DIY Floating Bookshelves

Today I want to branch out into something a little different for my blog – DIYs. Making things for myself and others, whether it be custom t-shirts, home décor, or miscellaneous arts & crafts, is something I have always loved to do and is definitely one of the biggest ways I find I can express myself creatively. Most of my ideas are inspired by other DIYers (s/o to Pinterest), but I figured I might as well document and share my own process off in hopes that it might inspire someone else to try making something themselves that they’d otherwise go out and purchase!

My first project was something I’d been envisioning in my home office since we bought our new house in April: wall-to-wall floating bookshelves. When I originally expressed this idea to my husband, he had a few concerns including the strength of the shelves – these are intended to hold books, after all, which are not exactly light. So I went ahead and did my research, found this helpful blog post from a couple making heavy-duty floating shelves for their kitchen, and modified it to fit my space and my needs. Below are the materials we used, steps we followed, and some pictures of the process!

Step 1: Determine Sizing and Location of Shelves

Originally, my idea was to have wall-to-wall, extra-thin floating shelves, as I thought this would be the most aesthetically pleasing. However, it didn’t take long to realize that logistically this wasn’t the best idea –  for a couple of reasons:

  • Plywood comes in 8-foot sheets. Anything longer and I wouldn’t get the seamless look I was going for across the front of the shelves, so we opted for 8-ft long shelves. This would leave a little space between the edge of the shelves and the edge of the wall (because my wall is 9.5 feet long), but would make the building process easier and the end product nice and seamless.
  • These shelves are intended to hold books – a lot of them. If I wanted them to be floating, they’d need to be much more than an inch thick or I’d risk them falling (or ripping) off of the wall. We decided on 4 inches of thickness as enough to hold all of my books and keep the building process relatively simple, because I could still use 2x4s and plywood as my materials. (Again, this idea was reinforced by this blog post, as they used 2x4s and plywood and used their shelves to hold kitchenware!)

With these decisions made, I used strips of painter’s tape to mark out each shelf out on my wall and make sure I liked the size and spacing of the shelves in my room. I highly recommend this step if you’re making any sort of large-scale shelves or other statement piece (like a gallery wall with picture frames, for example) because this gives you flexibility to move things around before you do any building or drilling into the wall! If the sizing or spacing looks off, you can adjust your plans accordingly.

Step 2: Find Studs and Design Wall Support Frame

The most common method for building and installing floating shelves is to do it in two parts: first, you have a “wall support frame” that mounts directly onto your wall first and consists of one long back piece and several smaller perpendicular supports you need to give your shelf strength and rigidity. Then, you have an “outer box” that slides nicely over the support frame and gives your shelves a clean, floating appearance. This next step is all about designing and building your wall support frame.

Wall Support Frame substeps:

  • Locate all of the studs on your wall that will intersect with your shelves. Mark them as a “mount to wall” location on the wall and copy the measurements onto a piece of paper. I went ahead and marked every single stud location that I found so that my shelves would have as much wall support as possible.
    • I ended up with 6 stud locations approximately 16 inches apart (which I believe is standard stud spacing, but always good to double-check with a stud finder!)
  • In between each of these “mount to wall” locations, determine where you want your perpendicular supports to extend out from the wall, and how far. It’s very important that these are between the “mount to wall” locations – if you overlap them, you won’t be able to drill into the wall into the stud because there will be a 2×4 in your way.
    • I decided to have 7 perpendicular supports: one directly in the middle of each of the “mount to wall” locations (five of those), and one on each end of the shelves.
    • I also decided to make these supports 8 inches long, which when added to the 1.5” back piece made my shelves stick out about 9.5 inches from the wall. How deep you want your shelves to be depends on what you plan on using them for!

Step 3: Design Outer Box

Again, the outer box is the piece that slides nicely over your wall support frame to hide all of the mounting bracketry and give your shelf a nice seamless, floating appearance. We decided to make ours completely out of ¼” plywood.

To design your outer box, you will need to determine three different sets of dimensions:

  • Top & bottom pieces – determined by the overall depth and length of your shelves.
    • Mine are 9.5 inches deep by 8 feet long.
  • Left & right side pieces – determined by the depth of your shelves and the height/thickeness of your perpendicular supports.
    • Mine are 9.5 inches deep by 4 inches tall.
  • Front side dimensions – determined by the height and length of your shelves.
    • Mine is 4 inches tall by 8 feet long.

Step 4: Buy Materials

With all of the sizing and measurements planned out, it’s finally time to go to the hardware store and buy your materials!

We ended up buying the following materials for TWO shelves:

  • 1 – 1/4″x4’x8′ sheet of plywood cut to the following sizes:
    • 4 – 9.5″x8′ (top and bottom pieces of outer boxes)
    • 2 – 4″x8′ (front pieces of outer boxes)
  • 1 – 1/4″x2’x2′ sheet of plywood cut into:
    • 4 – 9.5″x4″ (side pieces of outer boxes)
  • 2 – 2″x4″x8′ boards (back piece of wall support frames)
  • 2 – 2″x4″x8′ boards cut to the following sizes:
    • 14 – 2″x4″x8″ (perpendicular pieces of wall support frames)
  • 24 metal L-brackets
  • Small, medium, and large screws
  • Wood filler
  • 1 quart – gray paint (can also use stain or paint in any color)

Step 5: Build Your Shelves

I think the photos above are the most helpful for seeing how to assemble everything, but some notes on how I built these shelves:

  • For the wall support frame, we screwed the perpendicular support pieces directly to the back support piece with at least two medium-sized screws each, plus added two L-brackets to each perpendicular support. This isn’t necessarily required, but the L-brackets added some peace-of-mind that the perpendicular supports wouldn’t disconnect from the back support piece.
  • Also when assembling the wall support frame, we marked right on the wood where all of the “mount to wall” locations (or stud locations) would fall on the shelf. This will help remind you to keep those spots clear of perpendicular supports and L-brackets, but also will come in handy for mounting.
  • For the outer box, originally we were planning on leaving the inside completely open to slide over the support frame, but because the shelves are so long the plywood started bowing and becoming hard to work with. We just used some scrap pieces of wood to add some rigidity to the inside of the box in locations that wouldn’t interfere with the perpendicular supports.

Step 6: Mount Your Shelves

To mount your wall support frame, have one person hold the shelves level on the wall while another uses the “mount to wall” locations marked on your shelves to drill your support frame directly to the wall. We used three of the largest screws we could find per mounting location so that there was no risk of it ripping out from the wall.

Once your support frames are mounted, slide your outer boxes over the perpendicular supports and push them all the way until touching the wall. Then I recommend using some small screws to fasten the outer box to the support frame in a few locations so that it doesn’t slide itself out over time.

And that’s it! For us this was definitely a big project, but we had very few mistakes or road bumps thanks to all of our planning beforehand. I definitely think it pays off to take your time, double- and triple-check your measurements, and have a helping hand available (thanks, husband)!

This being my first DIY post, there’s a great chance that I missed a step or wasn’t very clear about something – please comment with any questions that I can answer or help clarify! I’m excited to keep doing projects and share my steps with the internet to hopefully help or inspire someone else to try their own DIYs. Let me know if you have any projects on your radar or if you’re more of a buyer than a DIYer!

2 thoughts on “DIY Floating Bookshelves

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