Introduction: Secret Compartment Floating Shelf

Picture of Secret Compartment Floating Shelf

A friend needed a floating shelf that had a secret compartment for some of their important items. We decided to use reclaimed wood for the finish. And this is how I made it!

Step 1: Check Out the Build Video.

Here's the build video so you can see the hidden compartment shelf in action. You can also see the build a little more in depth. Now for the fun stuff, let's make this secret compartment floating shelf!

Step 2: Join Your Panel Pieces.

Picture of Join Your Panel Pieces.

The first thing I did was join down the pieces that would make up the panels. The jointer puts a perfectly straight edge on the reclaimed wood, so when you glue them up the splices are tight.

Step 3: Rip Your Splines.

Picture of Rip Your Splines.

Then I ripped some splines out of an old piece of oak hardwood flooring I salvaged from one of my remodels. These splines slip into a groove on the panel pieces I'll cut in the next step. They hold the panel together really well, and keep the panel lined up when you glue it together.

Step 4: Rip Your Grooves.

Picture of Rip Your Grooves.

Then I set up a feather board and ripped some grooves on both sides of the panel pieces. These grooves hold the splines chat I cut above.

Step 5: Glue Up Your Panels.

Picture of Glue Up Your Panels.

Then I glued up all of my panel pieces and splines. Making sure to get glue on every surface that came into contact with another surface.

Step 6: Clamp Up the Panels.

Picture of Clamp Up the Panels.

Then I clamped up the panels outside while I worked on the rest of the project in the shop. I use scrap pieces as cauls. Cauls help keep the panel lined up during the glue up.

Step 7: Cut Your Box Pieces.

Picture of Cut Your Box Pieces.

Then I cut all the pieces for the interior box on the radial arm saw.

Step 8: Finger Joint the Interior Box.

Picture of Finger Joint the Interior Box.

I put finger joints on all the interior box pieces and glued them up. I let the glue set up over night to ensure a strong joint. Making sure everything was square before they dried of course.

Step 9: Box Joint Glue Up.

Picture of Box Joint Glue Up.

Here's an image of me gluing up the box or finger joints. I didn't use any fasteners, just glue.

Step 10: Cut Your Box Top & Bottom.

Picture of Cut Your Box Top & Bottom.

Then I ripped to width, and cut the top and bottom of the box pieces to length on the table saw sled.

Step 11: Finish the Interior Box.

Picture of Finish the Interior Box.

Then I glued up the top and bottom of the box, and pinned them with finish nails. If you want something stronger, you can use screws as well. But this was good enough for the girls I know.

Step 12: Drill the Hinge Holes.

Picture of Drill the Hinge Holes.

I used euro cabinet hinges which need a pocket in the bottom door panel. I pre-drilled those holes into that panel on the drill press.

Step 13: Attach the Hinges.

Picture of Attach the Hinges.

Then I attached the hinges to the bottom door panel and the back wall of the interior box. I used 1/2" screws to attach the hinges.

Step 14: I Smoothed Out the Panels.

Picture of I Smoothed Out the Panels.

The panels were a little rough and had some glue squeeze out after the glue up. So I knocked down any high spots and dried glue with a jack plane.

Step 15: Cut Your Panels to Length.

Picture of Cut Your Panels to Length.

Then I cut my top panel, bottom panel and side pieces to length. I mitered the side pieces (shown in the video) so you didn't see any end grain. The top panel overlaps the side pieces. And the bottom panel fits inside the side pieces to hide the secret compartment.

Step 16: Attach the Reclaimed Wood Pieces, or Thick Veneer.

Picture of Attach the Reclaimed Wood Pieces, or Thick Veneer.

Then I attached the side pieces with glue and finish nails. And attached the top and bottom panels the same way. I don't show it in the images, but I had to chamfer the back of the bottom door panel to clear the wall when it opened. This is a design problem I didn't work out before I built it. But it ended up working just fine.

Step 17: Attach the Magnetic Lock and Secret Stuff Holders.

Picture of Attach the Magnetic Lock and Secret Stuff Holders.

Then I used this magnetic child lock as the opening mechanism. I was really happy because it worked surprisingly well. I also screwed on some velcro and a couple other clips and things to keep the secret stuff attached to the bottom door panel. This really helps so that your stuff isn't falling out when you open the secret compartment. These attachment points will be unique to the stuff you're hiding!

