How to Make Cheap Shelves


It seems like there are never enough shelves, but there are usually options for adding them. They don't have to be expensive -- just efficient -- and almost nothing is more affordable than particleboard for shelf building. Home supply stores have shelves and bracket systems for cheap shelves. Install them where you need them in about an hour with basic tools.

Things You'll Need

  • Stud finder
  • Shelf standards
  • Drill/driver
  • 1/8-inch drill bit
  • 3-inch screws
  • Level
  • Shelf brackets
  • Particleboard, 3/4-by-10-by-96 inches
  • Circular saw
  • 1 1/4-inch flathead screws
  • 3/16-inch drill bit
  • Pine boards, 3/4-by-3 1/2-by-96 inches
  • 1 1/2-inch screws

Bare Wall

  • Run a stud finder along the wall to locate the wall studs. Mark each one on the wall where you wish to place the top shelf.

  • Position one shelf standard on the wall, centering the predrilled screw hole nearest the top of the standard on the first stud mark. Insert a finish nail in the hole and make a divot in the drywall with the nail. Remove the standard. Use a drill/driver and 1/8-inch bit to drill a pilot hole in the wall, drilling into the stud.

  • Center the standard over the hole. Insert a 3-inch screw in the drilled hole in the standard. Partially drive in the screw the drill/driver, leaving it a little loose so the standard can pivot from side to side.

  • Place a level vertically alongside the standard and adjust it so it's plumb (perfectly vertical). Drill another pilot hole through the bottom hole in the standard and fasten it tight with a 3-inch screw, then tighten the top screw to permanently secure the standard.

  • Hook a metal shelf bracket into the wall-mounted standard, and hook another bracket into an additional standard. Place the second standard onto the wall so it is centered over the next stud, about 16 inches away, for heavy-duty shelves. For light-duty shelves you may be able to skip one stud and place the standard at 32 inches, depending on how much support you need. Place a level across both horizontal shelf brackets to level both standards together. Plumb and anchor the second standard as with the first.

  • Repeat Steps 3, 4, and 5 for each additional standard, depending on the length of the shelf.

  • Cut the first shelf to the desired length from a piece of 3/4-by-10-by-96-inch particleboard, using a circular saw. Place the shelf on top of the brackets.

  • Drill pilot holes and secure the shelf with 1 1/4-inch (or as needed) flathead screws driven up through the holes in the brackets and into the shelf. Be careful not to drill completely through the shelf, and make sure the screws are not long enough to penetrate the top shelf surface when fully driven.

  • Add additional brackets and shelves as needed below the top shelf.


  • Draw a level line across the back and side walls, 3/4 inch below the desired finished shelf height. For example, if you want the shelf surface to be 60 inches above the floor, draw the line at 59-1/4 inches.

  • Run a stud finder along the back and side walls, and mark each stud just above the level line.

  • Measure and cut one 3/4-by-3 1/2-by-96 inch piece of pine for each wall, using a circular saw or miter saw. Position each piece against the wall so its top edge is on the level line, then transfer the stud locations onto the board. Remove the board and drill pilot holes through the board at each mark, using a 3/16-inch bit.

  • Install each board onto the wall with 3-inch screws. The top edges of the boards should be flush with the level line.

  • Measure the distance across the back of the closet and subtract 1/4 inch. Cut the shelf to this length from a piece of 3/4-by-10-by-96-inch particleboard, using a circular saw. Reducing the shelf length by 1/4 inch prevents the shelf from binding when you install it.

  • Place the shelf on top of the pine boards. Drill pilot holes down through the shelf with a 3/16-inch bit, 3/8 inch from the edges and spaced 8 inches apart. Drive 1 1/2-inch screws into the holes to secure the shelf to the boards.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use laminated medium-density fiberboard for an updated shelf that's also affordable. It has a slick, durable plastic coating on both sides that's easy to clean.
  • If there's no way to install shelves to wall studs, use heavy-duty hollow-wall anchors, such as toggle bolts, to secure the shelf supports to drywall. Check the manufacturer's weight ratings for the anchors before installing them and plan accordingly.
  • The measurements for particleboard and shelf standards are an example. Purchase them in the sizes needed, if possible.

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  • Photo Credit Steve Gorton/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images
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