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  • Writer's pictureAmanda

How to Build Simple Floating Shelves

Is it just me or does everyone have that one room or closet or drawer or corner in their home that just riddles them with anxiety? For me, that is my guest room. The space is so tiny to begin with, so everything we put in there just makes it look chaotic and messy and stressful. I’m not talking hoarders levels of stress, but enough mess that I am always sad to have guests stay in there.

One of the biggest reasons the space feels so cramped is that we flanked the guest bed on either side with Ikea Billy bookcases with extensions on top. Now don’t get me wrong, Billies are great and have served me well. They are the perfect solution when you need storage on the cheap. But as my Ikea days continue to wind down, they just felt like a total eyesore taking up too much space, and they've prevented me from getting matching nightstands.

So one night, while lamenting how much anxiety this room induces, my boyfriend had a brilliant idea to move that storage to above our door frames in the hallway. Not out of sight, but certainly out of mind and way cuter and unique feeling than an Ikea Billy. I knew I wanted to create a floating shelf because the door frames in this part of the hallway wouldn’t allow for brackets. So I put together these super simple L-shaped floating shelves for under $100, and I just love how they turned out!

Enough already! Just give me the download!

STEP 1: Measure your space.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Measure your space several times before making any cuts! I decided to create a U-shape with three separate shelves meeting at a miter joint. I mapped out the length of each piece and the angles where the shelves would meet.

STEP 2: Buy your wood

I used 1inx8in pine boards for the base of the shelf. Because I was building one 3 ft shelf, one 4 ft shelf, and one 6.5 ft shelf, I bought:

  • 2 1in x 8in x 8ft pine boards, one for the shorter shelves and one for the longer

In order to create a lip for the shelves to adhere to the wall, you’ll also need to buy ½ in x 2 in boards. Just make sure you buy enough to run the length of your shelves. In my case, I needed to make sure I had at least 14 ft of these smaller boards.

That’s all you’ll need in terms of lumber. That said, there are a lot of really cute trim options that can add a bit of character to your shelves. I wanted mine to feel a bit Spanish-inspired, so I decided on this simple dentil moulding.

STEP 3: Cut Your Wood

I decided to have my shelves meet at a miter joint, but if you don’t own a miter saw, no big deal. You could easily have your shelves meet edge to edge in a simple butt joint (haha butts). And if you’re only building one shelf, no need to worry about joints at all! I’ve mapped out the difference below. If you aren’t using a miter saw, you can have the folks at Home Depot or Lowe’s make the cuts for you for free.

If you are using a miter saw, just remember you should set your saw at whatever angle you need subtracted from 90 degrees. So if you need a 46 degree cut, set your saw to 44 degrees. And if your home is anything like mine, don’t assume your walls meet at a 90 degree angle. I made this mistake and had to completely remake one of the shelves. You can buy a simple digital angle finder like this one to get a more accurate measurement.

You’ll also need to cut the back edge pieces and your trim (if you’re using any) to length. The back edge pieces will need to run the full back edge of your shelves, while the trim will be shorter as it will only be on the front edge of your shelves.

STEP 4: Glue and Drill

When putting the actual shelves together, I prefer to glue them together first with wood glue. This helps everything stay in place when I’m drilling later and also just adds another layer of security. You can fix the back pieces to the base of the shelf in two ways.

  1. You can adhere the back piece to the back of the shelf. This will make your shelves stick out a bit farther but drilling into place is a bit easier.

  2. You can adhere the back piece to the top of the shelf. This won’t make your shelves stick out any farther but takes away from the shelf’s overall depth.

I chose to adhere them on top of the shelf because I didn’t want the shelves to stick out any farther than they needed to. Since these were going above a door frame, I thought it might make them a bit crowded.

Once the glue has dried, drill pilot holes every 4-6 inches down the entire length of the shelf. Then using 1.5-2 in wood screws, screw the back piece into place. I used 2.5 inch screws which was super aggressive and unnecessary. You can stick to shorter.

If you’re not used to drilling, a good rule of thumb is that your drill bit should be slightly slimmer than your screws. Hold them side-by-side and look at them point on. Your drill bit should be slightly slimmer.

Once the back pieces are in place, glue your trim to the front of the shelf. Glue is enough to hold the trim on there, but if you’d prefer you could always use a couple finishing nails to keep it in place.

STEP 5: Stain or Paint

You can finish your shelves however you’d like. Like I said, I wanted mine to feel Spanish-colonial-inspired, so I did a nice dark wood stain. I’m partial to AFM Safecoat stains. They are super low-odor and plant-based. They can be a bit hard to find locally, but worth the hunt!

STEP 6: Hang That Shit!

This was by far the most exciting part of this project. Because these shelves were going to be holding lots of books, I was very diligent to get these guys into the studs. Because they are hanging above several doorframes the studs were in an odd pattern, so I relied heavily on my stud finder. After marking the studs on each wall, I drilled two pilot holes into each stud and screwed the shelves in place.

If you’re having trouble finding studs or want to just add some extra security, these toggle bolts are super simple to use and hold up to 80 pounds each. I have two TVs and a range hood mounted with them and have never had an issue.

Then I added the books, and I was done! I’m so excited to have both given this random hallway some purpose and to get rid of those Ikea Billies. I seriously can’t wait to give the guest room a facelift now.

Download the easy how-to guide.

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