This past Thursday, I bought a shelf at Wal-Mart. It wasn’t a pretty thing: An imposing, dark gray tower of five grates made of hard plastic that clawed painfully at your skin if you ever dared to run a finger along one of its cut edges. But, I was okay with that — all I needed was a shelf to store my ever-growing collection of stuff — so appearance was unimportant. This shelf by Plano Molding looked sturdy enough. And at $39.96, I thought it was a reasonably priced solution to my packrat-ish disposition.

At home, I gave the following instructions on the box a passing glance before ripping into it and pouring its contents out (five shelves and twenty black plastic tubes). After all, I’ve assembled utility shelves before, and this really was the self-assembly process I expected:

Assembles in 2 minutes!

  1. Organize shelves.
  2. Place poles in bottom shelf. Poles will “Snap-Fit”.
  3. Add next shelf…repeat.

So, I laid down the first shelf, and placed the poles into the openings… Or, rather, I tried to place the poles in. They didn’t fit! Each of the openings were ribbed (to give a snugger, sturdier fit for the poles, I’m assuming), but the ribs protruded so much that they made sticking the poles in next to impossible!

Nevertheless, I tried. I pushed the pole in as far as I could by putting my entire weight on it…and even then, it only went a third of the way in. No matter how hard I pushed, shoved, twisted, or sat on the pole, it refused to budge further.

My dad suggested filing the ribs down a bit. Maybe that was all it took to make it fit better. So, we took the poles out, grabbed a couple of hand files, and filed the openings down a bit. We stuffed the poles in: They fitted…a little better, but still, it took lots of effort, and the poles only went halfway in. Great.

So at 1 AM, after over an hour of struggling (er, what happened to those “2 minutes”?), we gave up. Making a sturdy shelf out of those poles (which weren’t even cut at a 90° angle) and mishappened gratings was hopeless: It wasn’t worth the time or effort to grind the openings down just to get the poles in halfway, nor would the shelf be sturdy with the poles not fully inserted. I went to sleep, convinced that I needed to make a bothersome trip back to Wal-Mart the next day to return the shelf.

But the thing was, my dad and I didn’t feel inclined to return the shelf the next day: It was going to be a lot of work to pack up the shelf, haul it into the car and then into the store, and then go through the troublesome process of getting a refund. Furthermore, we had already filed down one of the shelves — not only was the product not in its “original state” (although technically, it fit better in its altered state than the original anyways), but it seemed like a waste to return it after having worked on it.

Hence, we followed the totally illogical decision to keep filing down the openings until the poles would fit. It took two days — two days of hard, painful labour. I say “painful” because, in order to apply enough strength to file down the ribs properly, we grasped the rough surface of the files instead of the handles. So, on the second day of filing, when I took a break to go grocery shopping with my mom, I could barely dig through the bin of longan (a fruit which has a rough outer skin, kind of like really fine sandpaper) because the surface of my palms hurt so much from holding the hand files.

I should say that, even though we were able to get the poles down almost all the way down in the end, trying to put the poles in still required lots of effort. I still had to put my entire weight on the poles to get them to go in, and when I was putting the topmost layer on (which was taller than me), I was literally hanging off the corner of the shelf so that I could use my weight to drive the pole down.

To be frank, I’m relieved that this whole ordeal has passed: I have a shelf, things look organized, my hand can start healing now, and life is good. But, I’m quite annoyed at Plano Molding for its empty promises of a 2-minute assembly and of the poles “snapping fit”. They could not have been further off from the truth: Never have I exerted so much effort to put together a piece of furniture, not even when I had to put a king-size IKEA bed frame together. However, what was worse than their empty promises was that, when I went to Plano’s website, they said this about their shelving: “And all Plano shelves easily snap together in minutes with no tools required.” Erm, “no tools required”? Seriously? If we had no hand files, the shelf would never have come into being. Sure, it would’ve resembled a shelf, but it could’ve collapsed if anything was placed onto it, since the poles weren’t secure.

Verdict: Don’t buy Plano’s crap products. I sure won’t be doing so next time, after this experience. I’m shocked at the fact that they even have fans on their Facebook page…but maybe their hunting/fishing/golfing equipment isn’t as defective?