Introduction: Hanging Kitchen Shelf

This is a quick and simple project for building and installing a shelf that can be suspended between two wall mounted cabinets. In our case, the space above the sink was looking pretty sad and empty, so we decided to make a simple shelf to hold a few potted plants and give the area a little more character and color.

We have detailed the specific tools, materials, and techniques that we used to make this shelf based on our own preferences and the resources available to us, but it is by no means the only way to get the job done done.

All together it only took a few hours and we are very happy with the final result. We are using our new shelf to hold some plants, though it would also be perfect for holding cookbooks, storing spices, or whatever your heart desires!

Step 1: What You’ll Need

Here are the tools and materials that we used to complete this project. Many of the items can be substituted to suit your preferences and what you have access to.


  • 1/2" x 12” x 24” Poplar board
    • This is the shelf
  • 3/4” x 36” wood dowel
    • This is what the shelf will hang from
  • 2x small picture hanging nails
    • These will help keep the dowel in place
  • ~10ft of 3/8" twist rope
    • This rope hangs the shelf from the dowel
  • A few feet of twine
    • This will be used to secure and finish the rope loops and ends
    • We used two different varieties: twisted jute twine for the loops and a waxed polyester sail twine for "whipping" the cut ends
  • Varathane Espresso Stain+Poly:
    • Applied to the wood for aesthetics and protection


  • Drilling Holes:
    • Cordless hand drill (or drill press or other drilling device)
    • 3/8" drill bit
    • Drill block (optional but recommended for clean/straight holes)
  • Shaping and Sanding:
    • Orbital sander (optional)
    • Sand paper
    • Dremel (optional) with plunge router attachment (optional)
  • Misc.:
    • Rags for applying stain
    • Scissors for cutting rope and twine
    • Hammer for tapping nails
    • Clamps for securing workpiece for drilling and shaping


  • Safety glasses/goggles (drilling/sanding/shaping)
  • Dust mask (sanding/staining)
  • Rubber gloves (staining)

Step 2: Drilling

First thing to do is to get four holes drilled in the board, one in each corner.

  • Mark the locations for your holes at one inch from each edge in all four corners
  • Drill a 3/8" hole at each location
    • I like to use a simple drill block to help keep the bit centered and straight. Just clamp the block to your board (with the correct sized hole over your marking) and clamp the board to your workbench to keep it steady.
    • Its also a good idea to start with a smaller sized drill bit first and work up to the final size in 2-3 steps

Step 3: Mock Up

Before getting too far along, it’s a good idea to set things up and confirm that it’s all going to work/look as expected. You may well find at this point (like we did) that there is a simpler or more attractive option than your original plan, and decide to switch directions. Better to make that realization now than after you’ve put in all the work and finishing touches.

  • In this case, at a minimum we need to drill four holes in the shelf (per the previous step) and cut the rope to rough length
  • Tie a not in one end of each rope, and thread them through two of your holes so that the knots are on the same side of the board (i.e. the bottom of the shelf)
  • Lay the dowel across the top of the two cabinets as close to the wall as it can go while still leaving a enough space for the rope to pass between the wall and the dowel
  • Tap a nail into the top of the cabinet in front of the dowel on each side to keep the dowel from trying to roll away from the wall
  • Pass the free end of both ropes behind the dowel and over the top
  • Then thread the ropes through the two empty holes in the shelf and pull them through until the shelf is level
  • Tie a lose knot here in both ropes to keep it in place
  • Take a step back and check it out. Place your plants or other objects on top and see how they look

Step 4: Shaping

Now its time to make the shelf look nice. Hard edges, sharp corners and frayed holes are not very attractive, so lets soften it up a bit.

Use whatever tools and methods you prefer to get the shelf looking how you want it. Or if you like the rough, unfinished look, feel free to skip this step altogether.

