Floating wood shelf diy: Easy DIY Floating Shelves – This Old House

DIY Floating Shelves for Easy Storage

In this tutorial for DIY floating shelves, we’re outlining the simple steps of building wall to wall wood shelves in our workshop space. This tutorial was originally published in April 2015, and we’ve included updated photos. Enjoy!

Without a doubt, the most important component of our workshop will be – scratch that, is – the ability for heavy-duty storage. For almost two years, our workshop has been a mess. We’ve been tripping over power tools and our bulky air compressor. We’ve been wading through paint cans and digging through cardboard boxes. All to find the fine grit sandpaper. It’s a miracle anything was ever accomplished in this house at all!

Finally, we have some shelves! Some really big, really hunky, really strong DIY floating shelves!

After making a list of all the easy access items we’d like to store in the workshop (vs. what’ll end up going in the garage), we calculated and re-calculated how many shelves we’d need, how high they’d go and how much space they’ll allow. We measured our big bins, the height of two paint cans and checked inventory on all the glues, tapes and things that allow us to complete any given project. The prep and planning was a good week’s worth of work alone. And then, we got to work work!

For anyone who wants to take on this same project, your shopping list will vary depending on the width of your shelves, but here’s what we bought for four 6′ wide, wall-to-wall DIY floating shelves:

Supplies for 6′ shelves

  • 4 – 1/4″ sheets of plywood
  • 12 – 2″ x 4″ x 8′
  • 12′ of 1″ x 6″ aspen planks
  • 2.5″ wood screws
  • 4″ wood screws
  • Wood stain in Special Walnut
  • Wall color touch-up paint (Stratton Blue, Ben Moore)

Tools Used

  • Miter saw for small cuts
  • Circular saw for long cuts
  • Table saw for ripping down alpine planks
  • Drill + right angle adapter (or right angle drill)
  • Nail gun
  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Sandpaper
  • Mallet
  • Paint brush (our favorite!)
  • Rags for stain

1| Locate the Studs

First, we took a minute to locate the studs behind our drywall. Jack likes to get involved, too, which always helps.

2| Create a Ladder Support System

We needed to ensure that our shelves are strong, so we needed to build a support system that we would ultimately hide beneath the plywood sheets. We cut our 2x4s to the widths of our wall – two per shelf. To create a ladder-like support structure, we also made 14″ cuts from the remaining 2x4s, which was enough for 7 supports, end to end.

To save time and avoid needing to make any pocket holes, we used 2.5″ wood screws to create 3 sides of our internal structure, with about 12″ between each support. Note: Measure each shelf independently, as drywall is rarely (if ever?) square. For example, some of our wall widths varied by a 1/2″. The more precise your cuts, the better your outcome!

drill | speed square | framing square 

3| Attach Shelving Supports to the Wall

We attached our ladder support system to the wall, putting two 4″ screws into each and every stud along the way. The level became our best friend at this point, and as is typical with inexpensive 2x4s, we did have some less than perfect twists in the wood. A good tug while keeping things level was necessary to get our support in place, and a right angle drill adapter was used for the studs to the left and right of the main wall; it was a tight squeeze.

level | tape measure

The remaining 2×4 was screwed on to the front, and again, we made sure to level, level, level.

We continued up the wall, allowing for different heights between the shelves, starting with 18″ at the bottom, two at 16″ and one at 14″. These shelves aren’t going anywhere!

4| Touch Up Paint with Wall Color

I added a light coat of our wall color along the 2x4s, but only where the 2x4s meet with the wall. My thought was more preventative than anything; any imperfect cuts in our plywood would hopefully blend into the wall.

5| Add Plywood Sheets to Top and Bottom of Supports + Stain

Now, let’s talk about those plywood sheets! We had all four sheets cut down to 17″ strips at the hardware store, which was the perfect depth to skin our ladder supports. (Think: 1.5″ 2×4 + 14″ support + 1.5″ 2×4 = 17″)

This meant that we only needed to use the circular saw to cut down the 6′ widths. The edges got a gentle sanding, and I stained everything using Special Walnut. (We opted to nix polyurethane altogether, since these shelves will be holding All the Things that’ll just scratch it up. It feels less precious this way, somehow.) Once the plywood was ready to go, a mallet helped to ease the boards into place – top and bottom – and we used a nail gun to secure the sheets along the ladder support.

6| Add the Front Face to the Shelving + Stain

With everything in place so far, we had a height of exactly 4″ for each shelf, and although we initially planned on using the leftover 1/4″ plywood to create the false fronts, we figured that for the amount of work we’d already put into these shelves, we should make it count. And so, we picked up 1×6 aspen planks, ripped them down to 4″ on the table saw, stained them, and, finally, popped them on with our nail gun. It was absolutely worth it!

