How to Make Floating Shelves for a Dining Room

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

My next HouseCall takes me to the desert community of Green Valley, Arizona now Charlene white has transported herself there from the mid west.
Her stylish home is surrounded by beautiful vistas. Though there's one view that's a bit barren, her kitchen wall. So we've come up with an off the wall idea that's good looking and practical.

Bracketless shelves, perfect for displaying collectibles.

Hey, Charlene.
CHARLENE:
Hi, Ron.
RON HAZELTON:
How are you? Gosh, we're right in the middle of the desert out here, aren't we?
CHARLENE:
Yes.
RON HAZELTON:
Wow, this is something, cactus and everything. Who's this?
CHARLENE:
This is Juju[?].
RON HAZELTON:
Hi, Juju, want to show me the shelves?
CHARLENE:
Yes. Take a look.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
RON HAZELTON:
Let's see the shelves we're going to make today.
CHARLENE:
Well Ron, this is the  wall. I want to put up some kind of shelving here.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. And what were you thinking about putting on the shelves?
CHARLENE:
A lot of pottery from the Sonoran area.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay, so they're display shelves.
CHARLENE:
Display shelf, yeah.
RON HAZELTON:
All right. So what I'd like to do is to come up with a shelf that's more architectural. It looks like it's more like it's part of the wall.
CHARLENE:
Exactly.
RON HAZELTON:
Creative, free.
CHARLENE:
Free shelf.
RON HAZELTON:
A free shelf, of course.

The idea here is to create shelves with clean lines and no visible supports. To do that, we'll make the shelves like hollow boxes with open backs. Then attach cleats to the wall and slip the shelves over the cleats. Our first step is to determine the layout.

For this, we use painters masking tape to experiment with varying lengths and locations for each shelf.

Okay, so this, this is, this is longer.
CHARLENE:
Right.
[SOT]
RON HAZELTON:
All right, what do you think?
CHARLENE:
Oh Ron, I think we did it. I think we have the design down.
RON HAZELTON:
You know, it wasn't as easy as I thought, getting a free form look you know. But I, I do. I do like this. All right, we'll want to do some measurement now. And then we can start to build these. Let's call them AB, let's call this B.

We designate each shelf with a letter and record its length.
CHARLENE:
Okay, 37 and a half.
RON HAZELTON:
We'll use this to make up a cut list later on.
CHARLENE:
Measure twice and cut once. 37 and three quarters.
RON HAZELTON:
Measure once and cut twice I think it is.
RON HAZELTON:
Measure once, no [LAUGHS].
RON HAZELTON:
What was that again, 37 and a half?
CHARLENE:
No, 37 and three quarters.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
RON HAZELTON:
Three quarters.
CHARLENE:
Well let's measure three times.
RON HAZELTON:
All right, now we haven't said how deep you want these shelves. Is this pretty typical of the size thing you might put up here?
CHARLENE:
At least.
RON HAZELTON:
At least.
CHARLENE:
At least that. Yes.
RON HAZELTON:
All right, so this would require at least 7, probably 7 and a half inches. I don't think I want to go out much beyond ten inches because of the way we're going to design these cantilevered shelves. Do you think ten would work for you?
CHARLENE:
I think that would do it.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay, ten it is then. All right, good.

We're now ready to begin cutting the tops and bottoms of our shelves. Charlene saws the quarter inch thick plywood which comes in large sheets, into ten inch wide strips. Then uses the chop saw to cut the strips to the proper length for each shelf. Very nice.
CHARLENE:
I like it.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. These one by two inch wood strips will give our shelves thickness and create the hollow interior. Our next step is to cut these steps to the correct length. So this is, this is going to be the top of the shelf, right here.
CHARLENE:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
And I'm only going to use one of these. I'm just going to put the other one here for a spacer right now. But step number one is, I want to glue this plywood skin if you will, to the front edge of the shelf. Or I guess we could call that a stringer.
So we'll put some glue down here. After we apply the glue, Charlene staples the skin to the stringer. This type of shelf is very strong, but the sandwich construction leaves the edges looking unfinished. So to cover them, we'll cut strips of wood to length and miter the ends for a finished look, much like a picture frame.

Now these are the trim pieces right here that are going to conceal this edge. Charlene and I glue the trim onto the side of the shelf, making sure the miter is perfectly aligned at the corner. Then we attach it with finish nails.

Next, Charlene applies spackle to the nail holes and fills any gaps between the edge trim and the skin. Then we sand and pain each shelf. While the paint dries, we move back indoors and get ready to mount the cleats to the wall.

These cleats, to which our shelves will be secured, must be attached to wall studs. Charlene uses an electronic stud sensor to locate and mark their position.

