How to Build Floating Shelves Like a Pro

Build these DIY floating shelves in just one weekend with these simple step-by-step instructions.

close-up white shelves above bar
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 8 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

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.

See more simple weekend projects in this basement makeover.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Table saw
  • 1 Clamps
  • 1 Nail gun
  • 1 Carpenter's square
  • 1 Cordless drill
  • 1 Sandpaper
  • 1 4-inch paint roller
  • 1 Putty knife
  • 1 Tape measure
  • 1 Level
  • 1 Stud finder
  • 1 Pencil

Materials

  • 4 1x8x96-inch pine board
  • 2 1/2x48x96-inch MDF
  • 1 Pine wood, see cut list below
  • 1 MDF, see cut list below
  • 1 Wood glue
  • 1 Brad nails
  • 1 Primer
  • 1 White paint
  • 1 Screws
  • 1 Wood putty

Instructions

  1. Make Cuts

    Cuts
    Piece Dimensions Quantity
    Bracket Frame Sides, small 2-7/8x8x3/4-inch Pine 12
    Bracket Frame Sides, Long 2-7/8x34-7/8x3/4-inch Pine 6
    Shelf Frame Sides, Short 3x9-1/2x1/2-inch MDF 6
    Shelf Frame Sides, Long 3x36x1/2-inch MDF 3
    Shelf Top and Bottom Board 10x36x1/2-inch MDF 6
  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    Related: How to Use a Nail Gun

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Hang Floating Shelves

    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.

    Related: How to Hang Floating Shelves

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