5 Things to Know If You Want to Tackle Your First IKEA Hack

published Sep 16, 2023
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Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

If there’s one term that’s synonymous with a DIY approach to home design, it’s this: IKEA hack. For more than a decade, people who want a beautiful home on a budget have been sharing their twists on this Swedish retailer’s products, and because IKEA makes products for every room, and there are endless ways to adapt them to your needs, all it takes is a little ingenuity to make a hack part of your home. 

But let’s say that you’ve only been a casual viewer of IKEA hacks in recent years. Maybe you’ve saved a pin of someone’s HEMNES dresser project, or you’ve double-tapped your fair share of BILLY bookcase glow-ups. And yet, after all that inspiration, you have never tried doing an IKEA hack yourself — until now. 

There are many reasons why you might suddenly find yourself in the position to join their ranks, and whatever those may be, seasoned IKEA hackers Trisha Sprouse and Kelly Mindell say to go for it. Read on for the seven things to know if you want to tackle your first IKEA hack, from the tools you need to the approach to take.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Get the right tools for the job. 

Just like a chef wouldn’t start cooking without ingredients to work with, you shouldn’t start DIYing without tools. Once you have an idea in mind, grab a tape measure to figure out the dimensions of your blank space (and correspond those numbers with the IKEA piece you want to hack).

While IKEA products all come with Allen wrenches, it will probably help to have a power drill to assemble the IKEA item, says Sprouse, who’s done around 30 of these projects. You might also want to look into a miter box and hand saw (or even a miter saw) if you’re working with wood pieces. “It’ll lend such a polished look if you’re adding any kind of trim to an IKEA piece,” she notes. “You don’t necessarily need a power mitre saw when you’re first starting out. A $10 mitre box and hand saw will work as well.” 

Next, a brad nailer will secure any facing to an IKEA drawer or cabinet front for years to come, which Sprouse notes is much more secure than glue. And lastly, you’ll want to invest in an orbital sander. “An orbital sander is handy for prepping surfaces as well as stripping existing finishes,” Sprouse says. “I once tried to strip an IKEA wood console table using a paint stripper, but it took hours of tedious scraping. Finally, I bought an orbital sander, and it finished the job in mere minutes!”

Get tips from other DIYers who have taken on the same project.

Sprouse recommends reading about similar projects from other DIYers to learn their techniques or make a note of any mistakes to avoid. She also advises that people price out their projects from start to finish, ensuring that everything is within budget. 

If you find yourself in over your head, Mindell, who runs Studio DIY, has this tip: You don’t have to swim solo. If at any point you feel like you need a professional to come in to either clean up your mess or prevent one from happening, go ahead and call one. 

“Even if you need the help of an experienced carpenter or handyman for one step of your hack, the cost can still come in far lower than building a custom furniture piece from scratch,” Mindell says. You can find a handyperson on sites like Taskrabbit or Thumbtack.

Don’t skip out on priming. 

Given that IKEA furniture pieces often come out of the box in a lacquered finish, you’ll want to prime each piece if you plan on painting it. “The lacquer can make it difficult for paint to adhere properly, and it will eventually start to peel or chip,” Sprouse says. “I’ve had the best results with the Zinsser Bulls Eye primer. This also offers excellent stain-blocking if you’re painting any solid wood pieces that have a lot of wood knots — it prevents those from bleeding through the paint.”

Mindell agrees, noting that she uses the same primer with sandpaper for the job and lets the piece dry fully before continuing on. “Don’t cut any corners here. I’ve tried and learned the hard way,” she says. 

Once your primer and paint job are complete (and Mindell notes you’ll likely need two to three thin coats of paint), she and Sprouse would seal your hard work to make it more durable. “I’m partial to the Minwax Polycrylic Clear Topcoat because it’s water-based and doesn’t yellow over time like polyurethane tends to do,” Sprouse adds. “A clear topcoat also makes cleaning the piece easier down the road.”

If you’re drilling, make pilot holes first.

Sprouse says she’s never had IKEA’s particleboard split on her in the past, and that’s probably because she always makes a point to drill a pilot hole before going all in with a power tool. “You should definitely pre-drill pilot holes before driving any screws through the furniture — this will help prevent any splitting or splintering,” she says. “You can even tape the area before drilling with painter’s tape to further ensure nothing cracks.”

Mindell also does her best to complete her hacks before the piece is fully assembled. “Work part by part,” she says. “This allows you to be more thorough with the details, like painting, adhering materials, or essentially manipulating each piece.” It’s more likely that the furniture will break if it has to be disassembled, so doing everything before the final step avoids any tears.

Don’t feel obligated to make big changes if you don’t want to. 

Joining the IKEA hack club isn’t as hard as it may seem. “You don’t have to make any drastic changes to call your project an IKEA hack, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money, either,” Sprouse says. “A simple coat of paint, new hardware, or swapping out furniture legs can be enough to change the entire look and feel.”

The goal is to make something your own, of course, but also remember to have fun. “You might make some mistakes at first, but that’s all part of the process,” Sprouse continues. “You’ll learn as you go, and there are so many tutorials online that you can consult for advice. Plus, DIYs can be a great outlet for creativity and stress. It’s fun to have a piece of furniture or home decor that you can humble brag about making with your own hands.”