Walnut and Oak Shelf Brackets, From Plank to Finish




Introduction: Walnut and Oak Shelf Brackets, From Plank to Finish

About: Engineer and Scientist, occasional instructable writer

Shop bought shelf brackets are often ugly metal, or made out of pine and really weak. I wanted something better than pine covered in knots so I decided to build my own brackets.

These are able to support at least 75kg each, which was enough for me to hang off. These were made and mounted entirely with unpowered hand tools, apart from an electrical stud finder to find wall studs, but really I should have used the magnet trick to make it entirely out of non-powered tools.

I started with a rough sawn walnut plank and took it all the way to the finished product you see here.


Walnut plank 22mm x 120 mm x 1000mm (only 500mm was used though)

9mm Oak dowels, however I think any softwood dowel more than 5mm would suffice

Hand plane(s) (only one is necessary for replication)

Ryoba Japanese pull saw (a tenon saw and standard saw would also work but may cause tearout)

Workbench, a folding one would do

Hand drill and 4mm and 9mm brad point drill bit (substitute the correct sizes for your screws and dowels)

Screws and Screwdriver


Vice (A workbench with moving jaws like the famous workmate will do)

Square, I used a speed square and another square but you only need one.

A hammer or mallet

Sandpaper, optional but preferable: Hard sanding block or wrap sandpaper around a block of wood

A wood finish, I used Danish oil

Step 1: Preparation of the Wood

I had a 22mm (1") plank of american walnut, rough sawn, however you could use any hardwood, if you want to use pre-dimensioned wood skip to step 7. (All imperial units in brackets are not exact, I am an engineer and so never use inches, however they are close enough though for you to get the impression.)

Despite having access to a workshop and hand planes I am not a hand tool expert, far from it, but we all have to start somewhere. I have done a few small, less complicated power tool projects before though. This was the first plank that I have planed and it turned out okay, it doesn't need to be perfectly square or flat and so shelf brackets are a great first project.

I found a bench dog (that light wood plug thing in the picture) that fit into a hole in the workbench, and clamped the other end, although two clamps without the bench dog would work. I planed both sides until it was as smooth as I could get it with the planes.

Step 2: A Lot of Shavings, and Sanding Later

I got most of the board somewhat flat and mostly smooth. This did take some time and I got a few catches (see pictures) which made some of the surface rough, probably sharper planes would help. I then used a sanding block and 80 grit sandpaper to make the surface smoother. This made the planed areas rougher but the areas where there was a catch I couldn't plane without making it worse.

Step 3: Cutting the End Square

I marked a cross cut line using a speed square and a pencil. I clamped the board to a folding workbench and used a Japanese Ryoba to cross cut the wood. The Ryoba was the only saw used in this project and left a very clean cut. I used the reflection in the blade and the guide line to make sure the cut was as square as possible.

A normal hand or tenon saw would work here too but I didn't have one, but make sure it is suitable for cross cutting. The saw I used has two sides, one for cross cutting, the fine teeth, and one for ripping, the big teeth. What is a rip or cross cut?

Step 4: Measure the Length and Cut the Width You Want

I chose 250mm length (approximately 10"), for no other reason that it seemed about right for what I wanted to use the shelf bracket for and 45mm (approximately 2") because then I could get three lengths across the plank.

Using a ruler, or marking gauge measure the width, I used callipers which can do if you really want to.

I did the rip cuts first to have more to clamp to, using the line I scratched into the wood and the reflection in the saw as a guide. I used a vice for the second cut and it was no harder or easier, either method works.

Step 5: Cross Cut the Board

I then cross cut the board, again using the reflection of the blade to keep the blade as close to 90 degrees as possible (I think I was a few degrees off actually but hand tools are rarely perfect). Hold the loose pieces so they don't splinter as you cut them

Step 6: Making the Boards an Even Width

The boards weren't perfectly straight after my hand cutting, so I clamped them in a vice and planed the cut edges smooth. This was only really necessary because my cuts were a bit off, some more than others, do your best to get the edges smooth, even and square.

Step 7: Drilling, and Countersinking a Hole for a Screw

I then used a hand drill and a 4mm brad point drill bit to drill almost all the way through the end of one of the pieces. Once the point of the drill protruded I flipped the board to finish the hole from the other side to reduce tearout.

In hardwood, it is best to have a hole that clears most of the screw with just the thread engaging(see picture), in softwood it is better to have a smaller pilot hole. Drilling a pilot hole this close to the end of a board is essential to prevent the wood splitting when the screw goes in.

Some people say that screws don't hold well in end grain, which is true, so I used an 80mm (3") long screw to get more hold. Although we will be adding dowels in a later step.

Step 8: Transferring the Hole and Screwing It Together

I used a clamp and the drill bit to transfer the hole location, I then made sure I was drilling square and drilled the hole. I used the other piece of wood as a guide, holding it square and in a vice. I couldn't drill deep enough so I removed the guide piece and finished it without the guide.

I then screwed it together, using a screwdriver, and the pilot hole makes this possible by hand, otherwise this step would be impossible.

Somewhat relevant side note: The screw is a PZ2 head, and the screwdriver is PZ2. Stripped screws are usually caused by using the wrong screwdriver. The screw box usually says what head it has, use a matching screwdriver, see more about screw heads and drives here

Step 9: Adding Dowels and Glue

After screwing it together and checking the alignment I drilled two holes big enough for the oak dowels, mine were a bit larger than 9mm so I had to go back and use a 10 mm drill. I also had to use a different hand drill because the chuck on mine was too small. If I was to do it again I would use 6 mm or 8mm dowels.

Once the dowel holes were drilled, I took the screw out, added glue to the face, dowels and dowel holes. I also drilled a 3mm weep hole to allow excess pressure and glue out, because the first bracket I assembled I could not get the dowel to go in properly due to the dowel acting like a piston and compressing the glue and air.

Step 10: Adding a Diagonal Dowel

This step is optional, I added another dowel diagonally. This was done by drilling vertically at the beginning and slowly angling the drill bit to change the angle. This was glued in, and sawn flush with the saw.

Step 11: Adding Mounting Holes

I used four mounting holes, marking with the point of a drill bit to stop the bit wandering. I drilled through, and then added countersinks.

Step 12: Adding a Finish

After a light sanding, I added Danish oil, which is a combination oil and polyurethane finish, this certainly darkened the wood and made it look better. Unfortunately I didn't do enough sanding or planing so there are some areas that don't look brilliant. Although they are perfectly functional and still look way better than the ugly ones that you buy at the shop.

Step 13: Mounting to the Wall

I transferred the drill marks and then drilled a 3mm pilot hole for the 80mm long screws, it was impossible to screw in by hand without the pilot holes. I ran out of time to make the shelf, the current restrictions on social movement meant the workshop I used at the beginning of the project became unusable. I was going to use Baltic Birch Plywood cut with the same saw. If you are going to cut plywood with a handsaw it is recommended to use one with hardened teeth

Hand Tools Only Challenge

Participated in the
Hand Tools Only Challenge

Be the First to Share


    • Game Design: Student Design Challenge

      Game Design: Student Design Challenge
    • Big and Small Contest

      Big and Small Contest
    • For the Home Contest

      For the Home Contest