Introduction: A Level Shelf - an Easy-to-Make Floating Shelf Made From a Vintage Level

About: I’m a programmer by trade, but I enjoy hands-on projects in my spare time. I love reading, puzzles, and problem solving.

As much as I love the Instructables emails that appear regularly in my inbox, I am often disappointed after looking at the instructions for the things I like because they require expensive machines or hard to use tools that I don't have.

What I liked about doing this project is that I didn't need anything more than tools I already had around my garage: a miter saw, a Kreg Jig, an 18 gauge nail gun, and a drill (but you could get by without any of these!). And the main parts I used were all readily available to me at Amazon (wood veneer), Ebay (vintage level), and Lowe's or Home Depot stores (wood pieces, screws and toggle bolts, and wood stain).

I found my first vintage level at an antiques store. It had been cleaned, sanded, re-stained, and polished, and I thought it was beautiful. I paid way too much for it and took it home and set it on a shelf. Then I found there were numerous vintage / antique levels available on Ebay. I ordered a few without really knowing what I would do with them. I had a vague idea of making a mirror edged with levels, but it never really came together.

I found some pictures on the internet of levels on their sides attached to walls like tiny shelves. But this, I felt, didn't show off the true beauty of the level and its wood, and it made such tiny shelves that really wouldn't be very useful. So instead, I came up with an idea of adding a level to the end of a floating shelf. I found a level I liked, and I found some wood pieces that together measured exactly the right width so no difficult cuts were required. And thus this Instructable was born.

I like how this shelf turned out both times I've made it. It looks like something I'd buy myself, but instead I get the satisfaction of knowing I made it. To me the shelf has a kind of Steampunk vibe, and I think it’s the perfect addition to my little boy's room.

The Clint Reid “adventurebot: let’s go places” artwork in the photo above was the inspiration for my son’s room design. It led to what I consider a travel-vintage-industrial look with a soft edge. Check Clint's work out on


  • a vintage / antique wood level (mine measured 18" wide by about 2 3/8") - eBay, Craigslist or antique stores
  • cherry wood veneer (I chose cherry since most wood levels are made of cherry wood) - purchased on Amazon
  • 1" by 2" pine select piece of wood (actual dimension are closer to 3/4" by 1 1/2") of a length that is at least twice the length of the level plus 4 times the width of the shelf; these will be used for the side supports and inner frame
  • 2 flat boards as wide as you want the depth of the shelf and as long as the length of the level (see step 1 for choosing how thick you want these boards; mine were about 1/2" and 3/8" thick)
  • Kreg jig screws for attaching side supports to level and attaching inner frame together
  • 18 gauge nails for nail gun for attaching planks to side supports
  • contact cement for attaching veneer
  • wood glue for strengthening screwed and nailed joints
  • two or more toggle bolts or screws for attaching to wall - use long threaded wood screws for attaching directly to studs; use toggle bolts at least 3 inches long for attaching to hollow walls (I used 3/16" toggle bolts that were 3" long)
  • two or more washers for bolts or screws above


  • miter saw
  • Kreg jig
  • nail gun
  • electric drill
  • box cutter

Step 1: Choosing Your Wood

If you want a shelf that's an even thickness from back to the front level, then you want to choose a top plank, a bottom plank, and something like a 1" by 2" (set on its side) that all add up to the same thickness of the level. See picture two. If you can't find the exact boards to make the thickness of the level, another option is to allow the level to stick up higher (or lower) than the planks behind it.

I used one plank that was 1/2" thick, and one that was 3/8" thick. My 1"x2" measured exactly 1 1/2" high on edge. All together, that made 2 3/8" which was the height of my level.

The width of the planks will determine how deep the shelf is. I have only tested this project with boards measuring 5 1/2" wide. With the level at the front of the shelf, the total shelf depth is about 6 3/4".

It helps if the width of the two planks are exactly the same. One plank I had was slightly more narrow than the other, and I had to account for that later by adding some filler strips.

Step 2: Making the Outer Frame

Using the miter saw, cut each plank board to the length of the level. Decide which board will be the top and which will be the bottom and label them. This is just to clarify things later in the process. I chose to use my thicker (1/2") plank on top and my thinner (3/8") plank on bottom.

Cut two pieces of the 1" by 2" that exactly as long as the width of the planks. These are the side supports. Using your Kreg jig, drill holes at one end of both 1” by 2” pieces.

