How to Build Office Shelves Out of Plywood


Offices are incomplete without shelves. The shelves may not be specific, or they may be designed to display framed documents, trophies, souvenirs or supplies. Shelves such as this are not very wide, but instead hug the wall with lightweight plywood or hardwood. You can install shelving like this using a few hand tools.

Shelf Materials

  • Round up some materials for your shelf. Office space may be limited, so make the shelves no wider that 8 inches, which is just enough to support most books. If you plan on using the shelf for displaying objects only, then 6 inches is usually plenty . Purchase 3/4-inch hardwood plywood shelves for economy, or 3/4-inch solid-hardwood lumber for a more exclusive shelf. The hardwood shelf looks better, and is actually easier to install in the long run because the edge of the shelf looks great when sanded smooth and finished. Edges on plywood look raw, and require a strip of hardwood or molding nailed to the front to hide the raw edge. It looks fine afterward, but the extra labor involved in plywood shelves make the solid hardwood shelf an appealing option.


  • Basic supports for small shelves include metal brackets that screw directly to wall studs. There are different kinds. For utilitarian shelving use plain metal brackets. This type of bracket is a simple, 90-degree piece of flat metal with holes in it. One side screws to the wall, and one side screws to the bottom of the shelf. It's that simple. Use this bracket for storage shelving, or shelving used for anything other than display purposes because of its characterless appearance. For a designer or upscale appearance use your choice of designer brackets. They work the same way with a 90 degree bend, but are available in different colors such as brown, black, white, gold, chrome or just about any other color you can dream up. Some of the brackets look like wrought iron, or have futuristic designs to make the shelves look good.


  • Finish the shelving before installing if desired, or leave it as-is. You can get by without finishing the shelves if you're not using them in a fancy office environment, but for most offices, paint or stain and varnish the shelves before you put them up. Sand the shelves by hand with 100-grit sandpaper. Pay attention to the front edge, sand it smooth, rounding it as much as possible with the sandpaper. After sanding, wipe the shelves with a single coat of stain until wet, and then immediately wipe the stain off. When the stain is dry, spray the shelves with a single coat of brush-on or aerosol varnish. When the coat is dry, sand the shelves again using 180-grit sandpaper. Finish with one more coat. You can add up to two more coats for a deeper gloss but it's not necessary. Two coats are sufficient.


  • Installing small office shelving is basic. Start by using a level to indicate the location for each shelf on the wall. Make a light pencil line on the wall or use a piece of tape to show you the line. Run a stud finder along the line to locate each stud and mark it on the line. If you're stacking shelves on top of each other, make sure to leave enough room between them for the support brackets. Screw the 90-degree shelf brackets directly to individual wall studs. Use every other stud, or space them about 32 inches apart. Hold the bracket tight against the wall aligning it vertically with a tri-square level. Screw the bracket to the wall and stud using a drill/driver and 2-1/2-inch screws.

    When the brackets are installed place the shelf on top. Use an assistant if possible to hold the shelf tight against the wall while you screw it to the bracket from the bottom with 3/4-inch screws. If you don't have an assistant available, use clamps to hold the shelf tight to the bracket, and then screw it on.

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