Introduction: How to Install Standard-and-Bracket Book Shelves

Picture of How to Install Standard-and-Bracket Book Shelves

Do you have more books than shelf space? Give yourself some extra storage space by installing standard-and-bracket shelves. Installing these types of shelves is very easy, and won't take much time. You'll spend more time rearranging your books than actually installing the shelves.

Step 1: Motivation

Picture of Motivation

I wanted to put all of our various books and magazines in one spot to start on my eventual goal of having a multiple story library, complete with ladders, spiral staircases, and secret doors. Here's a motivational picture I took of the library in a monastery in Lima, Peru.

I already had a few hand-built bookcases, like these, but I needed more space, and I wanted them attached to the wall.

Step 2: Cost and Tools

The ease of installing stand-and-bracket shelving comes at a cost.

I spent $100 at Home Depot getting 3 standards (the rails), 15 brackets, 5 10 in x 48 in shelves, and screws (I used 2 in and 1 1/4 in).

Stud finder (I prefer using a magnet)

Step 3: Find the Studs, Install the Standards

Picture of Find the Studs, Install the Standards

Clear our the area where you want install shelves. Then, find and mark the location of studs (again, I prefer using a magnet). Install the first standard with screws. Here, I used 2 in long screws to secure the standard. After you've installed the first screw, ensure the standard is vertical with a level and install the rest of the screws.

In many houses, the studs will be spaced 16 in apart on center (meaning the stud's centers are 16 in apart). In older houses, the studs might be 12 in apart, and more difficult to find behind plaster and lathe. If you can't find a stud, some people say it's OK to use a drywall anchor or a toggle bolt. I don't agree with this thinking for anything other than hanging pictures in very specific places on a wall. If you are going to put any amount of books or other weight on a shelf, that shelf should be attached to something solid.

If you don't have studs, or they aren't at the right location, install a 2x4 or 2x6 flat against the wall anchored into something solid, and attach the standards to this "kicker plate" (I don't know what this is properly called, so I'll just use climbing-wall terminology). I've anchored kicker plates with lag screws into studs, and with masonry bolts into both bare concrete and bricks, or masonry behind plaster and lathe. In the images, you can see a kicker plate I attached with lag screws to studs in the garage; bike hooks are screwed into this kicker plate in specific places.

Step 4: Install the Other Standards

Picture of Install the Other Standards

Mount the other standards to the wall. Attach two brackets and use the level as a shelf to ensure the shelves will sit horizontally. Again, with one screw installed, make sure the standard is vertical with the level.

It's possible to do this by yourself by holding the drill in awkward positions, but get a second hand if possible.

Step 5: Book Back Stop

Picture of Book Back Stop

I took a few scrap pieces of wood to create a back stop for the books. Without the backstop, if you pushed the books against the wall, you can't slide them past the standards.

Step 6: Arrange Books

Picture of Arrange Books

Arrange, alphabetize, or sort your books by color. For me, this was the longest part of the project.

Step 7: Screw Shelves to Brackets

Picture of Screw Shelves to Brackets

I live in an earthquake-prone area. So, after I was satisfied with the height of the shelves, I drove 1 1/4 in screws through the brackets into the shelves.


maddy50 (author)2013-03-04

Thanks for this. Been wanting to install this type of shelving for my books, but wasn't sure it would be sturdy enough. You've convinced me. One question - how thick are your shelves and are they solid wood or the melamine-type shelves you see at most stores? Have read that to prevent bowing under the book weight over time, 1" solid wood shelves would be the best. Thoughts on that? Thanks again.

poonies (author)2012-10-21

Great instructable-- I noticed you used double slotted rails to hold the weight. I appreciate the magnet for finding the studs. I think that is the hardest part. Thank you!

paqrat (author)2012-01-22

Very helpful instructable. Thank you very, very much for founding such a great site. I spend far more time than I should looking at all the ingenuity. I haven't built anything from the instructables yet but one on picking locks came in handy when the antique store I work at had a display cabinet come in locked and with no key. The owner was thinking about drilling out the lock but, having read an instructable on lock picking I thought "if I try to pick the lock the worst thing that could happen is I might break my dental probe off inside the lock and they'd have to drill that out as well" so I gave it a shot and within 15 or 20 minutes I had it open. That would not have happened without instructables. I tell everyone that comes in the store that shows any interest about crafts or diy about Instructables.

