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How to Build Floating Shelves

These shelves are handsome, easy to build and inexpensive. And they're strong even though they have no visible supports. They appear to float on the wall, no clunky hardware or brackets. We made them from only two parts—half of a hollow core door and a 2x4.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How to Build Floating Shelves

These shelves are handsome, easy to build and inexpensive. And they're strong even though they have no visible supports. They appear to float on the wall, no clunky hardware or brackets. We made them from only two parts—half of a hollow core door and a 2x4.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Materials, tools and design options

These “floating”shelves are perfect for displaying your collectibles, photos, travel mementos or just about anything. Without the brackets and clunky hardware you'd find with store-bought shelves or kits, they seem to be suspended in midair. These shelves are strong, too.

While they're not designed to hold your old set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, they're certainly capable of it. No one would believe that they're made from plain, old lightweight and inexpensive hollow-core doors.

In this article, we'll show you how to install these shelves (and shorter ones) securely with basic tools. Even if you think you have no DIY skills, believe me, you can tackle this project.

Each shelf is made from half of an 18-in. hollow-core door, lag screws and cleat that hold the shelf to the wall. You can buy new hollow-core interior doors at a home center or lumberyard (just be sure the door doesn't have predrilled holes for locksets). You may find only 24-in. wide doors, but the door can be any width; just try to minimize the waste. And you might be able to get doors free from yard sales or other sources.

As far as tools go, you can get by with just a circular saw and edge guide (Photo 2) to cut the door. However, I recommend that you use a table saw to cut the cleat because a clean, straight cut is important for a good-looking shelf. (If you don't own a table saw, use a friend's or have the cleat cut at a full-service lumberyard.) You'll also need a stud finder, a chisel, a hammer, a wrench, 1-in. brads, 3-1/2 in. lag screws, carpenter's glue and a level.

We chose to paint our shelves, but if you want the beauty of real wood, you can buy the door in wood veneers like oak or maple (ours was lauan). If you decide on a natural wood finish, you'll need to cover the exposed edges with a matching wood trim. If you go this route, first shave off 1/8 in. from the front and side edges with a table saw to eliminate the slight bevel on each edge, then apply the matching trim. You can also cover the entire shelf with plastic laminate if you want a tough, hard-surfaced shelf.

You may want to change the depth of your shelves as well. Don't exceed 9 in. or you'll start to weaken the cantilever strength of the shelf. Feel free to make narrower or shorter shelves, as shown below.

The whole job will go a lot smoother if you paint the shelves before you install them. If you intend to paint the room, also do that before you install the shelves because it's a drag to cut around each shelf with a paint brush. Just be sure to sand your wood door with 150-grit sandpaper before you paint. If the surface is still rough and porous after sanding, fill the pores by applying a paste wood filler (like Elmer's wood filler) with a 3-in. drywall knife. Let it dry and sand the surface again.

These shelves are permanent—they're tough to remove! The glue not only makes the shelves strong but also impossible to remove without ruining them. You'll have to cut them in place 2 in. away from the wall with a circular saw to expose the lag screws and then remove the cleats with a wrench. That's unfortunate, but you can always make another set cheaply and easily.

Step by step building instructions

Follow Photos 1-8 for detailed building directions.

Photo 9: Shorter shelves

How to Build Shorter Shelves

Build shorter shelves by cutting the shelf to length. Glue a filler block flush with the end and nail each side with small brad nails.

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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.

    • Hammer
    • Tape measure
    • Circular saw
    • Socket/ratchet set
    • Stud finder
    • Level
    • Glue
    • Straightedge
    • Table saw
    • Wood chisel

40-tooth carbide saw blade

Required Materials for this Project

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

    • 18-in. wide hollow core door
    • 2 x 4 x 8 ft.
    • 1/4-in. x 3-1/2-in. lag screws
    • 1-in. brads
    • Masking tape

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 12 of 12 comments
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July 15, 12:37 PM [GMT -5]

I just moved into a new place and I am very excited to make it "my own".
I love the shelves, but I had a question regarding possible revisions to the shelves.
How do you think the shelves would hold up if I decided to forgo the glue and screwed the shelf to the cleat after the cleat was screwed to the studs?
My primary purpose for the shelves is to create a sort of photo rail that can also hold small trinkets and souvenirs my children and I have collected or made growing up.
Thank you!!

