20 November 2014

Hacking Stolmen in Jiangsu

Ikea Hack: Stolmen

Ikea makes some good products. Sometimes it's just parts of their products that are good. I seldom assemble Ikea products without modifying them in some manner to suit my tastes and higher construction standards. What I like about the Stolmen system is the adaptability and expandability on account of the brackets. Ikeas also manufactures open shelves and drawer components as part of the Stolmen line.
I wanted to make use of the brackets but I was unimpressed with the upright posts that made up the basis for the whole assembly. They feel flimsy and they are only affixed to the floor by a single adjustable bolt in a manner that is convenient only for homeowners with few construction skills. This flimsiness is only partially overcome by additional struts that can be attached to the posts with bands and also require more holes in a wall, all of which detract from the look and the mechanical design.
The posts are adaptable to various ceiling heights but are still limited to a range between 210-330 cm. Both the posts and their necessary mounting fixtures were clear weak points in this system.

I thought it would be easy enough to find some steel pipes to substitute for the Stolmen uprights but the fact that nobody else had done this before me should have been a clue as to the inherent difficulty. Doing this hack in China only made it take a lot longer, 3 years longer than I had anticipated. I began by measuring the diameters of the Stolmen uprights. Officially Ikea lists the diameter as 2” or 5 cm. In fact, the posts have two outside dimensions. The lower, wider section is 46.5 mm OD; the upper, 39.8 mm OD. Ikea includes two sets of plastic sleeves and metal bands for the wall struts with each bracket to accommodate these different sizes. The plastic sleeves act as a kind of cushion to protect the surfaces from being marred and the increase the grip.  These outside dimensions are not commercial standards, which is Ikea’s corporate way of compelling consumers to buy the uprights if they want to take advantage of the whole system.   
The breakthrough that I discovered came about by trial and error.  Using either set of the plastic gaskets, I found that no commercially available pipe allowed for a secure fit. But when I used two halves from the different gaskets, I found that the brackets did hold securely around 1 ¼” pipe, which has an OD of 42.0 mm. This not surprisingly falls within the dimensions of the upper and lower sections of the Stolmen posts.

1 1/4" metal pipe with metric equivalent in milimeters

The pipe vendor whom I found to cut and thread the pipes only carried galvanized and bare metal piping. Black pipe seems to be unknown in the mainland. I wanted black pipe, but I settled for the galvanized.  And as another indication that the mainland is not DIY friendly, the pipe fitter didn’t sell floor flanges nor did he understand how such an attachment functioned. I had to order the floor flanges through Taobao. The pipe fitter, in spite of being helpful enough to fabricate everything to my specifications while I waited, likely still doesn’t understand what he constructed. The Chinese word for flange is: fa3lan2, which is clearly a borrowing. According to the Taobao merchant, such fittings are only sold abroad because Chinese don’t know about them. Another great example of circular marketing analysis.
Manufactured yet still a mystery in the PRC
Here are some images that are a result of this long, involved hack:
The two halves of the different bracket gaskets at work

Floor flange solidly mounted on a wall

The possibilities are quite boundless
I found that attaching the clothes rod helped to steady the assembly as I first lowered it onto the concrete anchors in the floor and then eased it to engage with the anchors in the wall.

As a bonus, I can suggest one more hack for the Stolmen system. I find that the clothes rail brackets tend to get loose so I add a rubber washer on the screw that attaches it to the threaded hole of the horizontal pipe. This gives something for the screw to push against instead of bottoming out with metal on metal contact. It’s similar to the way in which the plastic gaskets insure a tight fit for the brackets on the posts. The rubber washers also help to protect the surface finish. There is some variation so that two washers might be called for to get the desired result.

I discovered this hack earlier when I first installed a Grundtal shelving system and was unhappy with the fit of the posts.

Please let me know whether this is helpful. I’ve included the links in case any mainland readers want to tackle this project on their own.