How to Build a Recessed Wall Shelf

This is your next weekend project. Use our tips to build a storage shelf recessed right into your wall.

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A recessed shelf is ideal for a small space, such as a narrow hallway or bathroom wall. Perfect for holding hair product bottles or decor accents, this shelf sits right in the wall so it doesn't protrude into the limited space of the room. While this project may seem like a job for a professional, you can bet that it's completely doable with the right tips and tools. Follow along with our instructions to check this weekend project off your to-do list. 

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What You Need:

  • Stud finder
  • Measuring tape
  • Drywall saw
  • Small mirror
  • Flashlight
  • Small sheet board 15-1/2 x 14-1/2 inches
  • Craft board 13 x 15-1/2 inches
  • Power drill
  • Screws
  • Wood glue
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • Wood putty 
  • Putty knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain or paint
  • Paintbrush

Step 1: Make an Inspection Hole

Locate studs. Make an inspection hole to ensure your placement is not interfering with electrical, HVAC, or plumbing.

To do this, choose a small section (3 x 3 inches) of wall between studs where you want your shelf to go. Use a drywall saw to cut out a square while holding the saw at a 45-degree angle. (This will prevent the piece from falling into the wall.) Place a pocket-size mirror into the hole and use a flashlight to look for any obstructions in the way of where you want your recessed shelf to sit.

Step 2: Cut Drywall

Measure how high you'd like to make your shelf (we made ours 16 x 16 inches). Use the drywall saw to cut out drywall between studs. Remove drywall and set aside.

Step 3: Build Box Sides

Cut small sheet board and craft board to dimensions of interior shelf. This should include a back to the shelf, 4-inch-deep sides, and a 1- to 2-inch lip to go around the shelf. The lip frames should be cut at a 45-degree angle. 

Begin by building the sides of the shelf. Position the side boards to form a square, and use two clamps to hold the structure together. With a pencil, make marks for two screws at each corner. Use a power drill to make pilot holes, followed by the screws. 

Step 4: Attach Shelf Back

Line the sides of the shelf with wood glue as shown above. Place the cut craft board directly on top of the box structure and press down. Let dry. 

Step 5: Screw Back Side

Once glue is dry, drill one screw in the middle of each side. First, measure and mark 3/8 inch from the edge. Drill pilot holes followed by screws. Set aside.

Step 6: Build Shelf Lip

Use wood glue to press the corners of the shelf lip together. Let dry. 

Step 7: Attach Shelf Lip

Line the shelf structure with wood glue, and place the shelf lip directly on top. Press down and let dry.

Use a hammer and finishing nails to secure the lip to the shelf as shown above. Use two nails per side. 

Step 8: Apply Putty

Apply wood putty to all seams in the shelf using a flat putty knife. Let dry. Sand away excess putty until smooth. 

Stain and paint shelf, if desired. 

Step 9: Insert Shelf

Carefully place shelf into drywall hole. Attach shelf to wall studs by drilling pilot holes and screws into the sides of the shelf. There should be two on each stud-facing side. 

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