Introduction: Build a Hanging Shelf System

About: A maker since birth. I love to tinker, design, build and fix.

This modular, attractive and easily configurable shelf system can be built almost entirely using readily available parts and materials from any big box hardware store. The locking collars can be found online. Follow these simplified steps and you can build something similar, of your own design, in a weekend of effort. The companion video provides a better idea of the steps and tools required. And even though I have a shop full of sophisticated tools, this entire shelf can be built with hand tools and a power drill. Just not as easily. :-)

Step 1: Design, Then Gather the Materials

Look at the empty wall where you want the shelf and picture how you would like it configured. It's best to keep the longest shelf to less than 36". I found the Trex material will sag somewhat with longer spans. If you are hanging the shelf from a picture rail, the spans between the poles are not critical. However, if you are using lag bolts to attach into studs, then you will need to use multiples of 16 inches, and determine where your first pole will be located on your wall, and work out the rest from there. Rough out a sketch and calculate the lengths of tubing, flat bar, and Trex board you will need. You can then count the number of bolts, nuts, and collars needed.

The tubing can be 1" or 7/8" in diameter. It's best to get plated (shiny pre-polished) tubes if you can find them. If not, you can pick up 1" unpolished tubing at a Home Depot or Lowes. You will need the corresponding locking collars for the diameter you choose. They can be bought online. such as here: Or, if you have the tools and inclination you can make them yourself for far less cost. In a true cost saving move, you can drill holes through the tubes at the exact right spot and use pins to hold the shelves in place. This is trickier since you have no adjustment afterward, but very cheap.


Trex decking lumber 2x6

1/2" x 1/8" Aluminum flat bar

1" or 7/8" Aluminum tubing, plated is best

Correct set screw locking collars for the tubing

1/2" x 3" Carriage bolts and nuts (Picture Rail version)

1/2" x 5" Lag bolts (Hard mounted version)

Over-the-door style coat hooks (optional)


1/2" bullet point drill bit Dewalt

Spade bits sized for locking collar and tubing

Hack saw/Band saw

Circular saw/Table saw

Drill press/Power drill and vice

Files, sand paper, utility knife, measuring tools, try square

Step 2: Cut the Materials to Length

Using whatever tools you have available, cut the Trex board, the tubing, and the flat aluminum bar to the correct lengths needed. Keep in mind the old adage, measure twice, cut once. ;-)

Once the Trex is cut, you will need to extend the groove around the sides. This is an 1/8" cut, that should be 3/8" deep. (In the video I misspoke and said it was 1/2" deep) The flat bar is 1/2" wide, so 1/8" will protrude and is the real nice touch that really sets this project apart, making it look professionally built. To cut this easily, a table saw and a mortise and tenoning jig does the trick. If you only have a circular saw, you can make this cut using some good clamps and a work table edge. Don't freehand it or you might dehand yourself.

Decide if you are going to make the flat bar meet at a 45 degree, picture frame style, or 90 degree, butt up style, before you make the measurements and cuts.

Step 3: Mark and Drill the Holes in the Trex for the Tubing

Depending on the design you have chosen, you will need to drill the requisite holes for the tubing. Generally, it's 1.5" from the back to the center of the hole, and 1.5" from the edges. However, if your collars are large, you will want slightly more space to give adequate clearance and maintain strength.

Start by drilling a 1/8" pilot hole completely through the Trex board. Next, drill the collar relief counterbore either on the top or bottom depending on your design. Use a spade bit large enough to accommodate the collars you acquired. Counterbore just enough to make the collar sit flush with the surface of the board. Next, flip the board over and bore the hole for the tubing using the correct diameter spade or Forstner bit. Make sure to have a perfect 90 degree set up. Drill presses make this easy. Freehanding, requires great skill and practice. If the hole is not perpendicular, the shelf will tilt or twist.

Step 4: 45 Degree Cuts

If you choose the picture frame style to join the edges of the flat bar, start by make a 45 degree cut as close as possible using a hack saw or band saw. Finish the 45 precisely using a jig and belt sander as in the picture or carefully filing it smooth. Practice makes perfect. Try a few scrap pieces before tackling the final cuts.

Finish, by tapping the flat bar into the grooves and testing the result. You can then remove the bar and polish before final assembly.

Step 5: Optional Coat Hooks

If you have incorporated coat hooks into your design, then you will want to use over-the-door style hooks that you can find at the hardware store. To install them bore a 1" hole 1-5/8" from the back. This is assuming you have a hook that is 1" wide and has a 1.5" throat. Once the holes are bored you will need to mortise out the material so that hook mount will sit flush with the top and back. This is done with a try square and a utility knife. Carefully. It's the simplest tools that will "get" you the quickest. Score the edges of the mortise to a depth of 1/8", then using a wood chisel remove the material.

Step 6: Drill the Tubing and Make the Mount

No matter which mount you will use, picture rail or lag bolt, you will need to drill 1/2" holes in the tubing to accommodate the bolts. This is best done using a drill press, vice, and V-block. But, you can also use just a vice and a power drill. Either way the hole should be drilled using a 1/2" bullet point bit.

Picture Rail hanging method:

You will need to grind and fit a 1/2" nut so that it will fit inside the tube. If you are using 1" tubing, it may fit in neatly, if 7/8" tubing grinding will be necessary. A nice finishing touch to cover the thread of the bolt is to shrink heat shrinkable tubing over the threads. You can find it at electronics and marine centers.

Lag Bolt method:

You will need to create an appropriate sized spacer that will hold the tubing parallel to the wall when the shelf is mounted. One side will be flat, the other should be "fish mouthed" to fit nicely on the tubing. You can approximate this cutout using a flap disc in a drill press, a grinder, dremel tool, or half round file.

Step 7: Paint, Polish and Assemble

The shelf system looks great painted. The contrasting polished aluminum tubing and edges really pop against a glossy finish. Once it is finished the way you like, assemble the pieces leaving the locking collars loose until you get it on the wall. Then you can level all the shelves and tighten the set screws to hold it.

I hope you get a chance to build one of these. They can really make a blank wall come alive and will have friends and family asking you where they can buy one.


Greg Pless