Step 18: Drill a Hole for Your Magnet.

Picture of Drill a Hole for Your Magnet.

This is a decorative block my wife made a while back. She donated it to make up the key. I drilled a hole in the back of it to fit the magnet that would engage the lock. It works well because you don't see the magnet unless you pick up the key.

Step 19: Glue Up the Magnet.

Picture of Glue Up the Magnet.

I then glued the magnet into the decorative block key with some super glue.

Step 20: Attach the Secret Compartment Shelf and You're Done!

Picture of Attach the Secret Compartment Shelf and You're Done!

I attached the reclaimed wood secret compartment shelf with 6 lag bolts into the wall studs. Two lags into each stud. And it's ready to use! Just run the key under the magnet, push up a little, and bam. All your stuff is right there! You can see it in action in the video I posted above. I also put a notch in the bottom of the front panel so I could quickly feel for and find the location of the key. That isn't necessary, but it makes it really easy to open quickly in the dark.

And that's it! Thanks for checking this one out, and we'll see you on the next one.

— Adam


american graphitti (author)2017-01-05

Awesome shelf!! Great idea and plans this is a must build i must say!

deluges (author)2016-12-21

So darn neat. Love your videos and straightforward tone as well. Favorited and subscribed

Randydillman (author)2016-12-12

I think its great. I will try it.

SelenaT (author)2016-12-03


I feel as though I have just WON LOTTO lookin at this...
Fantastic shelf makin stuff!!!

I want to go out and buy all this stuff n make hidden shelves...The only problem, My landlord won't allow added shelving...LOL

I hope I am not too silly on here but I have been dreamin of these sorts of shelves for years..


srilyk (author)SelenaT2016-12-07

You could make some freestanding shelves. Or add some legs, change the dimensions a bit and turn it into a coffee table.

SelenaT (author)srilyk2016-12-07

Good idea but a coffee table is easy to carry.. Unlike the shelf that is screwed to the wall..

I'm still gettin excited even reading about this stuff again....LOL

Just call me CrAzY...

Thank you

srilyk (author)SelenaT2016-12-07

You could mount your shelf like this:

srilyk (author)2016-12-07

If you cover the bottom of that decorative item with felt the key *should* still work, and in the off chance that someone knocks the thing over, they won't notice the big magnet and think, "Huh, I wonder what this is for?"

robertahn135 (author)2016-12-04

Will you make me three of them??

Josehf Murchison (author)2016-12-02

What contests is this Instructable in?

My wife loves your hid a shelf.

I'm glad, Josehf! I didn't enter into any contests, I wasn't sure how that worked. But I entered it into the Epilog contest since you commented. I need to poke around to get the lay of the land.

If you go to Forums and scroll down to the bottom it has a list of the up and cumming contests so you can plan posting your Instructables in multiple contests.

Win a prize or not I like to support sponsors with entries.

JohnD316 (author)2016-12-02

Built a similar shelf and used a mag-lock with a 1500lb. release. Used a small button as a release control that was hidden on the top surface of the shelf and stained the same colour as the shelf. Battery back-up keeps the system working, if needed, in a power failure. Good plan.

RichM5 (author)2016-12-01

Good enough for the girls I go out with? Could you loan me some tap water?

Nice 'ible, I may have to adapt the design to my sense of decor and try this out myself!

MadonnaB2 (author)2016-12-01

I don't have a shop with tools to make this...can you come over...better yet can you bring me one...wink...

Waywardragamuffin (author)2016-12-01

Like. Great idea

LindelW (author)2016-12-01

Nice, didn't know how to like, but like.

beauhunner (author)2016-12-01

Can we get a little more detail on how you attached shelf, I am assuming that the drawer was open and you attached that way

Adam Gabbert (author)2016-12-01

I wish someone would have told me about instructables earlier.

Naffster (author)Adam Gabbert2016-12-01

Hi Adam, did you build your table saw guides? if so, will you do an instructable for them :)? If purchased can you tell me where? I am terrified of table saws due to an accident that took two of my fingers last year. This would make me feel much better about being creative again. This is a very cool shelf, thanks for sharing! #flippinthebirdforlife

Adam Gabbert (author)Naffster2016-12-01

Absolutely. And I'm sorry to hear about your digits... That's a nightmare for anyone, but especially so for someone into making things.

But are you talking about the push sticks or the feather boards? Or both?

