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I bought a used table and the screws holding it together are of a kind that I've never seen before. Unfortunately, some of them are loose and I need to tighten them. They are impossible to turn with any of my tools. The problem is that when sticking something "horizontally" in the notch it can be turned only for a couple of degrees until one touches the wood, and then the screw has not yet turned enough such that the other notch (the other "half of the cross") would be accessible. Sticking any sensible screwdriver "vertically" in the screw is not possible either because there is very little room.

The holes around the screws are so small that a finger barely fits inside; they are way too small for turning the screws with a coin. Also an Allen wrench or a similar tool is no option because the ones that would be thick enough to turn the screws are too long (even on their short sides) to fit in the holes.

Here's a picture of the full table as requested, with a walnut for scale. It's just a small couch table. As observed in the comments, the table seems to be from IKEA's former Ekersby series.

Full table

Is there a special kind of "bent screwdriver", "furniture tool", or any other tool that I could order online to tighten those screws?

Picture of the screw

Table corner

Second picture of a screw

Third picture of a screw

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    The table looks like it is an Ikea Ekersby and yes those nubbins support the glass top.
    – TomH
    Jan 17 at 22:24
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    Please don't edit your question to include the answer. This isn't a standard discussion forum. If you'd like to post your answer as an answer, then by all means do so, but it doesn't belong in the question.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 18 at 13:30
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    @ FreeMan, well I felt that my "answer" wasn't really an answer but more of a dirty workaround, and I wanted to give credit to the best actual answer from the community. To be honest, I think you are taking things too seriously and it's fascinating to see how different one is treated as a "newbie" in a commuity - my question got edited several times, some edits of which I didn't find necessary, and now that even the image of my workaround got deleted I really don't feel like reuploading it. It's just a bunch of screws man, I simply wanted the others to see what I came up with.
    – B K
    Jan 18 at 18:20
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    Don't get bent out of shape. All SE networks follow the same protocol. Please respect that. Feel free to post any answer you think is helpful or interesting to the community, but as an answer. Regarding edits (probably mine), they're intended to make the question more generally useful and searchable. It's not all about you. :)
    – isherwood
    Jan 19 at 15:04
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    @TomH Turns out you're right, the table indeed seems to be from the former Ekersby series
    – B K
    Jan 20 at 8:14

10 Answers 10

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Those aren't screws. They're engagement dogs, or maybe cams, which connect to a mating part in the table leg. You're expected to use something like a flat-blade screwdriver from the side and rotate the part a quarter turn or so using whichever slot is available. It's possible that they're bi-directional, so you'd need to have them both centered in their range of movement to remove the leg.

The problem may be that you've tightened them to the extent of their range, but time and use have loosened things enough that this isn't adequate. You may need to remove the legs and add shims between the backing blocks and the rail bore, or between the rails and the legs. Card stock may do.

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I'm suspecting that a custom tool is needed to actuate these. Most likely the furniture maker wanted a clean look on the outside, with no visible fasteners.

This dog looks like it needs a tiny spanner like this to turn - the ends are offset by 45 degrees here

enter image description here

And if you can't get 45 degrees of swing then additional spanner/s with 22.5 degrees of offset would fill the gap.

It is possible there'a machine tool with a power drive to do this in a factory setting where time is important but that's a commitment to a "system"


Other solutions:

  1. Add small L brackets under the table screwed straight into the timber
  2. Chisel out a "ramp" to allow a large-but-normal flathead screwdriver to mate with the fittings to loosen, shim, and refit.
  3. Same ramp, but remove these weird-ass fittings and then replace with a normal screw/bolt
  4. Drill a pocket screw beside this post (but so it doesn't intersect) and fit another screw.
  5. Forgo the seamless outside and install screws from the outside - could be quite ugly.

For really brutal results - consider cutting through the timber completely at this hole. Then removal should be a breeze. Square off the remaining timber and secure with glue and a pocket screw. DOWNSIDE this will effectively shrink your table, so any glass won't fit and you'd need a new top, OR put the existing glass on-top rather than recessed into frame.

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    This hypothetical tool is easily 3D printable if you have access to a printer (in person or via an online service), and I suspect you could also make the tool by taking an impression and using some epoxy, or directly setting the epoxy in place. Jan 18 at 1:36
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    Thank you, I accepted your answer because it's the one I found most helpful - it inspired me to go for my "dirty hack".
    – B K
    Jan 18 at 13:24
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    @Criggie I'd get a bit of (probably steel) plate thick enough to just fit in the holes, and bend one end over 45°. That's quick to make and has a very narrow waist. Of course it's not as strong, but might be enough here. You could also widen the hole but not right to the sides , so it's only visible from underneath. That would get you more room to swing the tool
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 14:39
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    @Criggie See my own answer for the dirty hack solution.
    – B K
    Jan 20 at 8:10
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    If you avoid the horizontally symmetric lines, you get more options by flipping the tool over. If the two ends are 11.25 and 33.75, flipping the tool over would give you 56.25 and 78.75. Painfully slow to make all those flips, but gives you an option if there's only 22.5 degrees of movement.
    – BMitch
    Jan 20 at 15:20
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Normally there should be just enough space to turn the screw head by a quarter turn and then move the screwdriver blade to the next slot.