Sanctus (author)2012-01-22

To have a proper motivation one should see the library of the National Assembly in Paris. No photo allowed, but a virtual visit is available. Impressive and no bracketin used! :) Nice instructable, I was planning to do a similar thing, just looking for even a cheaper thing. Is there an instructable for your keyboards? I'd like to have one!

Airshelves (author)2011-11-09

A great system for wall mounting bookshelves can be found here: and

ElvenChild (author)2011-08-19

Picture two of step five! Harry Potter all the way!!!

Didaskw (author)2010-06-18

"sort your books by color"? LOL I have taken to sorting my canned goods by color of contents, and it's so easy to put my hands right on what I want! More fun when putting groceries away, too.

angelslink (author)2010-04-04

I have these all over my house. I bought an old house and the walls are bad, instead of replacing the walls I built these into the walls. Now the walls are lined so they won't crumble and I have so much space. My friends and family call me the "shelve queen" I even built shelves around my sewing machine so it looks like a built in and have room for all of my sewing. I am so happy to see someone else think they are as great as I do! My next project is to put shelves across my kitchen window and make a living curtain by putting all plants on the shelves. I did that where I used to live and it was great, let in light, plants grew like crazy and it gave me privecy.

ewilhelm (author)angelslink2010-04-05

You should post a slideshow or Instructable showing your setup!

angelslink (author)ewilhelm2010-04-05

I don't know how to do that, but I might try to figure it out tomorow. I have homework to do today. Thanks for the idea, I would like to show them off, I worked so hard on thinking of the design, that was the hardest part I think, it looks so simple but it was the "fitting" it all together that was hard.

ewilhelm (author)angelslink2010-04-06

Take a few pictures of your bookshelves, then hit the "Submit" button at the top of the page.  Hopefully, it's straightforward after that!

erikboi (author)2009-10-12

First, nice instructable! Keep it up! :)

I'm a musician myself -- a keyboardist to be exact. It hurts to see that you put hardware stuff on top of your keyboard! lol

westfw (author)2007-09-24

Does anyone know of a source of brackets of suitable (shallow) depth to make shelves exclusively for paperbacks (that would be like 4 inches. The shortest brackets I've seen are 6 inches, and those are pretty rare. If you can achieve an overall depth (including the standards) of about 5 inches, you can consider putting shelves in places they wouldn't otherwise fit (like lining hallways.))

Newtkin (author)westfw2008-10-08

You asked over a year ago, but if you never found them (or if someone else is looking for them)... Knape and Vogt has 4" brackets in multiple finishes (including "anochrome"). carries them, or it looks like you can purchase directly from the manufacturer's website.

westfw (author)Newtkin2008-10-08

Thanks! That's quite useful; I probably won't be done adding shelves till all the walls are completely covered...

fugazzi (author)westfw2007-09-25

If you're creating just a few shelves, you might want to consider using just L brackets. You can get them in many sizes, and screw them directly into the wall.

westfw (author)fugazzi2007-09-25

I had in mind floor to ceiling, wall to wall shelves :-) I've done the standards and brackets thing with 10foot 1x8 shelves, but it's a bit of a waste of space if most of your books are paperbacks...

fugazzi (author)westfw2007-09-25

You might want to try something like these.

Scammah (author)2008-08-17

Finally after checking out your instructable I dove in am made my own shelf. I think I might have went a little overboard. It cost alot more but I'm proud of it and I thank you for the thorough instructable.

Scammah (author)Scammah2008-08-17

Also 2 things. I had that same blue desk lamp & did you also build those shelves underneath? They look pretty handy.

ewilhelm (author)Scammah2008-08-18

Looks great!

rocknrollskwurl (author)2008-01-10

sweet 5 string bass! is it a Dean? i used this same basic idea of your shelfs to add a shelf to my desk to put modle cars on!

