How to Build Recessed Shelves

Recessed Built-In Shelves

This handsome shelf unit is designed to be recessed into the wall between two studs. It works great as display shelves in the living room or dining room or as handy extra shelving in a bathroom.

Materials and finishing
It's easy to adapt this versatile design to fit your space and home style. This unit is made of clear-finished solid oak with a lauan plywood back. The peaked top rail has a triangular cutout flanked by small diamond cutouts. You might instead want to match the window and door trim in the room -- casing the unit just as you would a window. You can make the unit from any hardwood you like, or use pine with a painted or clear finish.


About 4 hours

Tape measure, combination square, hammer, nail set, drywall saw, 4-foot level, pocket-hole jig or biscuit joiner, tablesaw or circular saw with straightedge guide, drill/driver with #6 counterbore bit and 1/16-inch-diameter bit, jigsaw, drywall saw

Accurate measuring, sawing, joining

Locate and prepare opening in wall

Exploded View
Materials Needed
Choosing a Location

Install the shelves only on an interior wall so you don't have to remove insulation from an exterior wall.

Once you've chosen the wall and located the stud bay you want, make sure there are no plumbing pipes in the bay. Plumbing runs mostly vertically, so check in the basement to see if any pipes enter the wall directly below the bay. Also check for sinks, bathtub faucets, and showers directly above the bay.

Electrical wiring is more difficult to find. If there is no electrical switch directly to either side of the bay, there's probably no wiring. If you open the bay and find wires running up one of the studs, make the cabinet 1/2 inch narrower and be careful when you screw the cabinet to the stud.

Options to Consider: Trim the Shelves with Casing

Here the shelving unit is trimmed with a Colonial-style casing that has been painted to match the room's window and door casings. Just miter the casing and nail it to the unit sides and the wall studs -- neither biscuits nor pocket-hole screws are necessary.

Continued on page 2:  Opening the Wall


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