Simple Heavy-Duty Shelves




About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

I've got a little home office that doubles as a craft and sewing room.

It didn't have much storage though, so I decided to add some shelves along the length of two of the walls.

The shelves are made from two 2-by-12 construction-grade boards. The finished shelves are simple and minimalist, yet very strong.

They're not fancy at all, but serve their purpose and are nice enough to have indoors. Like me!

After completing these shelves, I added some hanging storage bins underneath which is covered in a separate instructable here: Hanging Storage Bins.

Step 1: Make a Plan

For heavy-duty shelves like these, my first concern was to identify the wall stud locations and select which ones I wanted to fasten my brackets to.

My priority was fastening the brackets to studs for maximum strength, rather than lay the brackets out for looks and hang them on the drywall with drywall anchors. (For light-duty shelving that's certainly an option, but I was not concerned with looks over strength.)

HOWEVER as luck would have it, my wall studs were positioned in such a manner that allowed for a fairly symmetrical and eye-pleasing arrangement. Because the shelf boards were substantially thick and beefy, I was perfectly content to have the brackets spaced 48 inches apart.

At the corner, the two shelves were joined together with a small half-lap joint which eliminated the need for a third bracket on the side wall.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

The primary components for these heavy-duty shelves are:

Tools and supplies I used:

  • Planer (optional)
  • Band saw or jig saw (optional)
  • Circular saw
  • Orbital palm sander
  • Router in table with fence
  • Drills and bits
  • Finishing stain and clear coat

Step 3: Plane Boards If Desired

This is completely optional, but for aesthetics I decided to plane my boards down a little. I removed about 1/4" from each one.

If you machine-plane construction grade lumber like this, be especially careful to look for and remove all the staples!

Home centers love to put staples all over their wood products just to torment us.

For planing long and heavy boards like this, a pair of cheap roller stands are incredibly useful. I got mine at Harbor Freight and they work great.

Step 4: Cut Shelves to Length and Cut Out Brackets

The next thing I did was cut the two boards to length as needed. The side wall shelf ends near a doorway, so I clipped the corner on that end to avoid it taking chunks out of peoples' heads.

With the remaining off-cuts, I used a band saw to cut out triangle pieces to become the support brackets.

For simple triangular shelf brackets like these, it's advisable to orient the grain to run diagonally as shown in the photos.

For looks, I cut out a shallow scoop along the long side of each bracket using a band saw. For reference, the short sides of my brackets are 10 inches long.

Step 5: Square Up the Brackets

It is essential that the brackets are perfectly square.

I used a carpenter's square to mark any areas of un-squareness, and used a sander with 60-grit sandpaper to knock down a few high spots. With just a little fine-tuning the brackets were made perfectly square.

Step 6: Mark Keyhole Hanger Placement, Drill Pilot Holes

To ease in hanging the brackets perfectly level with one another on the wall, it's critical that the keyhole hangers are installed precisely the same distances from the top edge on each bracket.

The backside of the brackets will be routed out to hide the keyhole hangers; however, prior to routing I marked and drilled pilot holes for the keyhole hangers, as this would be a little more difficult after routing.

I used a scrap piece of wood as a support and marked the hole locations on each bracket for the top hanger.

I then marked the holes for the lower hangers using a quart paint can for positioning (it was nearby and provided the correct height--just use whatever is handy).

The two hangers were placed about 4 inches apart, but exactly the same distances from the top edge on every bracket.

With the holes marked I drilled small pilot holes in each marked location. I actually used a nail set to punch each location first, which keeps the bit from wandering as you start to drill.

Step 7: Route Back Side of Brackets

I used a 3/4" flush router bit in my router table to route a channel on the back side of the brackets where the keyhole hangers will go. This channel was made about 3/16" deep.

Just make it deep enough to ensure that the hangers sit completely within the channel and do not sit proud at all.

Step 8: Install Keyhole Hangers

Before installing the hangers you need to remove some material to allow clearance for the heads of the screws that will be placed into your wall studs, upon which these brackets will hang.

There are many ways to do this. I chose to carefully drill out the area with a 1/2" forstner bit. The middle indents of the "8" shape made by the drill bit were removed with a sharp chisel.

The pilot holes were drilled a little deeper as needed, and the hangers were installed using 1 1/4" #6 wood screws.

Step 9: Corner Area Prep

As mentioned earlier, the shelves meet up at a corner where they tie together with a half-lap joint.

See photo notes for details on how these cuts were made on each shelf to create this joint.

Step 10: Stain

For stain, I went with Red Mahogany.

Step 11: A Trick That Everyone Should Know

When staining larger areas of wood, put down a heavy coat and then use a rag to wipe away most of it . . . but always leave a wet edge as you go.

Otherwise, you will overlap an already-wiped-away area when you apply the next section of stain, which will leave a visible transitional area where the stain will appear darker.

Step 12: Clear Coat

There are many ways to finish wood.

For these shelves, I used spray lacquer to coat the shelf boards and brackets. When the lacquer was dry, I sanded everything lightly by hand with 220 sandpaper, which made all the surfaces perfectly smooth.

After sanding I wiped on and buffed off a coat of paste wax.

