The BEST Floating Shelves

Submitted by Ana White on Sun, 10/20/2019 - 17:35
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I have been building floating shelves for ten years.  I've built floating shelves all different ways - this is my very BEST floating shelf tutorial.

It's easy to build, even for beginners, and uses only a drill and a brad nailer (no pocket holes).  You can build and finish it on your workbench - and installing the floating shelves is easy too!  Step by step plans with diagrams and materials lists.

white floating shelf diy tutorial

Floating shelves add an architectural element to your home, and also give you space to store and display favorite things. We love wood floating shelves, white floating shelves, kitchen floating shelves - whether your style is modern or farmhouse, floating shelves can work in your home!

In this tutorial, we make floating shelves as easy as possible to build. 

  • You won't need any special tools or a ton of building experience to whip these floating shelves out
  • You can build, paint or stain, right in your garage, then just hang on the wall
  • You can easily customize the length and depth to fit your needs
  • Beautiful in both a painted or stained finish

Floating Shelf Strength

To test the strength of my floating shelves, I placed 10 pound weights per every foot of shelf and left overnight.  

floating shelf strength

The floating shelf did not change and remained sturdy and strong.

Video Tutorial

For my most recent floating shelf build in our bathroom, I filmed the process and created a video tutorial.  There's lots of tips and tricks, so please watch before you build.

How to Make Floating Shelves

diy floating shelves dimensions
Floating shelves can be made to any length. We recommend between a 1x4 and 1x10 for the shelf tops, depending on the desired depth of the shelf.


Shopping List

  • 1x4, 1x6, 1x8 or 1x10 shelf top board in desired length of shelf, minus 1-1/2"
  • 1x4 long enough to go all the way around your 1x shelf top board
  • 2x3 or 2x4 - inside support pieces
  • 1/4" plywood, same size as your shelf top board
  • #8 2-1/2" to 3" long self tapping wood screws (like these from Home Depot)
  • 3/4" and 1-1/4" brad nails 
Tape Measure
Safety Glasses
Hearing Protection
Circular Saw
Brad Nailer
Power Sander


Step 1

Cut your shelf top board to the desired length of your shelf, MINUS 1-1/2".

Cut 1x4 end pieces to match the width of your shelf top board.

Use glue and 1-1/4" brad nails to attach the 1x4 end pieces to the shelf top board.  All outside edges are flush.

Step 2

Cut 1x4 front and back pieces to match the shelf length.

Attach front of shelf with 1-1/4" brad nails and wood glue.

For back of shelf, for extra strength, you can attach with 2-1/2" self tapping screws and glue, or use nails.

Step 3

Cut 2x boards to match the width of your shelf top board.

For 2x3s, set inside the shelf, making sure there is 1/4" gap on top for the 1/4" plywood.

Attach from back with glue and 2-1/2" screws and from front with glue and 1-1/4" brad nails.  

If using 2x4s OR 2x3s are too big to leave the 1/4" gap, turn the 2x board flat side up, and attach set down 1/4" from the top (as done in the video) with screws on the back side and 1-1/4" brad nails on the front side.

Place a support about every 12" and one on or near each end.

Avoid placing supports where studs in walls are located in the final hanging location.

Cut 1/4" plywood with a circular saw or tablesaw.  Make sure it easily fits inside the floating shelf.  Paint or stain the floating shelf and the 1/4" plywood panel and let dry.

Step 4

Locate studs in wall and hang the floating shelf through the back 1x4 board into studs in the walls using 2-1/2" or longer self tapping screws.

If you are attaching the 1/4" plywood to the bottom, hang the highest shelf first, complete the next step, than hang the next lower shelf.

If you are attaching the 1/4" plywood to the top, hange the lowest shelf first, complete the next step, than hang the next higher shelf.

Step 5

Place the 1/4" plywood panel inside the floating shelf and use the 3/4" nails to secure.

Touch up paint or stain as needed to finish the floating shelf.

Help Improve This Plan

We apologize if there was an error in this plan. Please help us out and report any errors here.


Donna @ Mudpie… (not verified)

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 10:27

THANK YOU!!!! I have been wanting floating shelves for several years now, but haven't been able to find them in the size I want. You just solved that problem.

Jo (not verified)

Sat, 04/24/2010 - 13:37

Ana, help!

So I made three custom length shelves today! They are awesome! I will be ready to sand and paint them tomorrow. I was wondering if you had advice on what to do on the gaps between the plywood and pine. If it makes any sense at all.. it looks like there are “seams” inside the plywood and also a tiny gap between the plywood and frame. Will the primer/paint cover those gaps up? Your finish looked beautiful and I just want to make sure mine will look the same!!


p.s. this was also posted on YHL's blog!

Ana White (not verified)

Sat, 04/24/2010 - 15:20

I used a wood filler and filled all edges, much like you might use drywall spackle and cover screw holes. I filled any layer holes in the plywood edges too. Then I sanded well, using first a 80 grit, than 120 and than 150, until the edges were smooth. Then I primed with a thick primer and painted with a high quality gloss paint. Can't wait to see!

Jo (not verified)

Sun, 04/25/2010 - 03:05

Thank you so much Ana! I'm going to have to try my hand at this today.

Do you have a brand of wood filler you would recommend? I have a tube made my minwax but I find it incredibly hard to handle (or it could just mean I'm not good at it!).

Ana White (not verified)

Sun, 04/25/2010 - 05:31

My fav is PL Stainable. It's in a tub, and I just work with a handful. Keep the lid on, it dries out fast. Good luck!

Jac (not verified)

Fri, 05/28/2010 - 07:13

Ana, I posted this over on YHL, too...but thought it might be better over here since it is an older post. Thanks for simplifying this process for us!

"I am a BIG fan of both YHL and Knock-off Wood. I love the idea of being able to customize these floating shelfs to fit my space. I plan on starting the project this weekend. This will be my very first project.

However, I am a bit confused on the measurements. I am probably just missing something, but I don’t understand how the frame fits inside the sleeve. Is a 1×2 actually 3/4″ wide? Otherwise, at 1″ the frame would be 71″ (69″+1″+1″) and the interior of the sleeve would be 70″ (72″-1″-1″). Please tell me what I am missing…"

Jonathan (not verified)

Mon, 05/31/2010 - 06:51


Thanks so much for this post. I have been wanting to make these for some time. How are yours holding up?

Is there a maximum length that you recommend? I would like to make one about 8' long. Is that too long?

Ana White (not verified)

Mon, 05/31/2010 - 08:31

Jonathon, the longer the shelves, the better (as long as you are tying into studs all the way down). Mine are doing fabulous!