7| Enjoy!

You guys! We love them. The project turned out way better than we imagined it would, and we both joked that they were too nice for the workshop! In any case, the goal was to make them super strong (check!) and durable (check!), and we can’t wait to load them up.

We have a few more finishing touches for the room that we’d like to finish up this week, but it’s so close to being complete! These DIY floating shelves will change the way we’re able to use the space! And once we’re organized in the workshop, maybe – maybe – we might be able to finish the kitchen. Word on the street is that our back door will be here mid-May, I say, as I knock on wood.

Upate October 2021:

PS: All links have been updated to reflect our current tool recommendations, or you can also see how to build your tool library! Find all our workshop updates, organizational tips and blog posts right here. For other floating shelves we’ve created, see these corner floating shelves, DIY beadboard shelves with brass rails, and open shelving made from stair treads.

Thank you for following along!

How To Build a Floating Shelf

Updated: Jun. 29, 2023

A floating shelf is strong, quick to build, with no visible supports and made from only two parts

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Family Handyman

These shelves are handsome, easy to build and inexpensive. And they’re strong even though they have no visible supports. They appear to float on the wall, no clunky hardware or brackets. We made them from only two parts—half of a hollow core door and a 2×4.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

A full day
Less than $20

Video: DIY Floating Wall Shelf

Materials, Tools and Design Options

These floating wall shelves are perfect for displaying your collectibles, photos, travel mementos or just about anything. Without the brackets and clunky hardware you’d find with store-bought shelves or kits, they seem to be suspended in midair. These floating shelves are strong, too.

While floating shelves are not designed to hold your old set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, this floating shelf is certainly capable of it. No one would believe that a floating shelf is made from plain, old lightweight and inexpensive hollow-core doors.

In this article, we’ll show you how to install these floating shelves (and shorter ones) securely with basic tools. Even if you think you have no DIY skills, believe me, you can tackle this project.

If this custom floating shelves project still feels too heavy for you. You can buy floating shelves from Amazon.

Each floating shelf is made from half of an 18 in. hollow-core door, lag screws and cleat that hold the shelf to the wall. You can buy new hollow-core interior doors at a home center or lumberyard (just be sure the door doesn’t have predrilled holes for locksets). You may find only 24 in. wide doors, but the door can be any width; just try to minimize the waste. And you might be able to get doors free from yard sales or other sources.

As far as tools go, you can get by with just a circular saw and edge guide (Photo 2) to cut the door. However, I recommend that you use a table saw to cut the cleat because a clean, straight cut is important for a good-looking shelf. (If you don’t own a table saw, use a friend’s or have the cleat cut at a full-service lumberyard.) You’ll also need a stud finder, a chisel, a hammer, a wrench, 1 in. brads, 3-1/2 in. lag screws, carpenter’s glue and a level.

We chose to paint our floating shelves, but if you want the beauty of real wood, you can buy the door in wood veneers like oak or maple (ours was lauan). If you decide on a natural wood finish, you’ll need to cover the exposed edges with a matching wood trim. If you go this route, first shave off 1/8 in. from the front and side edges with a table saw to eliminate the slight bevel on each edge, then apply the matching trim. You can also cover the entire shelf with plastic laminate if you want a tough, hard-surfaced shelf.

You may want to change the depth of your shelves as well. Don’t exceed 9 in. or you’ll start to weaken the cantilever strength of the shelf. Feel free to make narrower or shorter shelves, as shown below.

The whole job will go a lot smoother if you paint the floating shelves before you install them. If you intend to paint the room, also do that before you install the shelves because it’s a drag to cut around each shelf with a paint brush. Just be sure to sand your wood door with 150-grit sandpaper before you paint. If the surface is still rough and porous after sanding, fill the pores by applying a paste wood filler (like Elmer’s wood filler) with a 3 in. drywall knife. Let it dry and sand the surface again.

These cheap floating shelves are permanent—they’re tough to remove! The glue not only makes the shelves strong but also impossible to remove without ruining them. You’ll have to cut them in place 2 in. away from the wall with a circular saw to expose the lag screws and then remove the cleats with a wrench. That’s unfortunate, but you can always make another set cheaply and easily. Regardless, you’ll want to learn how to make cheap floating shelves.

Check out this version of a DIY floating wall shelf. It features a secret drawer!