Now this is a cleat. We're going to want to attach this to the wall and then eventually we want to attach the shelf to this. Okay. So there's the stud that you marked. I predrilled the hole here for you.
CHARLENE:
All right.
RON HAZELTON:
So go ahead and drive that right into the wall stud now. Great. That, that's great. I mean those wall studs are very dry. That's that squeaking you hear. That's the -- that's the dry wood and the screw trying to go into it.

Charlene attaches the rest of the cleats and we slide the shelves over them, getting a preview of what the finished wall will look like. Looks good.
CHARLENE:
That looks great.
RON HAZELTON:
Looks very good. Okay. All right, now we have to secure them on here.

Because the screws that attach the shelves to the cleats have to be driven into such a tight spot, we fit our drill with a flexible shaft and bit holder. Without this accessory, we couldn't get the drill close enough to the wall.

Before long, Charlene's plain white wall has been transformed into a thing of beauty.
CHARLENE:
Oh, I just love it.
RON HAZELTON:
You know, what, I think this shelf can use one more thing. Charlene did say she wanted shelves for collectibles, right? Well, I'm just putting in my two cents' worth. But I'm sure these shelves will display a wide range of photographic memories and collectible art for years to come.

Make and Install Lightweight Shelves that Seem to Float on the Dining Room Wall without Any Visible Means of Support

Sandwich wooden stringers between pieces of 1/4-inch plywood to make hollow-core shelves that are lightweight but strong. Face the edges with strips of solid wood. Paint the assembled floating shelves for a clean crisp look before mounting them over ledgers fastened to the wall studs for strong but hidden support. Your handiwork is now ready for your artwork!

Determine the Layout for the Floating Shelves
Step 1

Determine the Layout for the Floating Shelves

Experiment with painters tape to determine the desired number of floating shelves, their positions relative to each other and the wall, and their lengths. Our free-form shelves have different lengths but identical widths.

Measure and Record the Chosen Dimensions for Each Floating Shelf
Step 2

Measure and Record the Chosen Dimensions for Each Floating Shelf

Designate each shelf/tape with a letter to identify it from the others. Measure and record the chosen length and width for later use in making a cut list and positioning the constructed floating shelves. These shelves are 10-inches wide.

Rip 1/4-Inch Plywood into 10-Inch Panels of Proper Length
Step 3

Rip 1/4-Inch Plywood into 10-Inch Panels of Proper Length

Use a table saw to rip 1/4-inch plywood into 10-inch wide strips that will form the top and bottom skins for all the hollow floating shelves. Cut the skins/panels to length with a chop saw.

Cut Stringers to Support the Top and Bottom Panels
Step 4

Cut Stringers to Support the Top and Bottom Panels

Cut solid 1- by 2-inch strips to sandwich between the panels and form the floating shelves' hollow core. Each shelf will need two short strips for the sides and one long strip along the front. The back will be open.

Secure Pairs of Top and Bottom Panels to Stringers
Step 5

Secure Pairs of Top and Bottom Panels to Stringers

Glue the front and sides of a top panel/skin to stringers and secure the skin with staples. Secure a bottom skin in the same way, leaving the backs open. Repeat for each floating shelf.

Conceal Edges of the Floating Shelves with Mitered Wooden Trim
Step 6

Conceal Edges of the Floating Shelves with Mitered Wooden Trim

Edge the floating shelves with solid wooden strips mitered to make neat corners. The trim covers the seam where the stringers join the plywood skins. Apply glue and align the miters perfectly before securing them with finishing nails.

Fill Nail Holes and Gaps with Spackling Compound
Step 7

Fill Nail Holes and Gaps with Spackling Compound

Use a putty knife to fill nail holes and gaps along the edge trim with spackling compound. Sand the dry spackling and clean the surface before priming and painting each floating shelf with a small roller.

Attach Cleats to the Wall Studs for Floating Shelves
Step 8

Attach Cleats to the Wall Studs for Floating Shelves

Use an electronic stud sensor to locate and mark the wall studs. Pre-drill pilot holes in the cleats and drive screws through them into the studs for maximum support. The cleats will be covered by the hollow floating shelves.

Install the Floating Shelves over Their Respective Cleats
Step 9

Install the Floating Shelves over Their Respective Cleats

Slide the open back of each floating shelf over its respective cleat. Use a power drill equipped with a flexible shaft and bit holder to drive screws through pilot holes in top of the shelf and into the cleat.

Arrange the Art Objects along the Floating Shelves
Step 10

Arrange the Art Objects along the Floating Shelves

Array your collectibles on the floating shelves, trying different arrangements until you arrive at the perfect balance of size, shape and color.