Step 13: Another Little Trick

To the backside of each bracket I added pieces of brown sticky-backed craft foam.

This protects the wall from the brackets by creating a springy little cushion between the wood and the wall. This sponginess also allows for quick installation without the need for a lot of adjusting the wall screws in and out for a perfect fit.

Step 14: Hang Brackets

The name of the game for this whole project is consistent measuring.

If you installed the keyhole hangers precisely the same distances from the top edge of each bracket, you're half way there.

I specifically wanted to two keyhole hangers for support on each bracket, even though for light duty use one would probably suffice. This adds a little extra thought to make everything work, but it's not too hard.

For each bracket, I found the wall stud to which it would be fastened and marked the center of it.

I measured up from the floor the exact distance needed and marked the location to install a screw for the top keyhole hanger.

Using a level, I then extended the line downward to indicate the centerline for placement of the bottom screw. I then measured down from the top mark as needed and marked the location to install the screw for the lower keyhole hanger.

In each of these locations, I installed a 3-inch #10 screw, leaving the heads protruding from the wall about 3/8".

I checked the fit of the brackets, adjusted the screws in or out a little as needed, and pressed the brackets onto the screws and tightly pulled them down into place.

Step 15: First Shelf

With the brackets installed I put the first shelf in place on top. It fit!

I fastened a single screw into each bracket through the top side of the shelf, through pre-drilled and countersunk holes.

Step 16: Second Shelf

My second shelf was fastened to the brackets in the same manner as the first.

Step 17: Fasten Corners

Where the two shelves met at the corner with the half-lap joint, I fastened them together with three small screws from the underside.

Step 18: Done!

These shelves turned out great and are ready to be loaded up with stuff.

Thanks for taking a look at my simple shelf project!



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    32 Discussions


    3 years ago

    How much of a load do you think these could handle? I'm looking at building some shelving for books and the last thing I'd want is for my library to come loose from the wall.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I've got mine loaded up with random, heavy things.

    I wouldn't hesitate to have a full line of large books on mine--I'm sure they could handle that without any problem.


    3 years ago

    OMG I want to do these in my sewing room JUST for the purpose you did! I have a sewing machine overflow (we won't mention the treadles)... Thank you for your instructions ...


    3 years ago

    Looks good!

    And I learned something, thanks for that!


    3 years ago

    Thanks I made a similar one. Now I have another problem. In our kitchen we have a box sticking out one foot all around the ceiling with the cabinets underneath. I want a shelve all around it but we don't have the space for the bottom support. Can they be done upside down so the shelve would be hanging?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I don't see why not!

    Just keep in mind that the full weight of the shelf will be hung on the fasteners you use to connect it to the brackets, so you'll have to beef up that connection substantially more than I did here.


    3 years ago

    I've never used keyhole hangers.

    I've always just popped a keyhole bit in my router and that was it.

    Does anyone know the upper weight limit, if there is one, when one would have to move to these hanger plates?


    3 years ago

    Wow! They are awesome!

    Rich Carver

    3 years ago

    Nice job; and nice showing the screws from the bottom in step 17 -they'd likely cause a split if from the top near the end of the board.


    3 years ago

    I have been looking at my office and thinking of doing something exactly like this. No router, so I'll have to buy pre-made brackets, but this is incredible! Thank you!


    3 years ago

    Nicely done! Very clear instructions...And, what a great old sewing machine collection!


    3 years ago

    Great work, and I love the old green Bernina!

    Callie Lea

    3 years ago

    How did you create the standing-height desk? I need to stand and work, and my 2'x4' work table is on bed risers, which is just the right height for me. Did you buy a special standing-sitting desk or just modify it to meet your needs?

    2 replies
    seamsterCallie Lea

    Reply 3 years ago

    My desk is actually an old steel desk I found on my local classifieds a few years back. It's an incredibly heavy beast, but I love it!

    I removed the original short steel legs and replaced them with a built-up 2 by 4 structure to add height.

    Callie Leaseamster

    Reply 3 years ago

    Now, that I can easily do. Thank you. I couldn't tell from the little bit of the leg showing in the photo.

    I got my sewing table at my neighbor's yard sale. It was one of their kid's computer desk, with a sliding drawer to accommodate a keyboard. I bought an adjustable rolling chair and even in its highest setting, it's a bit too low for me to be comfortable while I sew.

    What I'll do is try to make new legs that can be adjustable, like my drafting table is. I have arthritis in my lower back and need to modify my work tables to accommodate various positions more and more, it seems, as the passage of time is desperately trying to make me shorter and shorter. Maybe it's time to get a highchair. lol


    3 years ago

    What's up with your desk? Pun intended. I like it!!

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago


    It's an old steel desk I put up on stilts to be a standing desk. It's quite a beast :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    great job! I need some of these shelves. Did you do a post on the desk stilts, I need that too!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks! They are really nice to have and I definitely recommend building some.

    I didn't do a write-up on my desk, unfortunately! : (

    However, it's just an old steel desk I found on my local classifieds a few years back. I removed the original short steel legs and replaced them with a built-up 2 by 4 structure to add height.

    TK Trooper

    3 years ago

    What kinda weight would this keyhole bracket hold?