When I shared these floating shelves in the girls’ bathroom reveal (that were a last-minute addition by the way), you all went crazy for them and begged me for instructions. It’s been months since I built those, and I wanted to give you a tutorial on how to build floating shelves, but until our recent office makeover, I haven’t had the opportunity to build any more. This time around I wasn’t in such a rush to get them done, so I remembered to take some photos along the way in the hopes that they might help you see the process and give you the confidence to build these yourself. Because you all have been so patient and have waited for so long for this tutorial, I’ll just get right into it.
How to Build Floating Shelves
- 3/4″ maple or oak plywood (the good stuff) ripped down to the length and depth you need OR 1×6″, 1×8″ or 1×12″ poplar boards (or whatever species of wood you like…I used poplar)
- 1×2″ pine boards for the inside support
- 1×4″ poplar or maple boards for the front face (or whatever species you prefer)
- 1/4″ extra thin maple plywood for the underside of the shelf
- nail gun and nails
- air compressor
- Natural Oak staining cloths by Minwax
- Provincial stain by Minwax
- Briarsmoke stain by Varathane
- latex gloves
- Deft Acrylic in satin
- 2″ fine bristle paint brush
- table saw (or have the hardware store rip the large plywood sheets down for you)
- miter saw
- stud finder
- pencil or pen
- wood filler
- 220 grit sanding block or electric sander with sand paper
Step 1 (Placement): Determine the height you want your shelves to sit on the wall.
Step 2 (Measure): Measure the length and depth you need your shelves to be (I’ve done 6″, 8″, and 17″ depths).
Step 3 (Find and Mark Studs): Use a stud finder to mark where your studs are on the wall.
Step 4 (Cut Down the Support Boards): Use your miter saw to cut down the 1×2 pine board to the length of the wall and the depth of the shelf (3 pieces in total). The 1×2 piece that will support the back of the shelf does NOT need to be the full length of the wall…it can be shorter than the wall as long as you have room to attach it to the studs (see above photo). The side pieces need to extend exactly as far as the depth of the shelf because you will be attaching the front face board to the side pieces. I know I did not do this in the above photo but those 1×2 supports were already on the wall so I had to get creative (see photo below).
Step 5 (Attach Support Boards to Wall): Use your nail gun to attach the back 1×2 support to the studs in the wall, leveling as you go (for extra support, use screws where the studs are). Then use your level to determine where your side supports need to be placed (unless you measured and marked, which I never do) and attach them to the studs in the side walls. Now you have your full support for the shelf.
Step 6 (Cut Your Lumber Down): If you had Lowe’s or Home Depot rip down a sheet of 3/4″ plywood to the length and depth you need for the tops of your shelves, then you can skip to Step 7. If you brought home full-length 1×6″, 1×8″, or 1×12″ boards for the tops, use your chop saw or table saw to chop them down to the length you need (depth is whatever depth board you purchased…6″, 8″, or 12″). Repeat this step for the front trim boards (1×4″ trim piece) and 1/4″ maple plywood for the undersides as well.
Step 7 (Sand): I’ve created shelves with and without sanding. I think this step really depends on how you’re using your shelves. I do prefer the sanded wood, especially after stain and sealer because they’re super smooth, but when they’re just decorative shelves, you can totally get away with not sanding.
Step 8 (Stain Top Side, Underside, and Fronts): First use a Minwax Natural Oak staining cloth to fully cover the board on top (no need to waste stain on the bottom or sides). Wipe and let dry. Repeat this step on the front trim pieces (stain front and sides) and the underside pieces (stain only one side).
Step 9 (Layer the Stains): Layer the Varathan Briarsmoke stain onto all the pieces you just used the Natural Oak stain on, but be sure to WIPE OFF IMMEDIATELY. All you want to do is add a light layer of the grayish/black color, so don’t let it sit on the wood. Apply it, then wipe it off. Repeat this with the Minwax Provincial stain color…apply, then wipe off immediately. This was the process I used and I LOVE the color I ended up with. Let dry.
Step 10 (Attach Top Board): Set the top board onto the support boards and use your nail gun to nail it to the supports around the outer edges.
Step 11 (Attach Front Trim Piece): Use your nail gun to attach the front trim piece to the top piece and side supports, making sure the top of the front trim piece is level with the top of the shelf (see below).
Step 12 (Add Extra Support to the Front): Because the 1/4″ plywood you’ll use for the underside is very pliable, it tends to sag down in the front even after you attach it to the side and back support pieces (I would know because this is what happened to me). So before you begin to add that underside piece, you need to attach another 1×2″ support piece to the back side of the front trim piece at the same height as the side and back support pieces so you can attach all four edges of the underside 1/4″ plywood to the support pieces (see photo below).
*Note: I did not measure where to put that extra 1×2″ front support. I simply eyeballed it because you only need a little lip on that underside for the 1/4″ plywood to grab onto.
Step 13 (Attach Underside): You should end up with a little lip on the underside that’s just the right fit for the 1/4″ plywood to give the look of a solid chunky shelf. Simply place your 1/4″ plywood piece up into that underside of the shelf so that it touches all of the support pieces and the front part of the plywood is tucked up under the front trim piece. Use your nail gun to attach it to the side, back, and front 1×2″ support pieces.
Step 14 (Fill Holes): Use wood filler to fill in any nail holes and then use one Minwax Natural Oak staining cloth to lightly apply some stain to each hole you filled. Wipe off excess.
Step 15 (Seal Each Shelf): Use a 2″ fine bristle paint brush to apply Deft Acrylic in Satin to the shelves. It’s up to you if you choose to apply one or two coats, but you need to seal your shelves in order to preserve their beauty and avoid scratches or discoloration down the road.
Step 16 (Style Your New Shelves): Have fun with the styling and/or organizing your shelves and pat yourself on the back because now you know how to build floating shelves!
Now that I’ve taught you how to build floating shelves, I would love to see your finished project if you decide to create these. If you follow me on Instagram, share a photo of your shelves and tag @wildflowerhomeblog or use hashtag #inspiredbywildflowerhome so I can see your handy work! I know you can do this and I look forward to seeing lots of these shelves “floating” around out there.