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How to Create Open Shelving

Creating shelves is a relatively straight forward and simple DIY project. By following these steps, you can choose the correct brackets and hardware for your project and learn how to create open shelving. 

1. DETERMINE SHELF SIZE

Because brackets are dependent on the actual shelf board dimensions, we recommend selecting your shelf first. In general, it helps to select what type and size of shelf board you’ll be using BEFORE ordering brackets.


Common Shelf Sizes:
Kitchen Shelves: 11.25”- 12” deep 
Bathroom Shelves: 5.5” – 8” deep
Living Room or Display Shelves: 5.5” -9.25”
Photo Ledge: 3.5” – 5.5”
Pantry Shelves: 15″-18″ deep
Laundry Room Shelves: 11.25" -15" 

2. WHERE TO FIND SHELF BOARDS

There are many options when selecting shelf boards. Some require more preparation and DIY skills than others. Here are some of the most common:


  • Dimensional Lumber: Many wood shelves use common lumber from the hardware store, such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. It's an easy and relatively inexpensive option. The stores will also cut the board to the desired length for free. They stock inexpensive pine boards or more expensive oak lumber. 

After purchasing your boards you can sand, stain or finish with beeswax to    achieve the desired look. 
It is important to note that common lumber is smaller than its stated size. This means, for example, what is referred to as a 2 x 12  actually measures 1.5” x 11.25.”   Read our Dimensional Lumber Guide, for complete sizing information. 

  • Pre-made Shelves: Many sites and hardware stores offer premade shelves that are also available online. These include common laminated wood shelves or more natural, hardwood shelves. Here are some of our favorites:

 

  • Salvaged, Live Edge, or Reclaimed Shelves: If you’re looking for more unique or unfinished pieces of wood, your local salvage yard or mill is a great place to start.  You might be able to find a material, such as old barn wood, that can be turned into shelves. 
  • Custom Shelves:  If you’re looking for a less hands on option, hiring a woodworker or carpenter to create custom shelves is another route. This is often a more expensive option but allows for completely custom sizing and finishes. 
  • Alternate Materials: Think outside the box and consider other materials for making shelves. For a polished look, Marble or Glass work well.  Butcher Block also makes a great wood option (and readily available at places such as Ikea or Home Depot). Just be sure to select the correct bracket and installation for non standard shelves (see below). 

3. CHOOSE SHELF BRACKET STYLE

After determining shelf size and material, you can now select the best brackets for the job. In general, bracket styles all function the same by securing to a wall and supporting the shelf with the strength coming from the quality of the steel, integrity of the bends, and gauge of the metal. However, some styles work better than others for specific shelves:


L Brackets: these are the most general, simple shelf brackets. These are also often called an angle bracket and the easiest to use. 
Because these do not have a front lip, they are a good option for uncommonly sized shelves. (General rule: the support arm needs to go at least ⅔ of the shelf depth)
L brackets are also the best option for live edge lumber as the uneven raw edge does not always fit will within a front lip. 
Z Brackets: These shelf brackets have the most traditional, standard design. These brackets have a leg support under the shelf and the boards will sit flush against the wall with a front “lip” coming up around the shelf edge. These are a pretty classic design and are good for beginner projects.
They also work well for pre-existing floating shelves that need additional support because they can be added on without removing the shelf. 

J Brackets: This style of shelf bracket has more of ‘floating’ effect with the leg support above the shelf. The front lip comes around the shelf to hold it snug.  Because the metal leg sits behind the shelf, the board does not sit entirely flush against the wall.

J brackets are an excellent option to create sturdy shelves and still achieve the minimal, floating effect. 


Heavy Duty Brackets: All of our styles are also available in a heavy duty option. Because these hold 100lbs each, they are a good choice for shelves with especially thick shelves or if the shelf will be used for heavy items. 
Heavy duty brackets are made with a 2” wide steel which provides more of visual contrast and may be chosen for aesthetic purposes. 

Speciality Brackets: For shelves made with glass or marble, we offer our Specialty L Brackets for Glass shelves. Because glass or marble can have sharper edges that do not fit well into lipped brackets, we created these L brackets with silicon pads to keep the shelf from shifting. 

 

4. DETERMINE HOW MANY BRACKETS ARE NEEDED

Once you’ve selected the style of bracket you’d like, it’s important to consider how many brackets are needed to properly support your shelf. While our shelf brackets are incredibly strong (our standard brackets hold about 75lbs each and our heavy duty can bear 100lbs each), it’s important to also consider support down the entire length of the shelf. 

Of course, all shelves are different, but if your shelf is over 36” long, we suggest using more than 2 brackets. 

Here are our recommendations for quantity of brackets needed based on shelf length: 


0”-36” = 2 Brackets
37”-68” = 3 Brackets
69”-100”= 4 Brackets
101”-132”=5 Brackets
133”-164”=6 Brackets

5. PREPARE FOR SHELF BRACKET INSTALLATION

Now that you’ve selected your shelves and brackets, it’s time to prepare for installation. We recommend installing shelf brackets into wall studs if possible. These are typically 16” apart on center and can be found using a stud locator. 

If installing into a wall stud is not possible, we recommend our toggle bolts which are incredibly strong and safe and are installed directly into the drywall. 

Most often, brackets are installed into regular walls with drywall and studs. However, it is possible to install onto other applications such as shiplap, tile, and brick - you’ll just need to use special hardware for these situations. It can be helpful to plan that in advance to help your project run smoothly. 

Once you identify the location of your shelf brackets, you can use painter’s tape to layout your shelves and follow our step by step Installation Guide to finish your project.