Published June 14, 2019 | Last Updated May 16, 2020
Learn how to build floating shelves in this easy, step-by-step tutorial. Building these floating shelves requires minimal tools and skill, but adds loads of charm!
When I shared these floating shelves in the girls’ bathroom reveal, you all went crazy for them and begged me for instructions. It’s been months since I built those, and I haven’t had the opportunity to build more until our recent office makeover. This time around I wasn’t in such a rush to get them done, so I remembered to take some photos along the way for this post. Building floating shelves is a very easy project, and I hope this tutorial gives you the confidence to try it in your own home.
How to Build Floating Shelves
- 3/4″ plywood (the good stuff) ripped down to the length and depth you need
- 1×2″ pine boards for the inside support
- 1×4″ boards for the front face
- 1/4″ extra thin maple plywood for the underside of the shelf
- Natural Oak staining cloths by Minwax
- Provincial stain by Minwax
- Briarsmoke stain by Varathane
- latex gloves
- Deft Acrylic in satin
- wood filler
- 220 grit sanding block or electric sander with sand paper
- nail gun and nails
- air compressor
- 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
Note: If you are wanting to build floating shelves that do not have walls on either side, this is not the tutorial for you. That’s a whole other type of build, and this process will not work.
Preparation for Floating Shelves
The closet in our office had really old shelving that I ripped out. I left the support pieces though because I liked the placement of each shelf, and this was one less step for me. Plus, the way I build floating shelves, the bottom is completely covered, so these old support pieces will never be seen.
When building floating shelves, you have to account for the finished 4-inch thickness of them. If you don’t factor that in, they could be too close together for your liking.
Support Pieces for Floating Shelves
When you’re ready to install your support pieces (the 1×2’s), keep in mind they do not have to be exactly as long or as wide as the finished shelf. You just need enough length to nail and/or screw them into studs. Also, the front of the side supports must be flush with the front of the plywood. You’ll be mounting the front piece onto this portion and you need it to have more surface area.
The existing supports in this closet were a tad too short for my shelves, so I just added a small piece to make everything flush.
Ripping Down Plywood
Any time I need to purchase a large 4’x8′ sheet of plywood for a project, I have Lowe’s rip it down for me. I do have a table saw, but it’s hard to work such a large piece of wood, and I can’t transport that big of item in my vehicle. If you are building smaller floating shelves, you probably won’t need them to do this for you, but know that it is an option.
The nice thing about coming home with shelf pieces already cut is that if I need to shave off a little on the sides or front, it’s a much smaller piece of wood for me to work with.
Staining Floating Shelves
At this point in the building process, one side of each piece gets a good sanding with 220 grit paper (only sand the sides that will be exposed). Then I stain the sides that will be exposed. To do this, I layer three stains.
- Minwax Natural Oak staining cloth
- Varathane Briarsmoke
- Minwax Provincial stain
Remember to do this before you install all the pieces.
Building Floating Shelves
Once all that prep work is done, assembling these shelves is fairly easy. I simply set the top piece onto my 1×2 supports and nail them in a with a nail gun.
Then I attach the front 1×4 trim piece and nail along the top and sides.
After that, I attach another 1×2 piece on the back side of the front trim piece as extra support for the underside. Essentially, the underside is being mounted upside down, so it tends to sag in the front if it’s not nailed in.
Finally, I pop the bottom piece up into the underside of the floating shelf and nail it in to the front, sides and back 1×2 support pieces.
*Note: I did not measure where to put that extra 1×2″ front support. You only need a little lip on that underside for the 1/4″ plywood to grab onto, so I eyeballed it and it worked great.
The floating shelves are now completed and ready for wood filler and a protective sealer. My favorite one is Deft Acrylic in satin finish.
Make sure to dab the nail holes with a tiny amount of stain after the wood filler is dry and before you apply Deft.
Finish Floating Shelves
I use a paint brush to apply the Deft because I need to cut in along the edges, and I don’t like taping off if I don’t absolutely have to. It’s pretty self-leveling and dries to a nice smooth finish.
Have fun styling and/or organizing your shelves, and pat yourself on the back because now you know how to build floating shelves!
Ripping Down Plywood
Sanding and Staining
Building Floating Shelves
Finishing the Shelves
Other rooms I’ve built floating shelves for:
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