Naffster (author)Adam Gabbert2016-12-01

both would be awesome! ANY tool that will help me keep the hands away from the blade. I just like your video and detailed play by play, and think you should do a TON of them :) I'm quite the novice and will be anyone's testimony on safety first! bad decision #1. I was wearing my a good girl..but then the plastic of the goggles and the plastic of the blade guard was too much to see, so I took off the shield. DUMB I was cutting a thin piece which kicked back on me, so out of knee jerk reaction (insert bad decision #2) I tried to prevent the piece from popping up - with my left hand. DUMB. However my middle finger was saved and I have the convenience of flashing it at all times

radesigns (author)Naffster2016-12-01

Naffster - here is a link to the best $15 I have spent in my's called the 10 million dollar stick

Naffster (author)radesigns2016-12-01

WHA?!! this thing looks amazing! It's on the Christmas list

bstevenson1 (author)Naffster2016-12-01

Hey! Another digital misfit here - i've only 9 fingernails left to trim! (And my thumb don't bend no more) Same story - a board kicked and my hand met saw. If i ever get a table saw again (i sold mine cause you don't keep 'em around anymore after they've tasted blood...) i'll build a sled for it - i've used them in other shops and it's a pretty comfortable way to work even with my saw anxiety.

Naffster (author)bstevenson12016-12-01

I always ask for a 20% discount at the nail salon ...hehe

LeoArgy (author)Naffster2016-12-01

Hi Naffster. I had a similar problem. I was ripping a piece of trim for a windowsill and the wood got stuck in the blade guard. I tried to flip the blade guard off with my left hand and turned my left thumb into a flip-top, Zippo style. I'm still not comfortable with the table saw.

Naffster (author)LeoArgy2016-12-01

oh yikes!! I can honestly say I feel your pain...and lack of comfort with the saw. I have turned mine on a couple of times..just to hear it, but it's certainly been hard to actually put a piece on to cut. Rest assured I will apply all safety precautions. Hope your thumb has healed! :)

Adam Gabbert (author)Naffster2016-12-01

I'll put up an instructible on my newest table saw sled. They are pretty simple to make.

Naffster (author)Adam Gabbert2016-12-01

Thank you so much!

john2016 (author)Adam Gabbert2016-12-01

Nice handy work! Love the magnetic child lock, very clever!

I think Naffster is referring to the table saw sled you are using, that is a definite plus at keeping ones digits intact.

slamonella (author)Naffster2016-12-01

Naffster, I would suggest looking into getting a SawStop table saw. I hesitated for a while before buying one but the extra cost was well worth the peace of mind. I have no connection to the company other than as a VERY satisfied customer.

Naffster (author)slamonella2016-12-01

a gal can dream! I've watched the videos in awe!

slamonella (author)Naffster2016-12-01

I did too, for a couple of years before finally saving up for one :)

mid_life_crisis (author)2016-12-01

I like it.

Instead of lag bolts, a couple of short lengths of black iron pipe sunk into studs work as supports for the shelf to slide onto. If you mount eyes onto the edge of the false floor away from the wall, they'll hold the floor up. To drop it, you slide the shelf an inch or two away from the wall so the eyes slip off the end of the pipes. No looking for the magnet your kid took to play with while the bad guys are breaking in.

tpobrienjr (author)2016-12-01

I like it. Good idea, well done.

OneBirdieMa (author)2016-12-01

This looks great, but I want to weigh in on the sub-topic of damaged digits. About 60 years ago, when I was a young, young thing, I was helping my dad in his workshop. He was using a router. He left the room for a minute and there was this very nice pile of sawdust that had collected right where I could see it -- so I reached up to grab it and the router grabbed my [left index] finger and put a very nice piece of a slice on the inside of it . . . . It was a CUT, guys and gals, but my father was a military officer and the neighborhood was filled with military families so I immediately had two military doctors attending my cut finger, and got taken to the Naval Hospital in Bethesda Md. where I got seven shots and four stitches and a flexible metal splint on the finger and a CAST up to my elbow. which I got to wear for six weeks . . . . Fast forward about thirty years and I had no contact with power tools or anything of the sort, until I was livng in and rehabbing an old old house in New England and they guys all got to use saws and I got fed up and picked one up and chipped in my assistance and have had not a day of fear of saws or anything (except needles) since then. I have a little tiny scar on my finger, and a budding retirement occupation learning to DIM (as in DIY, but myself, not yourself) about anything. I've even gotten to use a [small] chainsaw to take down a [small] oak -- picture attached. Anyone who's got the fear of buzzes or whatever, it's time to go will come, promise. It just takes time (and God!)

tytower (author)2016-12-01

I am intrigued to follow how the magnetic locks hold up over time ,literally.

