How to Build a Load Bearing Floating Shelf

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Place books on a floating shelf to decrease the clutter on tabletops.
Place books on a floating shelf to decrease the clutter on tabletops. (Image: Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Decrease the clutter in your living space by moving your interesting items to shelves on the wall. Building your own shelves provides a thrifty way to meet this goal. Instead of boring, classic shelves, create floating shelves which immediately add a trendy note wherever they're placed. Floating shelves have no visible support and seem to "float" on your wall, yet they're extremely strong and can bear heavy loads. Although the project will take time, building your own floating shelves is an inexpensive way to update any room in your home.

Things You'll Need

  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • 18-inch hollow-core, interior door
  • Tape measure
  • 2-by-4 piece of lumber
  • Power drill
  • Lag screws
  • Chisel
  • Sander
  • Wood glue
  • Hammer
  • 1-inch nails

Use the stud finder to locate the studs on the area of wall where you plan to hang your floating shelves. Place masking tape in a line where the studs are located. Draw a straight, horizontal line with a pencil and a level where you want to hang the shelf.

Fit your table saw with a 40-tooth carbide blade for a fluid cut. Attach a straightedge guide to the 18-inch hollow-core door and cut the door in half, lengthwise, with the saw.

Using a tape measure, determine the thickness of the door. This measurement will be about 1 1/4 inches. Using this measurement, cut a 2-by-4 piece of lumber to this thickness for a cleat. Cut the cleats to the exact length of the hollow door you'll use for the shelf.

In the places where the shelf will be over a stud, drill 1/4-inch holes in the studs. Press the cleat over the pencil line and drill through the cleat into the stud with a 1/8-inch bit.

Put a lag screw in the first drilled hole in the cleat and turn it with a wrench until it's tightly held in place. Repeat for each of the drilled holes, placing lag screws in the cleats attaching to the studs. Rest a level on the cleat throughout this step to assure absolute straightness.

Using a wood chisel, cut away the inner cardboard cores within the door. This may be time-consuming but it's important to remove at least 1 3/4 inches of this cardboard from the cut edge of the door so the shelf will fit over the cleat. Take the time to carefully remove the glue with the wood chisel.

Test the shelf by fitting it over the cleat and making sure it is flush against the wall. If there is extra material in the back that is blocking a tight fit, remove it with a sander.

Spread strong wood glue along the top edge of the cleat across the entire length. Apply this same glue to the inside of the shelf on the entire length of the bottom facade. Slide the shelf firmly into place over the cleat. Hold in place for five minutes.

Further strengthen this floating shelf by nailing the shelf to the cleat. Hammer 1-inch nails into the shelf and to the cleat . Space the nails about 7 inches apart across the entire length of the shelf.

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