If there is not, then you need a tool with a bent end, which you can manufacture yourself. The idea is to turn the screw as far as it will go, then flip the tool and turn the screw some more. Something like this:

enter image description here

(That is sold as "pry tool" or "pry bar" or "mini crowbar")

If a PH3 or large flat bit fits in the screw head, there's also the micro ratchet. It's a good tool to have for hard to reach screws.

Another option is "the tool that does everything" since you don't care about scratches on the workpiece:

enter image description here

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  • Good idea - I wonder if a simple angled pick might also work in the same way as the mini crowbar.
    – Criggie
    Jan 18 at 18:31
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+100

In the end I felt that the possible "actual solutions" were all too complicated for me, so I just went for a "dirty hack", avoiding to turn the screws/dogs/bolts at all.

Dirty hack

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  • That... is devilishly simple and I wish I'd thought of it! You should totally make this the accepted answer.
    – Criggie
    Jan 20 at 8:32
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    I guess this is totally in the spirit of IKEA, ugly as the dickens but looks fine from the outside. Jan 22 at 11:07
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    I like its ease, with one caution: That may work fine for the short term, but it will loosen more quickly than the original construction over time because it concentrates the pressure on a much smaller area of the wood. The half-cylinder matches the curvature of the hole, spreading the load across a wide area. It won't matter if the table never moves, but it will if it moves a lot. Of course, you can easily tighten it periodically. Certainly your call on the trade-offs. Good luck!
    – MadMonty
    Jan 22 at 19:31
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You have a variety of options:

Bent or Offset Screwdrivers:

enter image description here
Images courtesy of Home Depot

Allen Wrench:

enter image description here

Open End or Combination Wrenches:

enter image description here

US Quarter (or any similarly sized coin of your realm):

enter image description here

Basically, anything that can get into one of the slots and give it a bit of a turn. You've got 4 slot options, so just change the angle of the tool until you get purchase on the slot and some room to turn the tool.

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    Thank you for your answer, unfortunately these options don't work due to a lack of space. I just added a sentence in the original post to clarify this.
    – B K
    Jan 17 at 14:07
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    In what way is there a lack of space? The long handle sticks out into the space outside the table leg, the short leg goes into the holes. If the short leg is too long, you can always buy a sacrificial tool (like an Allen wrench) and cut it down, @BK.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 17 at 15:32
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I would replace those funny "bolts" with hex head or Allen bolts - likely they are a standard thread, especially given the damage shown.

An Allen key or wrench can easily be cut down to work in that space and if needed a "twist" applied on a second one to divide the turning angle needed.

Done similar before for bolts that were hard to reach...

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  • Replacing the bolts is a great idea! I wish I'd thought of it. The OP can take one of the bolts to a hardware store and use a thread checker there (most big hardware stores have them, in the fastener section), and buy a new one in the same length, along with some washers. However cutting down an Allen key is a bad idea in my opinion. Once the bolts have been replaced, a standard Allen key or better yet a micro ratchet with hex bits should fit fine.
    – Dan A
    Jan 18 at 19:41
  • Hex head I reckon.
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 14:44
  • @DanA cutting down Allen keys works fine, unless you go very close indeed to the bend. I use cut down 3mm and 5mm ones in work quite a lot. mark it nicely, and don't cut all the way through from one side, but a bit from each side. A good Dremel with a cutoff wheel is ideal
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 14:46
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In tight spaces I often use a standard 1/4" hex fitting bit of an appropriate type, but instead of turning it with a handle I use a 1/4" AF combination spanner (ideally the 12-point ring end, into which you can hold the bit with BluTak or a magnet), but the open end works too. I keep such a spanner in my main drill accessory case with the screwdriver bits, for precisely such tight spaces.

Bits are normally 25 mm long (or longer) but they can be cut down with a grinder. The really cheap ones can be cut with a decent hacksaw.

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The first thing I would try is a micro ratchet, the smaller the better (such as VIM tools HBR3: https://a.co/d/6OScOE6) with a large slotted bit, or maybe a #4 or larger Phillips bit (but these are very uncommon and hard to find). A micro ratchet is an incredibly useful tool to have have regardless.

If there isn't enough room for the micro ratchet, the next thing I would try is a 'low profile' offset screwdriver. A slotted one should work. There are inexpensive sets available on Amazon, such as this one from Neiko: https://a.co/d/bot6PTw

A small flat pry bar, the kind used for lifting nails or pulling trim, might work as well. Typically one end is bent to a 90° angle, and the other is slightly bent from straight. I'm not sure if they will fit in the hole, but I think it might. These are available in any hardware store, usually near the hammers.

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You only need to back out the nut a couple of turns. I use an allen key -- the thickest that will slide through from above and engage with two of the dogs on each side (using the long end for maximum leverage). You want the thickest because that gives the least slack in the movement.

As soon as the nut is backed out by an eight of an inch or less, it frees itself from the shallow recess in the the brown plastic curve filler. You will find that the filler has a slot cut in the lower edge, such that you can pull it upwards, as the bolt does not go through it. That is what the two holes in the face are for.

Finally, the whole bolt, with the nut still attached, can be pulled through outwards, still attached to the leg.

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It looks like there is enough space in the hole that a a pair of needle nose pliers, or if your grip strength isn't strong enough some long nose vice grips would be able to fit in and allow you to do a 1/16th of a rotation.

Long nose vice grips

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