If your stack of boards is the same thickness as the level or if your stack of boards is less than the thickness of the level and you want a bottom overhang, attach the top plank to the side supports using nails or flat head screws or wood glue. But if your stack of boards is less than the thickness of the level and you want a lip on top of the shelf, attach the bottom plank to the side supports by aligning both sides on the edge of the bottom board. Make sure the side supports are turned on their narrow side instead of their wider side.

After attaching the first plank, flip the side supports and plank so that the plank is resting on the bottom. Align the level with the sides and plank. (If your plank is the top plank, make sure to flip the level upside down to align it.) Make sure you have the nicest side of the level facing out away from the plank and side supports. Attach the side supports to the level using the drilled Kreg jig holes. Use fine thread Kreg screws for drilling into levels made of cherry or other hard wood.

Finally, attach the second plank to the sides support pieces using whatever means you used for the other plank.

In one of the photos above you’ll see how I had to add small pieces of wood to the plank that was slightly less wide to make it even with the sides and other plank. This is unnecessary if your planks are already the same width.

Sand any rough or uneven places. To attach the wood veneer to the four sides of the outer frame, start with the bottom side. Lay a piece of veneer larger than the bottom surface with at least one straight edge face down on a work surface and coat with contact cement. Coat the bottom side of the frame with contact cement as well. Wait at least 15 minutes or as specified in the directions for the contact cement, then place the veneer carefully on top of the outer frame so that the straight edge is lined up exactly with the edge of the pine wood frame and does not overlap onto the level itself. Press firmly to smooth the veneer from the middle of the shelf outward. Once it is firmly attached, flip the veneer face down and use a box cutter to trim the veneer even with the three sides of the frame. (It shouldn’t need to be cut on the side that borders the level.) Make sure your box cutter's blade is super sharp for best results.

Do the same for each small side, and then finish with the top.

Finally, do any needed final sanding, and add some stain to the veneer if desired. I rubbed on a coat of Danish Oil with a rag.

Step 3: Making the Inner Frame

The inner frame is the part that will attach to the wall. The inner frame is basically a rectangle that fills most of the space inside the outer frame. Make the inner frame with the 1" by 2" aligned the same way (on edge).

Cut the longer side pieces a little less than the width of the space under between the planks of the outer frame minus two times the width of the 1" by 2". So my space was about 16 1/2" wide minus 2 times 3/4" making a total of 15". I cut the long pieces at about 14 3/4" to leave an 1/8" gap on both sides.

Cut the shorter side pieces almost to the width of the open depth (do not include depth of the level) of the outer frame. My open depth was 5 1/2", so I cut my shorter sides about 5 1/4".

Drill Kreg Jig holes in both ends of the longer pieces. Attach the long sides to the short sides using Kreg jig screws. Add glue to reinforce the joints before you screw them together. Use coarse thread screws for joining pine pieces together. If your shelf is longer than mine, you might want to add an additional support piece to the center of the inner rectangular frame.

Step 4: Attaching the Inner Frame to the Wall

After the inner frame is complete. Drill two or more holes through the inner frame where it can be attached to the wall. Make the holes wider in diameter than the screws you will use to attach it. With a shelf just 18" long, I felt like two holes (one on either end) was sufficient to hold the shelf on the wall. With a longer shelf, i would likely have added another hole or two. If you know where you will install it, and you can align one or more holes to wall studs, even better. Align the holes at the same height on the frame.

Thread your screws through washers big enough to cover the drilled holes, then thread your screws through the inner frame. For toggle bolts, add the toggle to the end of the screw after feeding it through hole in the frame. Make sure the toggle is facing the right way. And make sure toggle bolt screw is at least 3" long or there won't be room for it to open on the other side of the wall due to the thickness of the inner frame.

Attach the screws to the wall in whichever way is required -- directly into the studs, or using the toggle bolts. Tighten the screws or bolts so that the inner frame is tight against the wall and completely level. If you left the holes a little large on the frame, you'll have a little wiggle room to level the frame if some of your holes were a little off (like mine always seem to be!).

Step 5: Installing Your Shelf

Slide your outer frame over the inner frame that is already attached to the wall. The fit should be tight, but it should slide flush to the wall. If the outer frame will absolutely not go on, you may have to take it off and do a little sanding on the inner frame before trying again.

Add decorative items to your new shelf and enjoy!

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