An ear full of cider

I should have known there was a reason the faux metro shelving from the box store was half the price of the stuff from the industrial supply place. Sure, I expected the wire to be thinner and the uprights to be wimpier, but I didn’t expect that a simple design like this could be screwed up in so many different ways, as if the person responsible had been given the specs for the original parts and told to make them cheaper, but had never actually seen an assembled wire-shelving unit. And then QA clearly thought that trying to build some from the instructions was too damn much work. It was certainly a damn sight more work than I wanted, since I had to hammer every joint into place with a dead-blow hammer and a backup block to keep all the shelves from ending up in a heap and the bottom of the poles. And disassemble some of the joints two or three times to get something that pretended to hold together. And mark a couple shelves “Don’t put anything heavy on here. No, Really Don’t.”

The box store offers me a form to comment my experience with their web site, and another on my experience at the store, but nowhere to tell them, “I bought this product from you, and it sucks, and I really don’t want to spend two hours and another $20 in gas to bring it back.” Oh, and there’s an 800 number to call for “technical support” in putting products together, but after 15 years of assembling real and knock-off industrial metro, I think I have the part about the posts and the little plastic clips pretty well in hand.

So for those of you who have sinned and someday end up in Hell supervising the manufacture of cheap wire shelving, here are a few suggestions that might just get your soul back into purgatory:

  • The shelves and posts should be straight. Not crooked, not wavy, but straight enough so that someone can sight along them without being embarassed. If you make the poles in two pieces that screw together, take care that they do.
  • The structure of the final shelf depends on some fairly close tolerances — a fraction of a millimeter, or perhaps a hundredth of an inch. So if you’re coating the poles and shelves with a thick layer of enamel paint
    • don’t just assume everything will fit as it should
    • if you notice that the grooves that hold the shelf clips up have gotten smaller because of the paint in them, make the grooves wider and deeper. Do not reduce the size of the binding ridges on the plastic clips
    • especially do not reduce the size of those binding ridges because you have already decided to use some cheap plastic several grades softer than the original, so you already have no safety margin
    • oh, and don’t stamp some fancy logo on the metal shelf corners, because the thick enamel paint will make it impossible to see — but the obscured markings will tell everyone just how thick and badly-applied the enamel is.

As lessons go, this one was fairly cheap and painless. It may cost more up front to buy the stuff that doesn’t suck, but if I can spend minutes instead of hours putting it together, and know that it will actually work, it’s probably worth the difference. Certainly one shelf collapse would cover the difference in price and then some.


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