If you've ever bought furniture from Ikea, you know that some assembly is required. The company is famous for its pictures-only assembly instructions, and it also uses a novel type of screw system to hold together pieces that are perpendicular to each other, such as the sides and shelves of an Ikea bookcase. The system consists of cam screws with long, exposed shanks that you install in the edge of one component and nuts inserted through holes in the sides of the adjoining component that lock onto the cam screws when tightened.
Almost all Ikea furniture is made from medium-density fiberboard or particleboard, and if it chips out and the hole is too big, you can't tighten down the cam screw. Sometimes, a whole section of material can crumble away, especially if the piece is made from particleboard, which is pretty flimsy stuff. It's rare that Ikea screw holes are too small, and if so, you can redrill them, but if they are too big, you can use several methods to make the repair.
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Holes That Are Slightly Too Large
If the hole into which the cam screw goes is slightly large, the screw will simply spin when you use a screwdriver, but it won't tighten down. You can make this Ikea repair with toothpicks and wood glue.
Shave strips off a toothpick with a sharp utility knife, place them around the edges of the hole, and curl the edges down so you can access them after driving the screw. It doesn't take many — just three or four, and you can add more later if necessary. Squeeze a few drops of carpenter's glue into the hole and then drive the screw and tighten it down so that the head is flush with the surface and the shaft is sticking up. Let the glue set for 24 hours and then trim the toothpick strands flush with the surface using a utility knife.
Holes That Are Very Large
Sometimes, the holes chip away and become too large to repair with toothpicks. When that happens, use a wood dowel pin slightly larger than the diameter of the hole. Drill the hole just a little deeper than the threads on the cam screw using a bit with the same diameter as the dowel. Put a few drops of glue in the hole, coat the dowel with more glue, tap it all the way into the hole, and let the glue set overnight.
When the glue sets, cut the dowel flush to the surface with a hand saw and sand it flat using a rotary tool and a sanding drum accessory. Make a mark on the exact center of the dowel with a pen. This is important because the nut won't lock if the screw is in the wrong place. Drill a hole for the screw on the mark using a bit slightly smaller than its diameter and then drive the screw.
Material Has Chipped Away
In the worst case, some of the surface material chips away along with material inside the hole. The most realistic fix for this is to use two-part wood putty. Before you apply the putty, cut away all loose material from around the hole using a utility knife and then draw a cross that intersects in the middle where the screw goes. You'll need this cross as a reference, so make the ends longer than the area to be filled.
Mix the putty with hardener, roll a bit with your fingers, and then stuff it in the hole, making sure the hole is filled. Spread more putty around the chipped-out area and tamp it down using a piece of plastic film to protect your fingers. Insert the screw while the putty is still soft using the cross as a reference to place it. Sand down the putty with a rotary tool when it sets and touch up the repair with paint if desired.