The Right Way to Install a Simple Floating Shelf

The Right Way to Install a Simple Floating Shelf
Photo: jenhde, Shutterstock

If you’ve got an alcove, corner, or otherwise awkward empty space in a room that needs a little extra storage or decorative touch, the best solution may be a simple floating shelf. Floating shelves are cost-effective to make — and are fairly easy to install — and they can finish off a space that needs a little something.

The tools you’ll need to make a floating shelf

You’ll need to get some tools — and your self material — ready for the job. For the tools, gather together a saw, screws, a drill with a pre-drill bit, and a Phillips head bit, a level, a hammer, and some finish nails (or a pneumatic finish nailer), and a tape measure. A stud finder will also come in handy.

For your shelf material, choose use a board that is no more than ¾ of an inch thick by whatever depth you want your shelf to be. In addition, you’ll need a trim piece for the edge of your shelf that’s one inch by two or three inches, as well as a narrower piece of wood to use as a nailing strip for your shelf (that’s not bigger than one inch by ¾ of an inch).

How to measure your shelf parts

To start, measure the space where you want to hang your shelf. For a three-sided space, like a closet or alcove, you will need to attach your nailing strip to the studs of the wall at the height you wish to place your shelf. Measure out your height and mark in pencil on the wall on all three sides.

Next, measure your nailing strip to about two and a half inches shorter than the sides and width of your shelf, cutting one for each end of the shelf and one for the back edge. For a corner shelf, you’ll need one nailing strip for each side of your shelf. Measure the width of your space, and cut your shelf to fit. For a corner shelf, you’ll need to cut your shelf board to make a 45/45/90-degree triangle. To check that your shelf is level, place it on top of your nailing strips, and use your level on the top surface.

Install your trim

Now you’re ready to measure and cut your trim. Measure the edge of your shelf and cut your trim to match. If you’re making a corner shelf, you’ll need to cut the end of your trim at a 45 degree angle to match the edge of your shelf. Make sure your trim is smooth along the edges so it will look clean and finished once it’s installed. Lastly, nail your shelf down to your nailing strips, and nail your trim to the edge of your shelf. Your shelves can now be finished with paint or stain.

Use a bracket

If you’re installing a shelf straight out from the wall with no support from the sides, there is some hardware you can use to make things easier. There are many types of brackets, but a sturdy and simple option is a single peg metal bracket that comes with the screws and anchors needed to attach it. Attach your brackets to your wall where there is a stud — making sure to check that they are level — and then measure and cut your nailing strip to fit between the brackets, and attach it to the wall so the top edge of the strip is even with the top of the brackets.

Then, place your shelf board on top of your brackets and nail it down to the nailing strip. To measure your trim, cut your side pieces first to the depth of the shelf and nail them on. Then, measure the total width of the front of your shelf (with the side trim included), and cut your front piece of trim to match. Nail your front trim to the edge of your shelf, and you’ve got yourself a floating shelf.

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