Make a rustic floating shelf display out of reclaimed barnwood. The secret to making it float? An invisible bracket built from inexpensive lumber.
dark gray frame sitting on farmhouse shelf

Floating shelves often read contemporary, but when you make them out of barnwood, they fit right in with rustic and farmhouse decor. Use their knotted whorls and natural grain pattern as a backdrop to show off artwork, family photos, or antiques, or simply use them as stylish additional storage. Our floating shelf is 36 inches (3 feet) long, but you can adjust the measurements to suit your space. You can also build a set of stacking shelves; just measure and mark an equal distance between them on the wall for hanging.

  • Working time 5 hrs
  • Start to finish 2 days
  • Difficulty Kind of Easy
  • Involves Nailing, Sanding, Sealing, Drilling

What you need


How to do it

Part 1

nail boards farmhouse coffee table frame
Step 1

Build the Shelf Bracket

Cut the pine or poplar boards to size according to the cut list. Form a rectangle with the two 2-7/8 x 8-inch boards and two 2-7/8 x 34-7/8 boards. Check if the corners are 90 degrees with a carpenter's square. Glue and clamp together, let dry, then use a nail gun to secure. Finish by attaching two supports. Measure 10-5/8 inches in from the short edge of the rectangle and place a 2-7/8 x 8-inch board. Place the final short piece 10-5/8 inches from the opposite edge. Glue, clamp, let dry, and pin each support into place with a nail gun.

Download a diagram of the shelf measurements.
How to Use Wood Clamps
Play Video
How to Use Wood Clamps

Different types of wood clamps require a slightly different technique.

Step 2

Prep Barnwood

The imperfections of reclaimed barn boards are part of their charm. However, because they've been sitting outside for years, you'll need to clean them before putting them to use. When shopping for barnwood, ask whether it has been kiln-dried and the nails have been removed. Dried boards will help reduce moisture issues. The drying process also kills any insects hiding in the wood—you don't want any unwelcome surprises when you bring the boards home! And if the boards still have nails, you'll have to tear them out yourself, which can be a time-consuming job. It's also wise to sand the edges of the boards so they won't be splintery.

Once you have dry, nail-free, sanded boards, use a bristle brush to scrape off dirt and dust. You can also use a vacuum to pick up debris. If needed, an air compressor can help get rid of any remaining grime. Aim to use as little water as possible when cleaning barnwood as too much water can alter the appearance of or damage aged wood. Let the boards dry fully after any application of water.

When the barnwood is all cleaned up, seal it with a water-based clear coat to protect your shelves from wear and tear. Test the sealer in an inconspicuous spot first, such as the underside of the shelf boards, to make sure it doesn't change the surface to an undesired color. Let dry completely.

use carpenters square to attach board
secure skirt board to farmhouse coffee table
securing top board to coffee table
Step 3

Make Barnwood Shelf Box

Glue a 3 x 9-1/2-inch piece of barnwood to the end of a 3 x 36-inch piece to form an "L" shape. Use a carpenter's square to check that the pieces line up at a 90-degree angle on the inside corner. Clamp the two pieces together, adjusting if needed to maintain the 90-degree angle. Let dry for 15 minutes. Glue another short piece to the opposite end of the long board and repeat the process of verifying the angle and clamping for 15 minutes. After this setting time, use a nail gun to drive nails into each corner for extra security. You should now have a long "U" shape.

Run a bead of glue along the top edges of the "U" shape. Carefully set one of the 10 x 36-inch boards on top. Be sure to line up all the board edges and verify corner angles before pressing down. Again, clamp and set for 15 minutes, then use a nail gun to secure the top corners to the bottom boards. Flip the shelf over and repeat this process with another 10 x 36-inch barnboard. You will now have a box with one open side.

attaching frame to wall for DIY floating shelves
Step 4

Locate Wall Studs and Hang

Your shelf will be fairly heavy, so it's important that you hang it on studs to prevent damage or injury. Of course, you could use L-shaped shelf brackets underneath for support, but to achieve a true floating look, the ladder frame you built in step one will provide a secure base for your shelf. First, figure out where you want to hang your shelf. Use a stud finder to locate the nearest studs in the area. Your stud finder will light up when it detects a stud, allowing you to find them easily. Mark stud locations, then use a level to mark a horizontal line the length of your shelf bracket on the wall at your desired location.

Measure the locations of the wall studs along your line. Measure and mark those same spots on the shelf ladder bracket. Drill pilot holes to make hanging easier, then screw the bracket into the wall at the marked stud locations. Enlist someone to help hold the other end of the shelf while you drill, if needed. Once the bracket is attached, slip the barnwood floating shelf over the ladder base. To prevent it from sliding off, drive screws into each corner where the bracket and shelf meet.

how to use a stud finder
Play Video
How to Use a Stud Finder

Watch a demonstration of how to use a stud finder.

    Comments (2)

    How difficult was this project?
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    February 19, 2019
    I love madgic90574's idea! There's nothing wrong with saving time and potential headaches and everything right with coming out with the same end product! Smart thinking at its best.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    August 22, 2018
    I am slightly ashamed to say we took the lazy way out; we bought an Ikea "Lack" floating shelf and covered it with reclaimed wood. Done in an hour. But congratulations to those who will work so hard to save maybe $5.

    Project Toolbar

    Font Size