How to Build a Floating Shelf
With no visible hardware, floating shelves add a modern, clean look to your home that’s perfect for displaying photos and other decorative items. Making them is easier than you think and provides a great way to brush up on your carpentry skills. In this intermediate-level project, which should take you about four to six hours, we’ll walk you through the basics of building a floating shelf.
Here’s what you’ll need.
- Miter saw
- Table or circular saw
- Cordless drill driver
- Rough and fine sand paper
- Stud finder
- Tape measure
- Paint brush
- ½ inch thick solid wood of medium-density fiberboard panel that is at least 12 x 36 inches
- ¾ inch thick solid wood MDF panel at least 7 x 26 inches
- 1×3 that is at least 48 inches long
- Wood glue
- 1 ½ inch wood screws
- Stain or paint (if you envision your shelves with a natural wood stain finish, pine, oak, or fur are good options.)
- Some rags
When taking on this DIY task, be sure to equip yourself with the proper safety gear. Throughout the video, we’ll alert you regarding when you should and should not use the safety gear.
Know the plan. The bottom of your floating shelf will be composed of four sturdy half inch thick pieces of wood or MDF, three sides, one bottom and one three-quarter inch thick piece for the top. The final piece is a solid 1×3 with brackets that connect the shelf to the wall. If you’d like to change the size of your shelf, simply adjust the measurements. You’ll build it the same way.
Develop a cut list. Write down a quick list of the cuts you’ll be making. Remember that accurate measurements are essential for all woodworking projects. So as the old expression goes, measure twice and cut once.
For this project, you’ll need nine pieces with the following measurements for the front and two sides, bottom, top, ledger, and ledger brackets. The front piece will measure ½ inch thick and 2 ½ inches wide 22 inches long. Your two side pieces will be ½ inch thick and 2 ½ inches wide by 6 ½ inches long. The bottom piece is ½ inch thick and 5 ½ inches wide by 23 inches long. Your top piece will be ¾ of an inch thick and 6 ¾ inches wide by 25 ½ inches long. The ledger will be an inch thick and 2 inches wide by 23 inches long. Finally, the three ledger brackets will measure an inch thick and 2 inches wide by 4 ¾ inches long.
Cut the top and bottom. Use a table or circular saw to cut the widest pieces first. If you’re using a circular saw, use a square guide to ensure a straight cut.
Cut the side panels. To prepare your side panels, use a miter saw to cut 45 degree joints on one end of each of the two smaller side panels. Do this for both ends of the front side panel as well. When assembled, these will fit tightly together in front of the shelf.
Cut the ledger. Using a miter saw, cut your 1×3 for the mounting ledger and brackets. You’ll need one piece that’s 23 inches long and three 5 ½ inch pieces.
Test assemble. Dry fit the pieces together to ensure a close, secure fit. You may find that a little extra cutting or sanding is needed.
Assemble the bottom. Fasten the front and sides to the bottom of the shelf with wood glue. Use clamps to ensure a tight, strong bond. You could also use a pin nailer to secure the shelf instead of or in addition to the glue.
Assemble the ledger. Align the three short ledger pieces along the longer piece, and clamp all pieces together. Using a drill driver, pre-drill two holes in each bracket from the back of the long ledger. Attach with screws, making sure each screw head sinks below the wood.
Decorative edge, optional. If you’d like a decorative edge, use a router to cut an ornamental edge along the front edge of the top panel.
Sand surfaces. If you’re making a wood shelf, use a sander with low grit sandpaper to remove any imperfections or rough spots. This is especially important if you plan to use a natural finish, such as stain or varnish. Sand to a smooth finish with fine grit paper. Wipe the wood with a clean rag to remove any dust or debris.
Measure overhang. Before fastening the top panel, check to make sure the length of the overhang is equal on both sides and flush against the back edge of the box.
Apply your finish. Use a brush or a rag to stain or paint your shelf. Carefully follow manufacturer’s instructions of how to best prime, stain, and seal your shelf.
Prep the ledger. It’s now time to mount your ledger. Place your ledger into your shelf, making sure the back of it is flush with the back of the shelf. Pre-drill two to three holes into the back of the shelf and ledger. Then take the ledger out.
Mount the ledger. Mark where you’d like to put your shelf on the wall with a pencil. Then use a stud finder to mark where your wall studs are located. When mounting your ledger, it’s important to make a solid connection with wall studs. To do this drive two long screws per stud through the ledger. Drive in your first screw, using your level to ensure the ledger is flat and level. Then drive in your remaining screws. If you can’t screw into a stud, use a drywall anchor to ensure your shelf is secure.
Mount the shelf. To mount your shelf, slide it over the ledger and press it firmly to the wall. Using the screwdriver, drive the screws through the shelf and into the ledger. Once you’ve secured the final screw, your build is complete.
Step back and enjoy the magic of your floating shelf!