Introduction: Simple Heavy-Duty Shelves

I've got a little home office that doubles as a craft and sewing room.

It didn't have much storage though, so I decided to add some shelves along the length of two of the walls.

The shelves are made from two 2-by-12 construction-grade boards. The finished shelves are simple and minimalist, yet very strong.

They're not fancy at all, but serve their purpose and are nice enough to have indoors. Like me!

After completing these shelves, I added some hanging storage bins underneath which is covered in a separate instructable here: Hanging Storage Bins.

Step 1: Make a Plan

For heavy-duty shelves like these, my first concern was to identify the wall stud locations and select which ones I wanted to fasten my brackets to.

My priority was fastening the brackets to studs for maximum strength, rather than lay the brackets out for looks and hang them on the drywall with drywall anchors. (For light-duty shelving that's certainly an option, but I was not concerned with looks over strength.)

HOWEVER as luck would have it, my wall studs were positioned in such a manner that allowed for a fairly symmetrical and eye-pleasing arrangement. Because the shelf boards were substantially thick and beefy, I was perfectly content to have the brackets spaced 48 inches apart.

At the corner, the two shelves were joined together with a small half-lap joint which eliminated the need for a third bracket on the side wall.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

The primary components for these heavy-duty shelves are:

Tools and supplies I used:

  • Planer (optional)
  • Band saw or jig saw (optional)
  • Circular saw
  • Orbital palm sander
  • Router in table with fence
  • Drills and bits
  • Finishing stain and clear coat

Step 3: Plane Boards If Desired

This is completely optional, but for aesthetics I decided to plane my boards down a little. I removed about 1/4" from each one.

If you machine-plane construction grade lumber like this, be especially careful to look for and remove all the staples!

Home centers love to put staples all over their wood products just to torment us.

For planing long and heavy boards like this, a pair of cheap roller stands are incredibly useful. I got mine at Harbor Freight and they work great.

Step 4: Cut Shelves to Length and Cut Out Brackets

The next thing I did was cut the two boards to length as needed. The side wall shelf ends near a doorway, so I clipped the corner on that end to avoid it taking chunks out of peoples' heads.

With the remaining off-cuts, I used a band saw to cut out triangle pieces to become the support brackets.

For simple triangular shelf brackets like these, it's advisable to orient the grain to run diagonally as shown in the photos.

For looks, I cut out a shallow scoop along the long side of each bracket using a band saw. For reference, the short sides of my brackets are 10 inches long.

Step 5: Square Up the Brackets

It is essential that the brackets are perfectly square.

I used a carpenter's square to mark any areas of un-squareness, and used a sander with 60-grit sandpaper to knock down a few high spots. With just a little fine-tuning the brackets were made perfectly square.

Step 6: Mark Keyhole Hanger Placement, Drill Pilot Holes

To ease in hanging the brackets perfectly level with one another on the wall, it's critical that the keyhole hangers are installed precisely the same distances from the top edge on each bracket.

The backside of the brackets will be routed out to hide the keyhole hangers; however, prior to routing I marked and drilled pilot holes for the keyhole hangers, as this would be a little more difficult after routing.

I used a scrap piece of wood as a support and marked the hole locations on each bracket for the top hanger.

I then marked the holes for the lower hangers using a quart paint can for positioning (it was nearby and provided the correct height--just use whatever is handy).

The two hangers were placed about 4 inches apart, but exactly the same distances from the top edge on every bracket.

With the holes marked I drilled small pilot holes in each marked location. I actually used a nail set to punch each location first, which keeps the bit from wandering as you start to drill.

Step 7: Route Back Side of Brackets

I used a 3/4" flush router bit in my router table to route a channel on the back side of the brackets where the keyhole hangers will go. This channel was made about 3/16" deep.

Just make it deep enough to ensure that the hangers sit completely within the channel and do not sit proud at all.

Step 8: Install Keyhole Hangers

Before installing the hangers you need to remove some material to allow clearance for the heads of the screws that will be placed into your wall studs, upon which these brackets will hang.

There are many ways to do this. I chose to carefully drill out the area with a 1/2" forstner bit. The middle indents of the "8" shape made by the drill bit were removed with a sharp chisel.

The pilot holes were drilled a little deeper as needed, and the hangers were installed using 1 1/4" #6 wood screws.

Step 9: Corner Area Prep

As mentioned earlier, the shelves meet up at a corner where they tie together with a half-lap joint.