Step by Step Building Instructions & How to Hang Floating Shelves Without Brackets

Photo1: Mark the shelf position

Trace the horizontal location for each shelf using a 4 ft. level as your guide. Use a stud finder to mark the locations of the studs and lightly press masking tape over each one. If you don’t have a string line, use a long straightedge and mark the wall with a pencil. Check your marks for long wall shelf with the 4 ft. level.

Photo 2: Cut the door

Cut the door blank lengthwise after clamping a straightedge guide to the door. Be sure to use a 40-tooth carbide blade for a smooth cut.

Photo 3: Measure to determine cleat thickness

Measure the space between the outer veneers of the door and cut cleats from a 2×4 to this thickness. Our measurement was 1-3/32 in. Use straight, dry lumber for cleats.

Photo 4: Screw the cleats for the french cleat floating shelf to the wall

Predill 1/4 in. dia. holes at the stud locations after you cut the cleats to length (the measurement between the end blocks of the door half). The cleat acts as a floating shelf mount. Hold the cleat to your line on the wall and drill into the stud with a 1/8 in. bit. Using a wrench, install one lag screw into each stud until it’s tight. Use 1/4 in. x 3-1/2 in. lag screws. Each floating shelf supports cleat must be straight as an arrow.

Photo 5: Scrape away the cardboard

Cut away the corrugated cardboard cores at least 1-1/2 in. from the cut edge. Scrape away the glue carefully without gouging the wood surface.

Photo 6: Test fit the shelf

Dry-fit the shelf to make sure the blank fits over the cleat. Check the backside of the shelf and scribe it to the wall if necessary. Use a block plane or sander to remove material from the back edge for a tight fit.

Photo 7: Install the shelf

Apply glue to the top of the cleat and the inside bottom edge of the door blank. Slide the shelf over the wood cleat.

Photo 8: Secure the shelf

Nail the shelf to the cleat using a square as your guide. Start at the middle and work your way to each end. Use 1-in. brad nails spaced 8 in. apart.

Follow Photos 1-8 for detailed building directions.

How to Build Shorter Shelves

Build shorter shelves by cutting the shelf to length. Glue a filler block flush with the end and nail each side with small brad nails.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY floating shelves project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Glue
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Socket/ratchet set
  • Straightedge
  • Stud finder
  • Table saw
  • Tape measure
  • Wood chisel

40-tooth carbide saw blade

Required Materials for this DIY Floating Wall Shelves Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 1-in. brad nails
  • 1/4-in. x 3-1/2-in. lag screws
  • 18-in. wide hollow core door
  • 2 x 4 x 8 ft.
  • Masking tape

Originally Published: July 11, 2019

Similar Projects

Build Your Own Floating Shelves – Zrobi Do It Yourself

DIY shelving without brackets is a stylish and budget-friendly way to decorate your home with accessories. Here’s our simple guide on how to make your own.

Who needs built-in wardrobes when you can create your own storage? A terrific way to display books, photos, or personal items, floating wall shelves not only look beautiful, but don’t take up a lot of space. This is a winning idea for rooms with limited space – you can use the vertical space. These floating shelves will help you add personality and interest to a room by allowing you to display your favorite books, interesting items and plants.

Floating Shelves is an easy woodworking project for those who are comfortable with power tools, but don’t worry. Our floating shelves offer practical advice and reliable materials to help you create a truly custom piece of decor at an affordable price.

Materials Needed

While it may be tempting to buy floating shelves from a big box store like IKEA, Home Depot or Lowes, you may end up with a less personal look. The lack of variety in colors and sizes – not to mention the wider, overly boxy shape – really limits what you can buy off the shelf. For almost the same price, or even less, you can create your own version to match your home and color scheme. Use the materials below to make your own floating wood shelves.

  • 2 x 10 inch pine plank
  • Miter saw or circular saw
  • Hand or table router with dado milling cutter
  • ½-inch paddle drill
  • Drill (optional)
  • Sandpaper (medium grit)
  • Fabric (2 or 3)
  • Stain or paint
  • Polyurethane (optional)
  • Paint brush
  • BIGTEDDY Adjustable Blind Floating Shelf Invisible Brackets
  • Pencil
  • Drill
  • Level

How to build floating shelves

The steps below will teach you how to build floating shelves with minimal effort. With the exception of drying time, this project can be completed in half a day, giving your walls a custom and quality look.

Step 1: Cut the board to size and gather the materials

The most economical way to make your own floating shelves is to buy a large piece of wood and cut it into smaller pieces using a miter box or a circular saw. Obviously, you’ll want to size them up according to where you plan to hang them. We cut our boards 25 inches into a shelf.

