How to Build Floating Shelves

Strong, quick to build, no visible supports and made from only two parts

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

TIME

One day

COMPLEXITY

Simple

COST

Under $20

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.

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Step by step building instructions

Follow Photos 1-8 for detailed building directions.

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.

Photo 9: Shorter shelves
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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