See photo notes for details on how these cuts were made on each shelf to create this joint.

Step 10: Stain

For stain, I went with Red Mahogany.

Step 11: A Trick That Everyone Should Know

When staining larger areas of wood, put down a heavy coat and then use a rag to wipe away most of it . . . but always leave a wet edge as you go.

Otherwise, you will overlap an already-wiped-away area when you apply the next section of stain, which will leave a visible transitional area where the stain will appear darker.

Step 12: Clear Coat

There are many ways to finish wood.

For these shelves, I used spray lacquer to coat the shelf boards and brackets. When the lacquer was dry, I sanded everything lightly by hand with 220 sandpaper, which made all the surfaces perfectly smooth.

After sanding I wiped on and buffed off a coat of paste wax.

Step 13: Another Little Trick

To the backside of each bracket I added pieces of brown sticky-backed craft foam.

This protects the wall from the brackets by creating a springy little cushion between the wood and the wall. This sponginess also allows for quick installation without the need for a lot of adjusting the wall screws in and out for a perfect fit.

Step 14: Hang Brackets

The name of the game for this whole project is consistent measuring.

If you installed the keyhole hangers precisely the same distances from the top edge of each bracket, you're half way there.

I specifically wanted to two keyhole hangers for support on each bracket, even though for light duty use one would probably suffice. This adds a little extra thought to make everything work, but it's not too hard.

For each bracket, I found the wall stud to which it would be fastened and marked the center of it.

I measured up from the floor the exact distance needed and marked the location to install a screw for the top keyhole hanger.

Using a level, I then extended the line downward to indicate the centerline for placement of the bottom screw. I then measured down from the top mark as needed and marked the location to install the screw for the lower keyhole hanger.

In each of these locations, I installed a 3-inch #10 screw, leaving the heads protruding from the wall about 3/8".

I checked the fit of the brackets, adjusted the screws in or out a little as needed, and pressed the brackets onto the screws and tightly pulled them down into place.

Step 15: First Shelf

With the brackets installed I put the first shelf in place on top. It fit!

I fastened a single screw into each bracket through the top side of the shelf, through pre-drilled and countersunk holes.

Step 16: Second Shelf

My second shelf was fastened to the brackets in the same manner as the first.

Step 17: Fasten Corners

Where the two shelves met at the corner with the half-lap joint, I fastened them together with three small screws from the underside.

Step 18: Done!

These shelves turned out great and are ready to be loaded up with stuff.

Thanks for taking a look at my simple shelf project!

Comments

author
edsobo (author)2016-03-04

How much of a load do you think these could handle? I'm looking at building some shelving for books and the last thing I'd want is for my library to come loose from the wall.

author
seamster (author)edsobo2016-03-04

I've got mine loaded up with random, heavy things.

I wouldn't hesitate to have a full line of large books on mine--I'm sure they could handle that without any problem.

author
pkr316 (author)2016-02-24

OMG I want to do these in my sewing room JUST for the purpose you did! I have a sewing machine overflow (we won't mention the treadles)... Thank you for your instructions ...

author
blueaxe (author)2016-02-23

Looks good!

And I learned something, thanks for that!

author
visualsenses (author)2016-02-23

Thanks I made a similar one. Now I have another problem. In our kitchen we have a box sticking out one foot all around the ceiling with the cabinets underneath. I want a shelve all around it but we don't have the space for the bottom support. Can they be done upside down so the shelve would be hanging?

author
seamster (author)visualsenses2016-02-23

I don't see why not!

Just keep in mind that the full weight of the shelf will be hung on the fasteners you use to connect it to the brackets, so you'll have to beef up that connection substantially more than I did here.

author
ILykMakin (author)2016-02-23

I've never used keyhole hangers.

I've always just popped a keyhole bit in my router and that was it.

