Rope Shelves




About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mart...

Getting organized can be a daunting task. Doing it stylishly and inexpensively is even more challenging. I've had this idea for putting hanging rope shelves in my room for ages and finally did it! I'm really happy with how they turned out and how easy they were to make. No joinery or furniture making skills necessary!

I had a space in-between two built-in shelves that housed a bulky, not-so-hot looking desk/shelf thingy. (I was too embarrassed to include a photo!) This made installing these shelves easy as I could hang them off of the built-ins rather than having to use brackets and put holes in the walls of my rental. But brackets would totally work if you don't have any other option. I'll go over that alternative in step 3.

Let's get started!

Step 1: What You'll Need

Decide where you want to put the shelves. This will determine the length and depth of your shelves. I had a gap of 34 3/8" so I made my shelves 34 1/8" long to allow for a bit of wiggle room. The built in shelves were 8 1/2" deep, so I made mine the same (that required me using a table saw to cut down the wood. If I had left the pieces their original store bought depth of 9 1/2", that would have also looked great so if you don't have a table saw, don't sweat it.)

Also determine how many shelves you want to have. This will dictate how many pieces of wood to buy / have cut.

This was my shopping list:

  • 1x - 38"x 10" x 1" pine (top support board)*
  • 5x - 34 1/8" x 10" x 1" pine (shelves)
  • 32' of nylon rope**
  • 4x - 1 1/2" wood screws

Tools I used:

  • measuring tape
  • pencil
  • table saw
  • drill press
  • sand paper

*Most hardware stores will cut wood to length, so don't worry if you don't have tools to do that at home.

**I chose to use nylon rope because it doesn't stretch the way cotton rope does, which allows for better control over shelf placement. How I figured out how much I needed was by measuring how high my shelves would be (6'), adding 2' for the knots to each length. You need 4 lengths total, one to go through each of the corners of the shelves, so this meant I needed 4 pieces that were 8' long = 32'.

Step 2: Measure + Cut

Measure and cut your wood to the dimensions you determined in the previous step.

Step 3: Drilling Rope Holes

If your shelf lengths are similar to mine (34"), drill your holes for the ropes to go through close to the board ends, giving you maximum usable shelf space. (I drilled mine 1 1/2" in from both edges)

If your shelves are longer, you're going to want to drill the holes in a bit further so your shelves don't sag in the middle over time.

To drill your holes, use a bit that is just a teensy bit bigger than the thickness of your rope. You want a snug fit without making it difficult to pull the rope through.

For my top shelf that rests on the tops of the built-ins - and is what the rest of the shelves hang off of (the 38 1/2" one), I also drilled small holes where I would be screwing it down into the tops of the built-ins. This is so customized, I didn't include these measurements. You'll have to freestyle this depending on your circumstances. If you're going to use brackets to hang your shelves off of, you'll need to drill 'rope sized' holes in the arms of the bracket instead of a top shelf like I did.

Step 4: Soften the Edges

Use a medium grit sand paper (I used 220) to soften all the edges of each shelf.

I left my wood unfinished as it is all going indoors and won't come in contact with any moisture, but feel free to throw a finish on yours.

Step 5: Placing the 'Keystone' Shelf

If you have supports you're hanging your shelves from, put your longer 'keystone' shelf in place.

Step 6: Screw It!

Screw your support shelf in place.

Step 7: Ropin'

Cut your rope into four equal lengths.

Step 8: Binding the Ends

Using scotch or masking tape, wrap up both ends of each rope length so they're easy to put through the holes in the shelves and don't fray.

Step 9: Top Knots

Take your first rope length and put one end up through a hole in your support shelf.

Tie a simple knot and pull it tight by using both hands to pull down and up at the same time with as much force as you can muster.

Remove the tape from the end.

Repeat with the remaining three rope lengths.

Step 10: Hands-Free Hold Trick

Place a thin belt around the support shelf. You'll use this to keep the next shelf up and out of your way so you can tie the next set of knots.

Step 11: Shelf #2

Take one of your shorter shelves and put the rope ends into the corresponding holes going in from the top.

Step 12: Shelf #2 - Part II

Shimmy the shelf up the ropes, pulling them through the holes as you go until shelf #2 is well above the height that it will end up. Wrap the belt around shelf #2 and do up the buckle. This will keep the shelf out of your way while you tie your next knots.

Step 13: Get Knotty!

Tie a knot in each rope just above the height you want shelf #2 to end up at. Try and tie all 4 knots at the same height.

Step 14: And Release!

Undo the buckle on the belt and lower shelf #2 onto the knots you tied. Using your eye balls or a level, adjust the knots until your shelf is level. Once it is, pull down on each end of the shelf, tightening the knots, until it is 'just' above the desired height*.

Remove the belt from the top shelf.

*When you put items on the shelves, adding weight, the shelves will settle a little bit more so you want to allow for that.

Step 15: Repeat for Shelf #3

Step 16: And for Shelf #4

Step 17: Now for Shelf #5

Step 18: One Last Time for Shelf #6

Don't cut the ends off the ropes yet! Load your shelves up first so that they settle and you can make sure they are all where you want them.

Step 19: Load 'em Up!

Step 20: Trimming the Ends

Once you're happy with where all your shelves are and you've tested the 'stuff' weight to see how they will settle, cut off your rope ends and brush your fingers through the end bits so they look their best!

Step 21: Nice & Knotical

Voila! You now have really good looking shelves that were cheap to make and easy to build.

If you end up making a version of these, I'd really love to see photos and please click the 'I Made It' button!

Happy making!

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    18 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea!! great solution and explanation. I need it and didn't know. Thnks from Uruguay.


    5 years ago on Step 9

    I think of nylon rope as slippery.

    For the top knot, because it won't need readjustment, a figure-of-eight knot might work well. If the knot were to wedge into the hole below, that would be ... bad, so I might consider, too, putting in a metal washer (if it doesn't show).


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Great 'ible. I made similar shelves once but simply could NOT get the knots positioned right for them to hang level.I solved the problem by eliminating the knots entirely. I cut two spacer blocks exactly 1 ft long to hold the shelves properly apart. As I spaced each shelf, I ran a screw into the end of the shelf and right thru each piece of rope. That locked the shelves perfectly parallel. It was a clean-looking design, and it was fun watching people trying to figure out what held the shelves up...

    1 reply
    Paige Russellldmorgan

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    That's a great solution to the problem of naughty knots! I found the nylon rope to be easier to shift knots around on, but if you want to use natural fiber rope, this would be a great thing to try!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Neat design, but do be aware that although the knots on each shelf hold only the weight of that shelf, the knots at the top hold the weight of all the shelves. Each section of rope holds the weight of all the shelves below it.

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    How sturdy are the shelves? I love the look of them but would be weary of putting breakables on it incase it wobbles.

    1 reply

    They are pretty sturdy, but I would shy away from stacking them with breakables, as yes, they aren't fixed to the wall. If you do want to do that, I'd recommend adding small L brackets under the bottom and middle shelves and screwing the them into the wall to keep the shelves more stable.


    5 years ago

    your idea about using the belt is so simple yet so effective and precise. thanks for the instructable

    1 reply
    eric squat

    5 years ago

    Very nice. Looking for a space to try it out. Nice instruction, too.

    1 reply

    5 years ago

    My mom needs new shelving on her boat and I've been trying decide on an inexpensive solution. Your idea is perfect! I may need to use small L-brackets to keep them from swinging, but that's easy enough. Thank you for sharing a great idea.

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Wow! Very creative, clean and beautiful.

    But I´m sure it´s not your fingers...