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How to install kitchen cabinets without ruining a relationship

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The instructions said "click" with a happy little illustration of the cabinet door popping into the stationary hinge. But when we tried to attach the door, there was no click. We pushed, we heaved, we grunted, all to no avail.

The sun shone. The cat chased shadows. We were tense.

It had seemed like such a good idea: Rip out the old cottage kitchen and replace it with affordable, stylish components. Base cabinets with feet. Wall cabinets with frosted-glass doors. Great idea. But, once delivered, the idea had to be executed, and there's the rub.

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Instructions? Yes, but pictures only. Not a word. You'd think we were hieroglyphic-reading cave people, not e-savvy, 21st-century literate professionals.

After more than a decade of cottaging on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, we - two women - have learned a lot from the men up here. Power tools are essential. A good whack with a hammer can make just about anything fit better. A cold beer after the job is done is always welcome. And ignore the instructions if they don't make sense. Use your own judgment instead.

Men's Rule No. 4 would have saved us a lot of aggravation a few years ago when we put down laminate flooring in the living room. The instructions that time were all words, no pictures. And we couldn't make sense of many of them. Especially not the first step, which described tongues and grooves and cutting off the tongue of the first plank to fit it snug against the wall.

But we are women. We followed these instructions and proceeded to grunt and muscle our way through clicking the planks together (what is it about DIY tasks and clicks, anyway?). However, not one of them slipped into place. So, we resorted to Men's Rule No. 2 and used a hammer to whack the planks' tongues into their assigned grooves. Surely it should have been easier?

A knock at the door brought salvation in the form of our friend Andy, who, after taking one look at our efforts, said, "You're doing it backward!"

But we're following the instructions, we wailed. Chuck 'em, he said. Trust me.

And with one demo and a cheery "Good luck!" he left us to ignore the instructions (Men's Rule No. 4) and benefit from his experience, gained through trial and error rather than years of following instructions.

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After that, the job went smoothly. We cut no tongue off the first plank. We measured. We mitre sawed. We clicked the planks into place.

That beer at the end of the job? It tasted pretty good.

But today's cabinet installation was different. Wordless instructions. No timely visit from Andy. We were on our own.

Now, anyone who has attempted a DIY project with a partner knows the rules. Only one leader. Fully charged tools at hand. Willing lackey at the ready to fetch and carry and heave-ho when told.

Nowhere in those rules does it instruct the lackey to question the actions or approach of the leader. Do so and you're on your own (worst case scenario: literally).

On this job, I'm the lackey. So, I hold the cabinet door. From above. From below. I angle it. I push it. Several times over. On the right side. Then the left. No happy click of the hinge into place on either door.

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We stop and exchange a few heated words. I take off my glasses (progressive lenses are highly overrated for this kind of work) and examine the part that Val, the leader, had attached to the cabinet wall. I pore over the picture in the instructions, and it seems to me that something is not quite right.

The little bar on the door part should fit into the teeth on the fixed part and - click - fall into firm place. But on close inspection - it's really quiet in the kitchen now - I discern that the tiny little arrow in the picture is facing into the cabinet, while the tiny little arrow on the device in our cabinet is facing out.


"Do you think," I ask in my most diplomatic of diplomatic voices, "do you think it's possible the hinges are in backward?"

Quick, emphatic reply from the project leader: "No. I don't."

So I move from diplomacy to collaborative problem solving. I point to the picture. I wonder aloud about the import of the little arrow. I suggest it might be possible that we (note the use of "we") don't have the fixed teeth in the same position as in the picture. "And also, look," I say. "The fixed part juts out just a little bit beyond the cabinet side wall. That surely can't be right. Can it?" I ask.

That does it.

Val picks up the screwdriver and mutters something under her breath that sounds like, "If you're right, I'm going to buy you a gift." She then proceeds to undo the hinges, flip them around and retighten them. They fit flush.

Now the doors. And, almost before we can inhale to give the first one a mighty heave-ho, the bar slips into the teeth and a happy little click sounds. First one door. Then the second.

The sun sets. The cat sleeps. We are happy.

Women's Rule No. 1: If you're following the instructions, do so accurately. Women's Rule No. 2: Speak gently when questioning the leader. Rule No. 3: Forget the cold beer at job's end. When the DIY has been tough, you'll welcome a martini.

Amanda Le Rougetel lives in Winnipeg.

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