How to Build Floating Shelves

This is the introduction and overview for a floating shelf project.

Floating Shelves

With no visible means of support, these shelves appear to float on a wall. The secret is in their construction: They are built around a cleat that attaches them to the wall. Their simple construction means you can easily make several to create an entire display wall for a collection.

Sizing for studs
The instructions here show how to build a 24-inch shelf that spans two wall studs spaced 16 inches apart on center, but you'll have no trouble increasing the length to 36 or even 48 inches. Basic construction remains the same.

Visible options
Visit a home center and survey the variety of moldings available for trim options, from contemporary to traditional. Almost any style will fit on the framework. Finish options are just as wide and varied, from natural to painted.


An afternoon or evening to construct, plus an hour or two for finishing

Tape measure, try square, electric drill/driver, 1/8" drill bit, countersink bit, hammer, nail set, power miter saw (or miter box and backsaw), clamps, level, stud finder, circular saw

Sawing (making miter cuts), gluing, clamping

Find studs at shelf location.

Step 1

Crosscut the 7-1/4-inch-wide top (A) to 24 inches long with a miter saw. Make sure the ends are square before proceeding.

Step 2

Cut end blocks (B) and rails (C) to length. Position as shown, glue, and clamp. Check for square by measuring diagonally; if misaligned, reposition.

Step 3

When the glue has dried, drive 6d finishing nails through the end blocks and into the rails to strengthen the joints.

Step 4

Clamp the assembly B/C to the underside of the top (A), the end blocks flush with the back edge of the top. Fasten with #8x1-1/4-inch flathead wood screws in countersunk holes.

Countersunk Holes: Two-in-One Bit

When you need to countersink screw heads and counterbore for plugs, do them both at once with a countersink bit of proper size.

Step 5

Dry-fit the front rail (E), which has been miter-cut at each end, and mitered side rails (F) to the front and sides of the B/C assembly. Glue and clamp them in place.

Step 6

Strengthen the attachment by driving 4d finishing nails through starter holes in the front (E) and side rails (F). Sink the nailheads below the surface with a nail set, then fill the holes with wood putty.

Step 7

Turn over the shelf assembly and apply glue to the exposed edges of parts B and C, then position the bottom (G), and clamp. Secure the bottom with 4d finishing nails and set the heads. Fill the nail holes.

Step 8

From 2x2 material, cut a wall cleat (D) to length. Sand smooth all surfaces of the cleat, then insert it in the cavity at the back of the shelf to test for fit. There should be a 1/4-inch gap at both ends.

Step 9

Miter-cut cove molding (parts H and I) to size. Apply glue to the back of the cove molding pieces and clamp them in place against the bottom side of the top (A). Secure the cove molding with #16x5/8-inch brads. Set the heads and putty the holes.

Step 10

Complete the shelf by miter-cutting the quarter-round molding (parts J and K) to size. Apply glue to the molding back and position at the bottom of the front rail (E) and side rails (F). Fasten with brads, set the heads, and putty the holes.

Clasping a Cleat: Step 1

Use a stud sensor to locate the nearest wall studs. Position the cleat so it extends over them. Using a level, draw a pencil line on the wall at the top of the cleat. Fasten the cleat to the wall with two #8x4-inch flathead wood screws.

Clasping a Cleat: Step 2

To attach the shelf to the wall cleat, you'll have to drill two countersunk screw holes in the top of the shelf for #8x1-1/2-inch flathead wood screws.

Clasping a Cleat: Step 3

Slide the shelf onto the wall cleat. Mark the screw hole locations on the cleat by inserting a finishing nail through the screw holes in the shelf and tapping lightly. Remove the shelf and drill pilot holes in the cleat.

Clasping a Cleat: Step 4

Reposition the shelf on the wall cleat and align it with the screw hole locations. Fasten it in place on the cleat with 1-1/2-inch wood screws driven into countersunk holes flush with the top.

Comments (10)
whornby wrote:

Warning: Do not make these shelves any deeper! With added depth too much weight will cause the shelf to tear apart. If the shelves are made deeper, the wall support must also be made deeper to offset the longer moment arm of the wider shelf.

9/22/2012 11:08:02 PM Report Abuse
rhumann wrote:

Can these shelves be made 16"Deep

2/14/2011 05:50:45 AM Report Abuse
dugnkim wrote:

lawrence: I have set 20+ lbs on my shelves. If your cleat is anchored into the studs, you should be able to put significanct weight (50+) on the shelves.

2/7/2010 01:46:59 PM Report Abuse
dugnkim wrote:

I have done this type of project in the past, however, these instructions are much easier.

2/7/2010 01:45:15 PM Report Abuse
lawrencek1 wrote:

how much weight will this shelf hold?

2/7/2010 01:16:07 PM Report Abuse
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