CZanna (author)2007-11-26

Thanks for the tutorial. I use these shelves in my office closet, but instead of using new boards, I picked up a pair of louvered closet doors at the recycled building materials center in my county. Since everything is in crates or boxes anyway, these worked fine. I also used zip-ties to secure the shelves to the brackets because I couldn't screw into the louvers. (Think more attractive than vinyl-coated metal ventilated shelves.) For that matter, I got most of the standards at Resource, too. My shelves currently hold somewhere in the area of 200 pounds each, and are doing fine.

powerfool (author)2007-11-24

It looks great... I'm probably going to do the same at my place... I'd like to ask something though... How much weight can a shelf support? Can I trust the shelves that they'll support big books or are they going to bend with time? Congratulations anyway! :D Dimitris

ewilhelm (author)powerfool2007-11-25

It really depends on how the shelves are anchored. If you find studs and properly connect to them, you could easily support several hundred pounds; I have done this when building an indoor climbing wall. If you just connect to the drywall or lathe behind plaster, expect to only support tens of pounds.

canida (author)2007-10-04

Also key: Old textbooks and others that fit in the "likely to kill you if they fall on your head in an earthquake" books are on the bottom shelf.

zachninme (author)canida2007-10-04

Except you put the giant guitar case (?) up really really high... I should also note the small piece of string going into the wall that is attached to the "C++ GUI Programming Guide"... damn you guys are good! No one cares about GUI's in C++!

ewilhelm (author)zachninme2007-10-04

That's my violin. It's not that heavy, but I agree, top shelf isn't the best place.

karenwxyz (author)2007-10-02

Loved your piece. When I used these I notched the shelf in the back where it met the standards so it went clear up to the wall. I noticed in the pics that you drilled a shallow hole for the end of the bracket so you have a smooth shelf front. It would have been nice to have that step in. I used these for years before I learned these tips. They've been in my bedroom for sweaters and scarves as well as for books. It's amazing how much weight they can hold if properly installed.

ewilhelm (author)karenwxyz2007-10-03

I noticed in the pics that you drilled a shallow hole for the end of the bracket so you have a smooth shelf front. It would have been nice to have that step in

I don't know that I did. Can you better explain?

karenwxyz (author)ewilhelm2007-10-03

Usually the brackets will hold a given size board, say a 1x6. If you use a 1x8 instead and notch out the backs so it fit close to the wall and then drill the shallow hole in the bottom of the shelf to accommodate the tip of the standard (not all the way through the shelf), the front of the shelf will be free of the little ends of brackets and will look more like custom built ins. Dive it a try. Your shelf can be bigger, too. I wouldn't go more than the 2 inches over the expected size to keep the shelf stable. Give it a try - it's easy and the finishing touch on a project like this.

karenwxyz (author)karenwxyz2007-10-03

Oops, I meant to say "accommodate the tip of the bracket" and not "standard." Don't "dive" either.

ewilhelm (author)karenwxyz2007-10-04

Now I understand. My brackets don't have tips at their ends, so I didn't drill any holes in the shelves to accommodate. Good tip, though.

Subconscionaut (author)2007-09-28

I am a total bibliophile/packrat married to another(and she's the cutest!)....but our house is from the 1920's and the walls are mostly lath-and-plaster (pre-drywall for all you youngsters) It's also extremely tiny.We have tried expanding hardware, hercules hooks, sheathed screws,trained monkeys, and of course, tape. Does anyone know any kind of hardware that ACTUALLY will stay in a plaster wall without falling out? Thanks a lot!!!

ewilhelm (author)Subconscionaut2007-10-02

In plaster and lathe you really need to find the studs. If you can't find them with a magnet, you'll need to drill small test holes and then patch the ones that are not covered by the shelves.

dpocius (author)2007-09-29

Good show! And, for the absolute cheapest-per-linear-foot solution I have found: triple shelf brackets! And, they go up real fast! Kind of industrial looking, though. Ideal for your garage. This is the Ace Hardware order page; you may find them by the each at your local hardware store:
Ace Hardware Triple Shelf Brackets

As for drywall anchors: the best I've found are the ones that look like giant wood screws. They go in with a drill driver (again, fast!) and accept a wood or sheet metal screw. The cast-metal ones are a bit stronger than the plastic ones. I've recently seen some heavy-duty variants at Leow's that are purported to be good for 150 lbs. each.

Hope this helps.

zer0vector (author)2007-09-24

One good idea when installing this type of shelving is to tap the brackets with a hammer back where they engage the standard to ensure the hook is seated well. I didn't do this when I installed some shelves over my bed and was unpleasantly awakened by a load of books falling on me during the night.

Ohm (author)2007-09-22

Nice instructable, I have done this a few times and show people how to do it, some people have no clue, and it well be nice to point them in this direction now. The photos are great. I need to put some more up myself but I well have to custom make the shelves as they do not make the sizes I need.

mdsanta (author)2007-09-22

Cool I did these a little while ago for my dvd's and manga
here's some images

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Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
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