Does anyone know the upper weight limit, if there is one, when one would have to move to these hanger plates?

author
sharipriddy (author)2016-02-23

Wow! They are awesome!

author
Rich Carver (author)2016-02-23

Nice job; and nice showing the screws from the bottom in step 17 -they'd likely cause a split if from the top near the end of the board.
Thanks.

author
TeresaM7 (author)2016-02-23

I have been looking at my office and thinking of doing something exactly like this. No router, so I'll have to buy pre-made brackets, but this is incredible! Thank you!

author
SophieFrancoise (author)2016-02-23

Nicely done! Very clear instructions...And, what a great old sewing machine collection!

author
a.laura.brody (author)2016-02-23

Great work, and I love the old green Bernina!

author
Callie Lea (author)2016-02-21

How did you create the standing-height desk? I need to stand and work, and my 2'x4' work table is on bed risers, which is just the right height for me. Did you buy a special standing-sitting desk or just modify it to meet your needs?

author
seamster (author)Callie Lea2016-02-21

My desk is actually an old steel desk I found on my local classifieds a few years back. It's an incredibly heavy beast, but I love it!

I removed the original short steel legs and replaced them with a built-up 2 by 4 structure to add height.

author
Callie Lea (author)seamster2016-02-21

Now, that I can easily do. Thank you. I couldn't tell from the little bit of the leg showing in the photo.

I got my sewing table at my neighbor's yard sale. It was one of their kid's computer desk, with a sliding drawer to accommodate a keyboard. I bought an adjustable rolling chair and even in its highest setting, it's a bit too low for me to be comfortable while I sew.

What I'll do is try to make new legs that can be adjustable, like my drafting table is. I have arthritis in my lower back and need to modify my work tables to accommodate various positions more and more, it seems, as the passage of time is desperately trying to make me shorter and shorter. Maybe it's time to get a highchair. lol

author
kulone (author)2016-02-15

What's up with your desk? Pun intended. I like it!!

author
seamster (author)kulone2016-02-15

Thanks!

It's an old steel desk I put up on stilts to be a standing desk. It's quite a beast :)

author
darleneb33 (author)seamster2016-02-21

great job! I need some of these shelves. Did you do a post on the desk stilts, I need that too!

author
seamster (author)darleneb332016-02-21

Thanks! They are really nice to have and I definitely recommend building some.

I didn't do a write-up on my desk, unfortunately! : (

However, it's just an old steel desk I found on my local classifieds a few years back. I removed the original short steel legs and replaced them with a built-up 2 by 4 structure to add height.

author
TK Trooper (author)2016-02-19

What kinda weight would this keyhole bracket hold?

author
seamster (author)TK Trooper2016-02-19

I can't say for sure, but I figure the main point of potential failure would be the screws used to attach them to the wall studs, and not the keyhole hangers themselves.

I used somewhat beefy screws intentionally (six 3" #10 screws hold up my main shelf), and I might start to be concerned if I had more than 300 lbs of stuff on my self. But that's just my unscientific guess though!

author
YDandAss (author)2016-02-18

Great instro of an outstanding job. And those keyhole hangers - never knew such a thing existed. I'm all over 'em now though; many thanks!

One big problem. I'd have to ugly your shelves up a bit to put 'em in my shop. :D

author
seamster (author)YDandAss2016-02-18

Thank you!

These hangers are fantastic for all sorts of things.

Don't be fooled--these shelves are not in my shop! My workshop shelves are OSB and 2x4, and pretty darn ugly! :)

author
Bloodbeard (author)2016-02-17

Those are some cool looking sewing machines. Nice shelf project. I've been meaning to throw some shelves up. I think I'll follow your lead and use those recessed hangers.

author
Arvada Locksmith (author)2016-02-17

Wonderful !!!!!!!!

author
deluges (author)2016-02-16

At first I didn't look at the author of this I'ble and then reading it I thought : "What the heck is he going to need such sturdy shelves for ? This is overkill." and then I saw the sawing machines and was like "Oh. Seamster. Of course"

Nice project, thanks for the tip on finishing larges surfaces it's the kind that never leaves the brain and resurfaces when needed.

author
Linkin_J_Knex (author)2016-02-16

Why do you have so many sewing machines? Anyway great ible ;)

author
seamster (author)Linkin_J_Knex2016-02-16

Thanks!

I've been collecting, restoring, and sewing on old machines since I was a kid. It's a great hobby, and very therapeutic! :)

author
Linkin_J_Knex (author)seamster2016-02-16

Okay :)

author
Yonatan24 (author)Linkin_J_Knex2016-02-16

+1

author
TheWoodfather (author)2016-02-16

very nice, I'm normally tempted to paint rather than stain cheaper lengths of wood, but i quite like the colour you got them to go to. good tip too!

author
CraftAndu (author)2016-02-15

Great work seamster! I love the tricks and tips you had in there. Thanks for sharing ;)

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Bio: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is ... More »
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