For this task we used the orbital sander to round the corners, and the Dremel with plunge router attachment and a round over bit to round the edges (followed up with the sander to smooth things out). We went ahead and rounded the edges of all of the holes as well with the same setup.

Step 5: Ropes

Now on to the ropes. In this step we will create two nice looking loops in the rope (secured with twine), cut the ropes to their final length, and finish the ends of the rope.

  • Setup the shelf the same way we did in the "Mock Up" step (make sure you still like how it looks)
  • Now tie a short length of twine around the rope, just below the dowel to establish where the loops will be
  • Remove the ropes from the shelf, being careful not to disturb the twine
  • Creating the rope loops:
    • Keep the temporary twine knots in place to show/hold the location of the rope loops
    • Make a loop with a new piece of twine and lay it on the rope, with the loop extending a bit past the twine knot
    • About 1/2" down, take one of the ends of twine and begin wrapping it tightly around both the rope and the twine loop
    • Continue wrapping all the way up to the temporary twine knot. Remove the twine knot now.
    • Pass the end of the twine (the one you've been wrapping with) through both the twine loop and the rope loop
    • Then bring the twine end around and once more down through the twin and rope loops
    • Now pull down on the other free twine end (the end that we have not done anything with yet). This will shrink the twine loop at the top.
      • Keep pulling until the loop is gone and pulled tight over the other end to secure it
      • Trim the excess twine at both ends. You can also tuck/weave the ends into the rope braid to keep them secure and hidden.
      • Repeat these steps again to create a loop in the other rope
    • Set the shelf up again now that the loops are finished and see how they look
    • Get the shelf level again and pull all of the rope knots tight
    • If you have not already, mark and/or cut each rope end to its final length
    • Undo all the knots and take the shelf down
    • Finish the rope ends:
      • There are many options for finishing the rope ends, or you can leave them unfinished if you dont mind fraying
      • We chose to finish the ends with a method called "Sailmakers Whipping" with a waxed polyester sail twine. We haven't detailed those steps here, but there are many good resources online if you want to learn.

    Step 6: Staining

    Now to really make the shelf look its best, its time for staining.

    It's always a good idea to test out the stain on a sample of the same material of your final piece to make sure you like how its going to look. We happened to have a spare board of the same wood (poplar) so we used that. Be sure to wear rubber gloves to protect your skin while staining.

    • Before applying the stain, sand all surfaces using 80 grit sand paper followed by 120 and then 240
      • The orbital sander really comes in handy here!
    • Clean the board of all dust particles with a vacuum and/or clean rags
    • Using a clean rag, wipe a generous layer of stain onto a portion of the wood
      • Before the stain has had a chance to dry, go back and wipe off the excess to ensure a nice even coat
    • Repeat the previous step, in a new bare area each time, until the entire top and side surfaces have been covered
    • Allow the stain to dry before moving on (specific drying times will depend on the stain, the wood, and the environmental conditions)
    • Flip the board over and repeat the stain application on the remaining bare surfaces
    • Apply three coats total using the steps above, sanding all surfaces with 240 grit between each coat

    Step 7: Installation!

    Okay! The individual pieces are now complete and all that's left is to put them together and hang the thing for the last time.

    • Pick which side of the board you want to be the top of the shelf, and which edge you want to be the front
    • Thread the ends of the rope through the shelf holes so the knots will be at the under side of the shelf and the short end of each rope is at what will be the back of the shelf
    • Tie knots in the ends of the ropes. Keep them somewhat loose for now to allow for final adjustments later
    • Run the dowel through the rope loops
    • Lift the whole thing up and rest the dowel across the two cabinets, behind the two nails
    • Shift the loops to the proper location on the dowel such that the ropes are vertical
    • Now adjust the knots as necessary to level out the shelf and pull them all tight when you are happy

    That's it! Now pop your plants, or cookbooks, or spices, or whatever you want on top. Step back and admire your new shelf from all angles! We are quite happy with ours!

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