When I was trying to figure out how to hang the live-edge floating shelves in our kitchen, I had a lot of trouble finding instructions and hardware for how to hang solid wood floating shelves. There are plenty of tutorials for DIY floating shelves, but they’re the kind that are built from plywood, and have the hardware concealed inside a wood box. That doesn’t work if you’re just trying to attach a solid slab of wood to your wall with hidden hardware. Even the place I bought the wood didn’t have any advice, but they asked me to tell them how I ended up doing it. Obviously I eventually figured it out, but aside from sharing the hardware we used, I didn’t do a full how-to for hanging floating live-edge shelves. So if you’re trying to hang floating solid wood shelves, here’s how to do it.
I’ll be using a small shelf in my walk-in closet for this tutorial, but we hung our kitchen shelves the same way, except with three brackets instead of two, and bigger shelves.
First, let me back up a little bit and give you some context. I’ve been making over my walk-in closet, mainly by adding built-in Ikea drawers. I left the drawers on one side at around counter height because I was planning to mount a rack above them, but I ended up changing my mind after I’d already finished the drawer box and installed the drawers. Aka, installing the rack proved to be too much of a pain-in-the-ass with the slanted ceiling. So I could have added more drawers, but c’est la vie. When life gives you empty closet space, make it as useful and pretty as possible.
Styling up the spot as a dresser/vanity area seemed like a good idea, but the wall needed something to fill the space. A shelf was an obvious solution, so I went shopping in my garage for a piece of wood to turn into a shelf. (When I told Steven I was “shopping our garage” for wood, he was confused. Is that a phrase women are more familiar with, because it came from “shop your closet?”)
After a bit of poking around in my own messy piles of wood, I found a couple of suitable candidates. One was a big scrap of the off-cuts of the alder wood from our kitchen shelves. When we bought the wood at Salvage Works, we had to buy full boards that were more than we needed for the shelves. The nicest leftover piece got some hairpin legs, and became a live-edge bench. The other chunk had some big flaws, which is why we cut around it for our original shelves. I forgot to take a picture of the whole thing, but here it is right after I chopped it in half for this project:
You can see that the left side has a couple of big, ugly gouges, but the nice part on the right was just the right size for my shelf. So I’ll start the tutorial here, with a slab of unfinished, live-edge wood.
How To Hang a Floating Solid Wood Shelf
These instructions are geared for an advanced beginner, who knows how to use basic power tools but maybe hasn’t done any actual building or carpentry. That basically describes me when we hung our kitchen shelves in 2015. If you’re more experienced, maybe you can give me some tips, but if you’re like, “but this looks like more than a beginner knows how to do!” keep in mind that I followed advice I got from a friend who has a lot of experience building things. Also, I learned a lot along the way, so don’t be intimidated by the project, or think you need special tools. If your wood is already cut and sanded, you can do this all with a power drill and the right drill bits.
Wood for the shelf – Needs to be at least 1″ thick and at least 5″ deep.
Dolle Strongfix floating shelf brackets – You’ll need at least two (they come in pairs), more for a longer shelf.
Saw – A jigsaw, circular saw, or table saw. I used a jigsaw and a miter saw, although you could do this with just a jigsaw.
Power drill/screwdriver – Or a drillpress, if you have one. I don’t have one, and I’ll tell you how to work around it.
Drill bits – At least a 1/8″, 1/4″, and a 1/2″ bit. I used and recommend this bit for the 1/2″ holes.
Carpenter’s square – Recommended, but not required.
The brackets that I used for our kitchen shelves, and that I’m using for this shelf, are these Dolle Strongfix floating shelf brackets. I had a couple left over from ordering too many for our kitchen shelves, but I would have used these again regardless. For one thing, at $6.99 a pair, they’re really inexpensive, but they also support a heavier and deeper shelf (up to 10″) than the runner-up, these brackets. Not important for this particular shelf, but definitely a concern in our kitchen. An important constraint with these brackets is that the wood you’re turning into a shelf needs to be at least 1″ thick and greater than 4″ deep.
1. Once you’ve chosen appropriate wood, if it has a live-edge on both sides, you’ll need to cut it so that one side is flat. There’s a little split you can see on the right side of the wood, so I lined up my middle cut with that. If you have a table saw, or even a circular saw, now would be the time to use it, but my jigsaw, with a clamped-down long wood ruler, had to do the job. I used a carpenter’s square to make sure that the back and the two ends were all square to one another.
2. Next it’s time for the wall drilling. You need to find the studs on the wall where you’ll be hanging the shelf. Preferably the centers of the studs. The heavier the stuff you’ll be putting on your shelves, the more important it is to find the centers of the studs. If you have drywall this will probably be a lot easier for you than it was for me with my plaster and lath walls. For me, making sure I had found the studs involved drilling a bunch of smaller holes until I for sure hit wood.
3. Once you know for certain where your studs are, drill into one with a 1/4″ drill bit. Switch to the 1/2″ bit, and mark the required depth on the bit with a piece of tape. Drill the hole, but be sure not to drill too far. (We accidentally drilled all the way through a wall when hanging our kitchen shelves, oops.) Stick in the first bracket, put a level on top, and double check the placement of the second bracket before drilling its hole.
4. To secure a bracket, stick it in the hole, then turn it until you feel resistance, and then continue turning it until it’s nice and tight. If you don’t ever feel resistance, and it just keeps turning, pull it out of the hole, and hold the end that will go into the wall with one hand, turn the end that will go into the shelf clockwise, until you see the plastic sleeve around the wall end start to expand. Stick it back into the wall hole, turn, and repeat the above if necessary until it’s secure.
5. Measure the distance from the walls (or other reference point) to the centers of the brackets, and between the brackets.
Now measure one more time. These measurements need to be super accurate!
6. Now you need to drill the holes for the brackets in your wood. They need to be straight, level, and very accurate. Initially I didn’t know how I was going to drill the holes for our shelf brackets without a drill press, so I had to ask a friend with a lot more experience with woodworking for advice, and she told me how to build a jig. Measuring and building the jig for this shelf took longer than drilling the actual holes, but it’s worth it in the end for straight, level shelves.
Here’s my jig:
It’s basically a sleeve that snugly holds your wood straight. Use a carpenter’s square to make sure it’s actually square. Once you’ve built it, measure very carefully to find the center of the shelf thickness-wise, and drill a hole in the jig at this point. Then use that hole to help you drill your holes in the wood.
7. Drill the holes in the back side of the shelf wood. Be sure to back out the drill bit after every inch or two, or you can get your drill bit stuck! (Ask me about the time I made the motor on my drill smoke because I didn’t know to do this.) Mark the depth with tape. The jig kept me from being able to drill as deeply as I needed to, so at that point I had to remove it and drill the remaining inch or two without it. Shake the dust and wood shavings out as much as possible.
8. Slide the shelf onto the brackets, and check whether it’s level.
Mine is level, hooray! But I hope that the inspector approves, she’s known for being a tough one.
9. Take your shelf down, and sand and seal. I sanded mine with 120, 180, 220, and 320 grit sandpaper with my random orbital sander, doing the live-edge by hand, then I did one round of hand-sanding with 400-grit. After cleaning all of the dust off with a rag and tack-cloth, I did two coats of this sealer. Let dry.
10. Hang up your shelf by sliding it onto the brackets.