Build Floating Shelves Like a Pro

Need a weekend project? Look no further than these DIY floating shelves. We've broken the process down into small steps to make building floating shelves easier than ever.

wallpaper pattern and shelves

Minimalist and contemporary, floating wall shelves are a timeless trend. They appear to "float" on the wall with no support, and they bring clean, straight lines into any room. Try a floating shelf in the kitchen to support glassware, or opt for one in the bathroom to store extra linens. 

Floating shelves don't have to be store-bought. You can make your own using MDF and your choice of pine or poplar wood.  It may take some time, but the end result is well worth it. The following tutorial introduces you to DIY shelving and shows you how to build a floating shelf. 

Cute Floating Shelf Ideas

What You Need

  • Pine or poplar wood (see cut list, below)
  • MDF (see cut list, below)
  • Wood glue
  • Clamps
  • Nail gun
  • Carpenter square
  • Drill
  • Screws
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • White paint
  • 4-inch paint roller
  • Wood putty
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Stud finder
  • Pencil

Cut List

  • (6) 3 x 9-1/2 x 1/2-inch MDF
  • (6) 10 x 36 x 1/2-inch MDF
  • (3) 3 x 36 x 1/2-inch MDF
  • (12) 2-7/8 x 8 x 3/4-inch Pine or Poplar
  • (6) 2-7/8 x 34-7/8 x 3/4-inch Pine or Poplar

How to Make Shelf Brackets

Step 1: Build Bracket Frame

gluing boards at right angles

Lay out two 2-7/8x8-inch boards and two 2-7/8x34-7/8 boards to make a rectangle shape. Glue and clamp the two shorter boards to the ends of one of the long boards. Use a carpenter square in the corner to make sure the corners are 90 degrees. Let dry in the clamps, then nail together.

Step 2: Finish Rectangle

making a right angle rectangular box

Glue the final long piece to the "U" shape you just made, making sure to align the edges. Use a carpenter square to make sure the corners are 90 degrees. Clamp, let dry, and nail.

Step 3: Attach Supports

drilling holes in rectangle

Measure 10-5/8 inches from the inside of the short edge of the rectangle and place a 2-7/8x8-inch board. Place the final short piece 10-5/8 inches from the edge of the piece just placed. Glue pieces and clamp. Once dry, nail each support.

How to Build Shelves

Step 1: Build Shelf Frame

clamping wood pieces at a right angle

Take one 3x9-1/2-inch MDF piece and glue to end of 3x36-inch MDF piece to make an "L" shape. Make sure the edges line up and put a carpenter square on the inside of the "L" to make sure it's a 90-degree angle. Clamp pieces together—shifting boards if necessary to make sure the edges stay aligned and maintain a 90-degree corner. Let dry for about 15 minutes.

Step 2: Finish Shelf Frame

drilling holes for screws in wood

Glue another 3x9-1/2-inch MDF piece to the opposite end that you just worked on. Repeat the process of clamping and squaring up. Once the boards have set for 15 minutes, put a nail at top and bottom of each end to secure the boards together. 

How to Turn Cabinets into Floating Shelves

Step 3: Attach Top of Shelf

adding side piece to rectangle

Put a little wood glue on top edges of the "U" shape just created. Place one of the 10x36-inch MDF boards on top of the "U" shape. Align the edges of the boards and make sure the angles stay 90 degrees. Clamp and let sit for 15 minutes, then put a nail through the top corners into the boards below to secure. 

Step 4: Attach Bottom of Shelf

drilling corner holes

Flip over the structure and repeat the above step with a second 10x36-inch MDF board. This will leave all but one end of the rectangle closed. Once the bottom board is attached, the shelf structure is complete. 

Step 5: Sand and Paint

sanding boards

Sand all sides of the shelf exterior and any edges that aren't quite aligned. Wipe away sawdust with a tack cloth, then prime and paint or stain the floating shelf in your desired shade. Repeat the priming and painting process until you've reached your desired coverage. Let the shelves dry completely before installing on your wall. 

How to Hang Floating Shelves

DIY floating shelves final install

Once you've built both the exterior shelf and the interior bracket, it's time to hang your floating shelf. First, find and mark your wall studs. Then, mark a level line where you want the shelves to go. Drill pilot holes through the bracket and drill into your wall studs. Finally, slide the floating shelf onto the wall bracket and secure with screws. 

Get the full instructions for how to hang floating shelves.

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