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How to Add Shelves Above Kitchen Cabinets

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

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.

Shelf Details

Shelf Details

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

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.

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.

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

Required Materials for this Project

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

See Figure A - Cutting List

Comments from DIY Community Members

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1 - 4 of 4 comments
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January 21, 11:54 PM [GMT -5]

Now I just need to figure out how to get rid of that soffit in the way....

November 22, 7:31 PM [GMT -5]

I guess I cheated. I had some 3/4 inch birch cabinet plywood left over from another project so I used it for the shelves and same for some 2 1/4 cove molding. The effect was awesome. I had long wished for an alternative to flat top cabinets and this was a breeze.

September 19, 8:35 PM [GMT -5]

I actually did something like this so that I could display my collection of Christmas ornaments, as well as Christmas items from Mom and Dad. I was a florist for 35 years and I love decorating for Christmas.

April 27, 6:45 PM [GMT -5]

This was SO easy, wish I would have found it earlier.

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