January 04, 1:08 PM [GMT -5]

Love these shelves! I'm thinking about building them for my extensive DVD collection. What I'd like to know, can I build these shelves 10" deep and much longer than the length of the door without having to add supports between shelves?

May 29, 6:13 PM [GMT -5]

My husband and I built 4 shelves out of 2 doors very cheaply. We sanded and painted the edges of the shelves to match the color of our focal wall in our family room The shelves look GREAT and hold a TON of stuff including books!
Thanks for this wonderful project. We Love our shelves :)

February 27, 6:11 AM [GMT -5]

I need a more heavy duty shelf that can hold dishes And has slip so stuff won't slip off edge

February 13, 9:38 AM [GMT -5]

This was a great way to add shelf space to our bedroom. There's now a place to put all the books that had previously been stacked on nightstands. One thing I found out about my house through this project is that the walls are not perfectly smooth, so the shelf did not line up perfectly flat against the wall. To compensate for this, I just used a small bead of painter's caulk around the junction between shelf and wall. Now it looks like a perfect extension of the wall.

December 01, 12:01 AM [GMT -5]

This can work great in a small bedroom. I'' do it.

February 22, 12:56 PM [GMT -5]

I love this idea! I intend to use Ikea 'Lack' shelves for this. The shelves are good looking, inexpensive and finished, but the hardware is not sufficient to hold heavy books. This is just what I was hoping for! I'll let you know how it works out.

September 19, 7:20 PM [GMT -5]

Oh, for the cap, you can use wood or metal. I used both - once an aluminum edge (1/8" x 1.375") and once a wood molding. I screwed both in with decorative screws, which made it easy to remove the cap, and then the lag screws.

And paint/stain before you install.

September 19, 7:18 PM [GMT -5]

I did something similar, but simpler, and it allows for removal.

1. Rip the hollow-core door (7" if used for paperbacks, 9" for hardbacks or other). Note: you can use both long sides of the hollow-core door, giving 13'4" of shelving from one door).
2. Prepare to lag bolt into the wall studs as described. Use lag bolts that will go 2.5 to 3" into the stud (and don't forget to account for sheetrock). I used 5/16 or 3/8" lag bolts. You will also need a washer.
3. Use a Forstener bit to mortise for the lag bolt head and washer. Not too deep.
4. Drill through the mortise in the door for the lag bolt (typically 16" on center, based on your stud locations.
5. Use one of the end lag bolts to mark your first location. (Hold the shelf up to your pre-marked location). Remove the shelf, predrill into the wall for your first lag bolt.
6. Hold up the shelf and use a socket wrench to install the first lag bolt.
7. Put a level on the shelf, and mark the other lag bolt positions.
8. Loosen the lag bolt, let the shelf hang, and predrill the other lag bolt positions in the studs.
9. Re-level the shelf, stick the lag bolts through and get close to tight. You will have some play up or down before you tighten down.
10. Once all are tight, use screws or brads to put a cap over the unfinished door edge and lag bolt heads.

I used this method for bookshelves - they were incredibly strong and didn't move at all, even under the heavy weight of books (but build at your own risk!!!).

July 27, 3:28 PM [GMT -5]

I finished this project a week ago. The shelves came out great! Initially, I was a little concerned about how sturdy they would be, but they're perfect! Thanks for posting this!

June 03, 11:41 AM [GMT -5]

I like the idea. But how would you take the shelves down if you no longer wanted them... short of tearing them apart.

April 23, 2:11 PM [GMT -5]

Very helpfull!!

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How to Build Floating Shelves

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