How to Add Shelves Above Kitchen Cabinets

Make every inch count with an easy-to-clean upper-cabinet shelf

Create an attractive display shelf for the empty space above your kitchen cabinets. This project requires only basic carpentry skills, and you can build it in a day.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

TIME

One day

COMPLEXITY

Simple

COST

$20 - $100

Step 1: Project overview

If you have empty space above your kitchen cabinets, you already know how difficult it is to keep it clean. And if you've ever tried to display anything above them, you also know the surface isn't flat, so objects sink out of view. Why not solve both problems with an attractive display shelf you can easily build in a day?

This project only requires basic carpentry tools and skills. Even the miter joints can be cut with a simple handsaw miter box. We used an 18-gauge finish nailer to make the job go faster, but you can just as easily predrill and hand-nail. And don't worry about trying to match your cabinet's finish or wood type. The shelf will look great if you paint it to match another accent color in the room.

Figure A: Shelf details

Cutting List
Key Description

A 3/4" x 1-1/4" board cut 1-1/2" shorter than the cabinet face width
B 3/4" x 1-1/4" board cut the same as cabinet depth
C 3/4" plywood cut 3" longer than the cabinet face width and 1-1/2" deeper than the cabinet depth
D 1/4" x 3/4" molding cut and mitered to cover exposed plywood
E Filler piece to fill void between the face frame and the wall
F 2-1/4" crown molding cut and mitered to fit over cabinet face and under shelf

Shelf Details
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Step 2: Get what you need at the lumberyard

The best material for the main shelf is 3/4-in. plywood (Photo 4). Get a finished grade that is smooth and easy to sand. The cleats under the shelf (Photo 2) are fillers to elevate the shelf just enough so the crown molding fits under the shelf and yet comfortably clears the doors below. We had about 1 in. of space above the doors, so we needed cleats that were 1-1/4 in. high. If you don't have access to a table saw, you can carefully cut them with your circular saw and an edge guide. Besides the 2-1/4-in. crown molding, you'll need trim to cover the edge of the plywood (Photo 6) for a finished look. You can use “screen” molding or “parting stop” or just rip a strip from a wider board to 1/4 in. or thicker. Just follow the photos for details about sizing and fitting the pieces.

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Step 3: Paint your molding to match

Finish up by filling your nail holes and sanding the wood with 150-grit sandpaper. Prime the wood and then select a satin or gloss paint finish that'll be easy to wipe clean. Because it's difficult to get an exact cabinet color match for natural wood cabinets, simply pick a color that will accent your kitchen countertops or cabinets.

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Additional Information

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Required Tools for this Project

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

  • Miter saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Nail set

If possible, use an 18-gauge finish nailer to attach the shelf

See Figure A - Cutting List