Step 2: Cut the back of each shelf to accommodate the hardware

Using a router, cut a notch so that the hardware fits into the back of each shelf. If you are using our recommended fittings, the notch should be 1/2″ deep, as per instructions. If you are using other parts, please follow these instructions. The notch is needed so that when you hang the shelves, the mount does not create a gap between the wall and the shelf.

Step 3: Drill the mounting holes

This can be done in several ways. If you are using a hand drill, use a bladed drill to make holes for the fittings to be inserted into. The holes here are 4 inches deep, but follow the instructions on the hardware. If you’re unsure about making straight holes, start drilling with a blade drill and finish drilling with a press drill. Using a blade drill will make it easier to accurately start each hole.

Step 4: Sand and paint (or paint)

Sand rough edges on each shelf in a well-ventilated area. Wipe off excess sawdust and then apply your favorite stain or paint. Depending on the aesthetic of your home, you can opt for white floating shelves or something more rustic like wooden floating shelves. The beauty of do-it-yourself painting? You’ll get a more personalized look than if you bought pre-made shelves from the store.

Get creative and use reclaimed wood or make floating pallet shelves for a weathered look. If you are applying stain, be sure to wipe off excess and let each coat dry until you achieve the desired finish. If you want your painted shelves to be glossy, finish them with polyurethane varnish. Let all parts dry completely.

Step 5: Hang the shelves

Once the shelves are dry, it’s time to install the fasteners. While you can find instructions online for making wood poles, these hardware make the process a bit easier and allow your floating shelves to carry more weight. Making your own wood supports can take a long time and go horribly wrong – a lack of precision can cause you to get to this step and the shelves won’t fit.

Decide where you want to place the shelves, mark and measure where you want to mount the wall mounts, following the instructions on the package. Use a level to make sure each shelf is level. After the fittings are fixed to the wall, insert the shelves (through the holes drilled in them) into place.


While traditional shelves definitely have a place in homes (hello, bookshelves!), floating shelves are perfect for displaying collections and storing crockery – without adding a lot of staples. If you want to quickly install shelves that can support a significant amount of weight, invisible brackets are the way to go.

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These handy invisible shelf brackets are easily accessible. online and load capacity range from 25 lbs to 100 lbs in single shackles and 150 lbs welded kits. Installation seems like a cakewalk to some reviews, but it’s a little more difficult if you don’t have access to one tool in particular: a drill press. If you don’t, you can still successfully hang a floating shelf, but you’ll need to be very, very very accurate in your measurements and drilling to get a perfectly level finished product.

See How to Build a Floating Shelf

What You Need


  • 1 inch thick wood (or thicker bracket), depending on diameter ov.
  • Brackets for floating shelves


  • Electric drill
  • Drill bit
  • Saw
  • Hammer 900 14
  • Carpenter Square or Triangle
  • Level
  • Studfinder
  • Wall Anchors
  • Chisel (Optional)
  • Drill Press (Optional)


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1. First cut the wood for the shelf. We started with a 17.5-inch round board project from Home Depot (here’s a similar round board on Amazon), then sawed it in half to make a half circle.

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Tip: If you want your floating shelf to really look like it floats against the wall, cut about half an inch from the back of the shelf where it meets the brackets. Adjustable brackets (like the ones we used) are much thicker, but you can find brackets that are about 1/8″ thick.

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Use the nail finder to find the studs in the wall, then place the shelf on the wall where you want to hang it. Using a spirit level, draw a line indicating the top placement of the shelf.

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Using the pencil line as a guide, place the brackets on the wall and mark where to drill the anchor holes. (We upgraded to this instead of using the flimsy anchors that came with the brackets. I recommend you do the same.) You need to place the brackets evenly across the wall to properly distribute the weight of the shelf.

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Hang the mounting brackets according to package directions. During installation, I kept a small level at the top of the brackets and my husband kept a shelf at the bottom to keep everything as level as possible.

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Then place the shelf under the mounting brackets. Find the center point of each bracket and make a pencil mark on the top of the shelf.

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Draw a line from this mark straight up to the wall and across the back of the shelf.

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Find the midpoint on the back of the shelf (on a 1″ board it would be 0.5″) and draw an intersecting line through the center dot. Place the drill at point x where the lines meet and start drilling slowly. It’s important to try to drill the hole as straight as possible, so use something like a drill guide, level, or angle iron to keep the drill straight up and down. Be sure to unfold the parts according to the directions given in brackets. Ours said we needed to drill at least 4.5 inches deep. If you have access to a drill press, use it to drill the hole perfectly straight.

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Carefully place the shelf on the brackets and adjust the brackets until they are level.

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Here’s a top view to give you an idea of ​​the distance if you choose not to cut out the area where the brackets connect to the wall.