How To Make Plywood Shelves

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For a simple set of shelves, you might try using 3/4-inch plywood on top of metal shelf brackets. This type of shelving is both economical to build, and the shelves are quite functional once they are built. In this project, each shelf gets a small strip of wood underneath that enhances both the strength and appearance of the shelves. The following information will explain how to build plywood shelves and then install them on top of metal shelf brackets.

Things You'll Need

  • 3/4-inch interior grade plywood- one side sanded
  • Saw horses
  • Safety glasses
  • Circular saw
  • Tape measure
  • Chalk line
  • Framing square
  • Flathead wood screws (No. 10 gage 1-1/4 inches long)
  • Electric drill
  • Drill bits
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Sandpaper
  • Orbital or palm sander
  • Magnetic stud finder
  • Four foot level
  • Pencil
  • 20 ounce framing hammer
  • No. 12 common nails
  • Round head screws ( 8 gauge 1 1/2 inches and 3/4 inches in length )
  • Countersink bit

How To Make Plywood Shelves

  • Locate the wall studs with a magnetic stud finder. Make sure you locate every stud, and then mark the center of the stud with a vertical pencil line using the 4-foot level as a straight edge. Check your marks by driving a No. 12 common nail into the stud with a framing hammer.

  • Mark the height of each shelf with a horizontal line across the the area where the shelf will go. Using the 4-foot level as a guide, draw one level line at the desired height for your first shelf. Make sure that you continue the line for the entire length of the shelf.

  • Install one metal bracket in the center of the two end studs. Make sure the top of each metal bracket is flush with the pencil line.

  • Hold one of the metal support brackets in place. Make sure it is lined up on one of the studs, and then hold the metal piece so that the top of the bracket is flush with the horizontal line that you made in Step 3. Next, mark the locations of the holes in the bracket along one of the vertical lines that are scribed on the wall to mark the center of a stud.

  • Pull the bracket away and predrill each hole with a pilot bit. Then, put the bracket back in place, and insert a 1-1/2 inch round head screw into each hole. Do this for just two brackets, and make sure each bracket is at the outside edge of where the shelf will be located.

  • Cut the plywood to size. The length will be the distance between the two end brackets plus 8 inches. The width will be the horizontal length of the shelf bracket plus 1 inch. For example, if the shelf brackets are exactly 6 inches across and 72 inches apart on the wall, then the piece of plywood will be cut at a size of 80 inches by 7 inches. Use a chalk line to mark the length of the shelf and a framing square and pencil to mark the width.This cutting can be done with a circular saw on a pair of saw horses.

  • Cut three pieces of 1-by-2 (1-by-3 can also be used) lumber to go as underneath support pieces. Cut one at 80 inches and two pieces at 6-1/4 inches in length. Lightly sand each piece after they are cut.

  • Drill pilot holes in the top of the plywood shelf. Do this at exactly 3/8 of an inch from the outside edge. Place the holes along one long side and both short ends of the plywood at an interval of 6 to 8 inches. Then, go back and countersink each hole.

  • Attach the plywood to the top of the cut 1-by-2s with the 1-1/4 inch flat-head wood screws. Make sure the 1-by-2 is flush with the outside edges of the plywood. Drive the screws with an electric screw driver. (Note: you might have to predrill through the existing holes of the plywood and into the top of the 1-by-2 first )

  • Set the finished shelf on top of the brackets, and slide it tight against the wall. Adjust the plywood so that each side overhangs the end bracket by an equal amount.

  • Drill pilot holes through the existing holes in the metal brackets and into the bottom of the plywood, and then insert the 3/4 inch round head wood screws with an electric screwdriver. Make sure the plywood does not move while you are working on this part of the project.

  • Add the rest of the brackets by first mounting them against the wall with the 1-1/2 round head screws as explained in Steps 4 and 5. At first, you may have to push upwards against the bottom of the plywood with the bracket to get the plywood to sit level.

  • Pre-drill a hole through the bracket and into the bottom of the plywood, and then insert a 3/4-inch round head screw with a screwdriver. Do this for every bracket. Now you have one shelf built in place.

  • Repeat the entire process for any additional shelves that you need.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can paint the shelves to add to their appearance. Short, narrow shelves may not need any 1-by-2 strips underneath for support. Other sized wood such as a 2-by-2 or 1-by-3 can be used instead of the 1-by-2.
  • When cutting plywood, always make certain that the depth of the circular saw is only a 1/4-inch bigger than the thickness of the plywood.

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