Would you post back in say 12 months and tell if any failures were noted . All the pressure being downward . Also I'm wondering if there are rustable parts inside the locks and will they rust up over time.

Adam Gabbert (author)tytower2016-12-01

I made the video 10 months ago. It's still working fine, and no rust.

Just an awesome hidden compartment shelf.

CALDWELL_6 (author)2016-12-01

Hi Adam I sent you a message, but not sure if it went through. Can you please let me know if you have received it.


nycwipeout (author)2016-12-01

How did you affix the shelf to the wall?

Adam Gabbert (author)nycwipeout2016-12-01

I used lag bolts.

Thanks for checking it out!

JillT28 (author)2016-12-01

Love this! I bought a 1955 home recently and planning some small scale projects while I save up for a kitchen reno and I've been pondering making my own floating shelves for a while now. I'm still accumulating the tools necessary as well as reviewing designs that I like - really appreciate the detail you put into this and the very cool (and incredibly useful!) hidden compartment! Shows lots of creativity in searching for solutions that meet your needs for somewhat unconventional goals! I love that! If I could add up all the hours I've spent wandering Home Depot for ways to complete some of my projects!

robbadooz (author)2016-12-01

Adam, I appreciate the video of your beautiful shelf. Can you tell me how to make it look as if it floats? Thanks!

fw 190D (author)2016-12-01

That's a great piece, Adam. The distressed timber looks excellent and full of character.

amicalolatim (author)2016-12-01

Adam sorry if i have upset you but i have a few comments and then i'll leave you alone. I hope you will read my reply all the way through. Maybe if you think about it you'll, at some point, appreciate my comments. I too have been a woodworker since i was a kid, but more to the point I taught woodworking in high school and I have been and still am a cabinet maker. The 2 things I pointed out would have caused a student to lose all table saw privileges in my class. First regarding the spline ripping: 1- Your blade is way to high preventing you from safely passing your push stick "through" the blade with your material. That's a basic table saw rule. You never stop pushing the material until it is clear of the backside of the blade. The blade being higher than necessary to just get through the wood thickness is a danger. I taught the blade height should be no more than 1/8" higher than the wood being cut. 2- you say you "reached around and pulled the splines out from the back." Two problems with that. One you risk messing up the end of your cut as you pull it out, but more importantly you should never reach over the table saw. This opens you up (no pun intended) to multiple chances of injury. As for the other comment I made I said nothing about you not having a blade guard in place. I said "table insert" as shown in your video at 2:42. That is unsafe. I will agree with you on one thing, I have yet to see the table saw blade guard that was really a safety or operational benefit. Even when adjusted precisely, which is hard to do, they still seem to be a hazard more than a help. I think the saw manufacturers have done about the best they can with their varying designs but really only include them because the product and safety commission and OSHA require it. Again, I'm sorry if I upset you and maybe I could have worded my comment differently, but my point was to make people think about safety when woodworking especially with machine than can seriously maim you. AND if you're gonna post a video on line that many may see and and follow, you should be extremely sure your methods are safe. Not just for you because you've been lucky and not gotten hurt but for anyone trying to learn from your methods.

Metcalf32 (author)2016-12-01

I see no reason for folks to leave negative, opinion-based comments and criticisms such as the one left by amicalolatim. If you can't be constructive then you're bettered served to speak to the post creator one-on-one or simply keep it to yourself.

Adam, thanks for the insight and ideas...great post!

Tactical Steve (author)2016-12-01

Adam, I used to cut splines the way you describe -- until I had kick-back and seriously cut my thumb on the hand I was pulling the spline through with from the back. Just a warning...

Now that, that's a valid point. I can totally see that happening. Maybe it's time for a thin rip jig.

ThomasA149 (author)2016-12-01

I have leftover magnet latches from babyproofing
my house. Guess I now know what I’m going to do with them. Thanks

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a husband, dad, contractor, woodworker, tinkerer and all around busy dude. That said, I put projects out when I can. A weekly basis ... More »
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