How to Build Alcove Shelves


Alcove shelves are a way to add permanent storage to an unused space. Build them into areas between existing walls, such as in a mudroom or beside a fireplace. The amount of wood you will need for this project will vary depending on your alcove size and the number of shelves you choose to install.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Stud finder
  • Pencil
  • Leveling tool
  • Pine board, 1 inch by 2 inches
  • Pine board, 1 inch by 3 inches
  • Plywood sheet, 3/4 inch thick
  • Table saw
  • Drill with Phillips head screwdriver bit
  • Drywall screws, 2 inch
  • Wood glue
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • Damp cloth
  • Sandpaper, 220 grit
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint or stain


  • Measure the alcove's width and depth with the tape measure.

  • Hold the stud finder against the side walls of the alcove to locate studs. Mark their locations on the wall with a pencil.

  • Measure and mark the height for each shelf on the back wall, 3/4 inch lower than the finished shelf height you desire.

  • Extend the height marks along all walls of the alcove with a pencil. Use a leveling tool to check that the lines are level.


  • Measure and mark the 1-by-2 board into sections 3/4 inch shorter than the depth of your alcove. Make two of these sections for each shelf. These will form the shelf supports.

  • Measure and mark the plywood to make the shelves. Each shelf will be as long as the width of your alcove. Make the shelf widths 3/4 inch shorter than the alcove depth.

  • Cut the wood with the table saw.


  • Place one shelf support against a side wall with the top edge level with the guide line and the cut edge touching the back wall of the alcove.

  • Screw the support into the wall using the drill. Secure each screw into a stud.

  • Place and attach another shelf support to the opposite wall. Attach pairs of supports for each shelf using the same procedure.

  • Place one shelf on each pair of supports. Check each shelf with the leveling tool. Number each shelf with a pencil.

  • Measure the width of the alcove in front of each shelf. Mark these measurements on the 1-by-3 board. Number these sections to match each shelf.

  • Cut the 1-by-3 board with the table saw to form front trim boards.


  • Remove the shelves from the supports.

  • Apply wood glue to the front edge of one shelf. Glue the corresponding trim board flush with the shelf top. Hammer in finishing nails to secure the two.

  • Wipe off excess glue with a damp cloth. Attach remaining trim boards to their shelves with glue and finishing nails in the same manner.

  • Sand all surfaces with sandpaper.

  • Paint or stain the supports and shelf surfaces with a paintbrush. Let dry overnight.

  • Place shelves back on the supports.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you don't have a table saw, your local home improvement store will cut lumber to size for you at little or no charge.
  • Shelves wider than 32 inches may require a support along the back wall to prevent the shelf from bowing under heavier weights.
  • Secure the tops of the shelves to the supports with 1-inch screws for additional strength.
  • Use caution when operating a table saw. Wear safety glasses and follow manufacturer's instructions.
  • When applying wood finish, make sure the room is well ventilated.

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  • Photo Credit girls on shelves image by Cherry-Merry from
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