The Floating Shelves




Introduction: The Floating Shelves

About: Desktop Support Technician by day. Rock Drummer by night. DIY Home Improvement Enthusiast. Maker of whatever I can imagine in between it all. Professional level napper. I have a full workshop in my basem...

I don't know about you, but I have some stuff ... and some of that stuff looks pretty nifty on a shelf. If you saw "The Faux Metal Desk," you know my hatred for MDF, but you also know I had some left over and planned to use it specifically for shelves.

I wanted the shelves to be substantial ... not some 3/4" plank nonsense. Nice chunky shelves just floating there and being awesome.

Step 1: Cut and Prep the Parts

I ripped the parts to width on the table saw and then cut them to length on the miter saw. After that, I cut the rabbets on the table saw and cleaned them up with a putty knife and hammer. It's MDF, you don't need a chisel ... you could do it with your fingernail (don't do that).

I chose rabbets because I like rabbits and they are similar. I also chose rabbets because they help me align the parts when assembling.

Step 2: Assembly

Initial assembly was done with glue and brad nails. Everything was reinforced with screws. I used drywall screws just to annoy the purists.

Step 3: Filling and Sanding

Since I wanted the look of a solid slab floating on the wall, I need to fill all the seams. I used wood putty and once it was dry, I sanded it outside with an orbital sander.

The dimensions on these shelves are somewhere around 48" Long x 8" Wide x 5" Deep.

Step 4: Paint

Several coats of satin black paint until I was satisfied with the coverage (I'm never satisfied).

Step 5: Installing the Cleats

My house is 90 years old ... you guess it ... horse hair plaster. I take my time laying out the studs so as not to make a mess of the plaster. Placement of the cleats, and therefore the shelves, were somewhat dictated by the location of studs. I wanted to hit at least three studs per cleat. I secured them with some lag bolts and washers. I don't remember how long, but since the cleats are 1 1/2" + the plaster + the slats, I'd say at least 4" long. I painted the ends black because I foresaw gaps thanks to the wavy walls.

Step 6: Hang the Shelves

I laid out and drilled some holes in the tops of the shelves so I could secure them to the cleats. Some people screw them in from the bottom, but you are dealing with two forces here - gravity and shear. Screws on the top are way better at fighting shear than screws on the bottom trying to hold all the weight. I used tape so as not to mar the paint.

Last step was to display all my small percussion instruments.



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    22 Discussions

    Do you know how to paint MDF so it has a "plastic" type sheen to it? I built simple shelves to raise my Flat Screen and the shelves look good but I like that mirror shine look.

    Short explanation. Shear will be on both sets of screws( cleats and upper on shelves) but created by different modes. The cleats will experience shear from gravity and the weight of the shelves. This will try to cut the screw in half at the wall. The top screws experience shear because of the bending moment caused by gravity, shelf weight and distance of the weight's cg from the wall. The moment will be at the bottom the shelf so your intuition was right about securing from the top. This same moment will also try to rip the screw from the wall.

    why not use the French cleat system? that way they would be pulled tite to the wall and you would not have to screw them to the cleat.looks great good use for leftovers (;-)

    2 replies

    I'm a big fan of the French cleat. My workshop uses them everywhere, and I wall mount computer monitors with them all the time. There were a few reasons I couldn't or didn't feel comfortable using them in this situation.

    1. These shelves are massive. Ok not massive, but 4ft long isn't small and MDF is relatively heavy. You have to use a smaller cleat for the French system so you have the clearance to mount the shelf and you end up with more shear force. My cleats were cut down to be a perfect, snug fit into the back of the shelves, which reduces shear (at least in my head .. I could very well be wrong). My shelves don't press against the wall at the bottom or ride up on the cleat, because they can't. You can't see the screws since they are black, most are above eye level, and there are objects on the shelves.

    2. There isn't a wall in my house that is flat. Everything has a wave .. especially over a 4 foot span. The French cleat would've had bends in it that would never line up with the straight cleat mounted in the shelf. My solution allowed me to scribe the shelves to the contours of the wall as necessary.

    you know what works best for your particular situation . I have similar problems live in a stone house the walls are 2'thick with no studs just firring strips nailed to boards layed flat between the stones,must be 100 yrs.old

    This is a good idea for a way to display small items. good work.

    Do your dogs bark at all the rabb(i) (e) ts?? What kind of dado blade do you use?

    1 reply

    I don't have a dog, so nope. I had two free range/roam house rabbits, but they have passed. I also don't have a dado blade. I use a regular blade and either move the fence or cut from two directions.

    WOW!!!!!! Out of the hundreds of floating shelf tutes I have looked at this is the FIRST one that made SENSE! All the rest seem to presume that either you are a shelf wiz and have built hundreds of these or have even ever SEEN how they are built!

    Which I have not! Thanks for posting this might just solve a shelving issue of my very own now!

    Hey, GREAT idea, although I'm not to keen on the MDF [whatever that is].
    Personally, I think I would rather use something with more 'body' to it.
    Maybe masonite? Eh, maybe not. ;D
    I like the wall-mounted cleats, tho; tres kool.
    I went back to wet-shaving a year or two back, and I used a commercial 'floating shelf' for my shaving gear, but I not really satisfied with it.
    Its too small, and its white, which is blandly ok in the bathroom, I guess.
    Thanks for some ideas.

    Have a GREAT day, neighbor!
    Could you loan me a cup of grass seed? ;D

    The drawing included shows another way to hang a shelf with a concealed hanger that does not require fastening the shelf to the wall. My two previous posts were deleted because I hadn't figured out (been shown) how to add images.

    Shelf and hanger.png

    They look great and they'd hold up an elephant... what I want to know is what's up with all the deleted comments?!?

    1 reply

    I deleted my own comment due to a grammatical error .. then reposted (I make grammatical errors all the time). I don't have an answer on the CurtR comments as I never saw them.

    Nice Instructable! I did something similar by cutting a hollow core door for use as the shelf.

    2 replies

    How has it held up strength-wise? My initial assumption is that there is a lot of flex, but I'm wrong all the time.

    It's all dependent on the cleat. His 2x4's will be plenty strong.

    Commercial (cheap ones anyway) pressboard based floating shelves use 2 metal rods attached to a bit of strap with the holes for the studs -- and since they're only 3/4" wide, they flex a bit too much to put anything heavy on them.

    Some Fancy Pants termed these "Floating Shelves" at some point due to the lack of any visible bracket/support. They appear to float. The Bracketless Shelves don't sound as cool either .. IMO.

    Note: There is no evidence this Person was actually wearing pants ... fancy or otherwise.

    Very cool idea, I am going to steal this concept for my place. Looks like my poor uncle with all the wood working equipment will be "donating" his garage again.