be weaker than the furniture. If you've ever used a snow blower then I would relate it to the purpose of a shear pin.

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First of all, for any IKEA fans out there, this should not be taken as a strike against IKEA. Many different brands of flat pack/assemble it yourself furniture have the same issues.

  • Glue

No, glue won't get the dowels out :-) But not using glue can help a lot. Many assemble it yourself pieces of furniture recommend gluing the dowels in place and some even include a little bottle of glue. The glue is usually not necessary for basic functionality (cams, screws, etc. do that) but does help make the furniture a little bit more stable and secure. The glue doesn't just lie between the surfaces (as some adhesives on some surfaces will do) because wood is porous and the glue soaks in (I am sure there is a technical term for that), and I think the dowels, which are often tight-fitting to begin with (by design) may even swell just a little bit from the water in the glue. Which is all great for keeping things together but makes it really hard to cleanly take things apart.

  • Tools

I would probably try, a little bit, to get the dowels out. But if they break, cut them off with the saw of your choice (hacksaw, reciprocating saw, etc.) That may leave 1/2 a dowel in a hole, but that's OK because these dowels are not critical in and of themselves.

If you really want to get them out, you can use a drill. But be careful because a lot of times the dowels are in holes that only go partway through a piece of wood and have a finished surface on the other side. Better to leave them in there (but chopped off so they don't get in the way) than to take them out and mess up everything else in the process.

  • Screws

No, not to take the dowels out. To replace them. Once you reassemble the furniture, but skipping the dowels where they were not totally removed (and therefore you can't install new dowels properly), if there are places that are a little more wobbly than you like, a few screws in the right places - which will likely be near the old dowel locations - can do wonders for holding everything together.

As with removal issues, finished surfaces may be a concern. Back, bottom probably fine. If the dowels are into what becomes a desktop surface, screws won't look so god. In that case, I would typically use some small brackets with short wood screws on the opposite, hidden, side to hold everything together.

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    Technical term for "glue soaks in" - absorbs. Also, yes, the water in the glue will cause the dowel to swell slightly, improving fit & grip.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 6, 2022 at 13:26
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    @gerrit I don't think I have either. But I have seen it in plenty of other flat-pack furniture (I have many different brands, my local Ikea didn't open until 2003) , and I think the question generically applies to all flat-pack assemble it yourself furniture. Dec 6, 2022 at 16:24
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    i've glued dowels before. Sometimes the holes are too big or the dowel is too soft and you don't get a good fit. Generally i'll just glue one end of the dowel so you can still take it apart later even if you can't fully re-flat pack it. Dec 6, 2022 at 22:30
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    I've had some jank furniture, and sometimes even screws won't save it. I've used L brackets and shelf brackets to provide additional stiffness, and they can be salvaged when the "wood" finally disintegrates.
    – Criggie
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:15
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    I wouldn't use a reciprocating saw here. Hack saws are a bit better, but a good coping saw or a Japanese saw (bit esoteric for general use but still does the trick) would be ideal. Reciprocators can damage the MDF and veneer far too easily. Would only use one if you're demoing the stuff.
    – Machavity
    Dec 7, 2022 at 14:29
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"Metal Dowels" are quite easy to come by...

...if you shop the right places.

Look for spring dowel pins and ignore the results that don't look mostly like this.

They come in many sizes. You'll probably get overcharged less at a metalworking supplier than random web vendor (who's just buying them from a metalworking supplier, or crap quality you don't want from elsewhere priced as if they were buying it from a reputable vendor and marking it up.)

The "spring" aspect means they are a bit more compliant than hunks of solid steel.

You can get hunks of solid steel in almost any size (diameter) you like as drill rod (usually 3, sometimes 6 feet long - possibly 1 meter & 2 meter elsewhere, or for metric diameters) and cut to length with a hacksaw or metal-cutting disk. Steel dowel pins will find you precut ones.

Murphy please fail to notice me, image of spring dowel pins from Amazon (I'm actually surprised it loaded, TBH)

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    The answer by MonkeyZeus suggests metal dowels are a bad idea because rather than breaking the dowels you'd break the furniture.
    – gerrit
    Dec 6, 2022 at 16:23
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    I'm aware. Use at own risk, etc, etc. Also depends why the dowels are breaking, though. Unlikely to break the wood if puling them apart properly, since they are unlikely to jam as poorly fitted or swelled (or glued) wood ones do. If you''re bending the joint, yup, that will break the particleboard.
    – Ecnerwal
    Dec 6, 2022 at 16:38
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    I've used small junky drill bits as dowels before. They're very hard to cut, would not recommend.
    – Criggie
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:13
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    @Criggie Drill rod is sold unhardened, and since you would not need to harden it, you can get whichever water or oil hardening grade is cheapest (air hardening is always more expensive due to fancy alloys.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:27
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    Yep - I used a drill bit / twist drill / jobber drill . Not drill rod. It was most definitely hardened even though it was chinese cheese-grade of drill bit.
    – Criggie
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:48
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Screws to remove the dowels

For your second picture, put a small screw partway into the dowel, then use any suitable tool (claw hammer, prybar) to lever it out. Failing that,

Drill out the dowels

Get a drill bit slightly smaller than the hole (you don't want to damage the sides) and drill out the broken dowel. Nice and easy, just a little more messy than the first option.

Preventing this happening in future?

The obvious answer is to not disassemble the furniture! Flat-pack furniture simply isn't designed to be disassembled easily.

But if you do have to take it apart, the next obvious answer is that you can't stop dowels from breaking occasionally. You can reduce the risk by trying to pry apart panels in the direction of the dowels, so that they are less likely to be snapped. But realistically, this is just how it is.

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    Flat pack furniture, especially from the European brands, actually is designed to come apart, be packed back up, then moved to a new location. Many EU houses/apartments/flats do not come with kitchen cabinets, so people buy & install their own, then take them when they move to a new location. We really don't do that in America.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 6, 2022 at 13:28
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    "Flat-pack furniture simply isn't designed to be disassembled easily." - Sure it is! Just read the instructions backwards. The patience and comprehension level of the end user is always going to be the unpredictable wildcard.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 6, 2022 at 14:24
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I've bought a large number of used Kallax and Expedit shelves and encountered this problem more times than I care to remember.

Step 1:

Obviously if there is enough dowel sticking out a pair of pliers will get it right out. Don't use clamping pliers, you are likely to shatter the dowel.

If that fails:

Step 2:

Some have suggested drilling and screw pull, but i found if I used a smallish phillips wood screw I could skip the whole drill step.

Screw in a half dozen threads.

Step 3:

Claw hammer that b**** out of there.

This has never failed for me. Good luck.

Note:

Oh, and remember that Ikea provides free small parts replacements on their website. You're gonna need a new dowel (or three).

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Screwing a screw into a dowel may cause it to expand and stick in the hole. You can minimise this by drilling a pilot hole that's similar to the core diameter of the screw (self-tapping screws typically have a straight core while woodscrews are typically tapered). Drilling the entire dowel out is possible but needs to be done accurately. If all else fails, another option would be to drill a small hole and glue in a piece of wire using epoxy resin, then pull out the entire thing once it's set.

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