How to Build a Floating Decorative Wall Shelf
By: Danny Lipford
This decorative wall shelf made from scrap materials can add a touch of elegance to any room. Interlocking beveled cleats allow the shelf to attach securely to the wall without any visible means of support.
Floating Shelf Materials List
- 1 – 3/4” x 12” x 36” birch plywood
- 1 – 1” x 12” x 36” lumber
- 1 – 1” x 3” x 3’ lumber
- 1 – 3½” x 5’ crown molding
- 6d finishing nails
- 3” screws
- Wall anchors
- Wood glue
- Painter’s putty
Floating Shelf Cutting List
1 – 3/4” x 5” x 28” (box front)
2 – 3/4” x 5” x 7” (box sides)
1 – 3/4” x 6 5/8” x 27¼” (box bottom)
1 – 1” x 12” x 36” (shelf top)
1 – 1” x 3” x 26½” (shelf support)
1 – 3½” x 5’ (molding under shelf)
Making the Floating Shelf
Here’s how to go about making a floating wall shelf for your home.
- Construct a 5” wide by 7” deep by 28” long three-sided box from 3/4″ birch plywood with mitered corners and a rabbeted groove cut in the bottom edge to accept a plywood bottom.
- Assemble the box using wood glue and nails.
- Rout a decorative edge pattern around three sides of a 3’ long 1” x 12” board.
- Attach the top board to the top of the box with nails and glue.
- Miter and attach 3½” wide crown molding to the box under the shelf.
- Rip a piece of 1” x 3” lumber down the middle at a 45° angle to create two matching cleats to hold the shelf to the wall.
- Attach one of the cleats to the back of the shelf inside the box with the bevel facing down.
- Finish the shelf with paint or stain and allow to dry.
- Attach the second cleat to the wall, using screws into studs and additional anchors in drywall or plaster, with the bevel facing up.
- Hang the shelf on the beveled wall cleat.
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Here’s a great plan for a floating shelf that only takes nine pieces of lumber. For the box, using scrap 3/4” birch plywood works great. Start by ripping a strip of plywood 5” wide. Cut one piece 28” long and two pieces 7” long.
Next, fit a 3/4” straight bit in a router and place the router in a router table. Run the three pieces you just cut so one of the long edges of the piece has a groove cut in it 3/8” deep and 3/4” wide.
On the 28” piece, cut 45-degree angels on each end and only one 45-degree angle on each end of the 7” piece. Cut the angles so, when fitted together, you wind up with three sides of a box that is 7” deep.
Next, cut a piece of the birch plywood 27¼” long and 6 5/8” wide. This is the bottom of the box.
For added strength, apply a thin layer of wood glue to the joints before nailing them together. Using a pneumatic finish nailer, nail the three box sides together. Be sure to keep the grooved sides of the pieces all in the same direction.
Next, take the bottom and fit it into the grooves and nail it in place. Again, use wood glue in the joints prior to nailing. Set the box with bottom aside for now.
The top of the box is a scrap piece of 1 x 12. Cut the top 36” long. For a more decorative look, run a router around the two short ends and one long end. A Roman Ogee bit makes a good design. Before attaching the top, sand all the pieces to remove any rough edges. Center the top over the box, keeping the one long end that was not routed flush with the back of the box, which is the long edge with no side.
To complete the look of the shelf, use crown molding, approximately 3 ½” wide and wrap around the sides and front edge. This should take less than 5 linear feet to complete.
Next take a piece of 1 x 3 and cut it 26 ½” long. On a table saw, tilt the blade to 45-degrees and split the 1 x 3 lengthwise in identical pieces. This is how you will hang the shelf on the wall without any visible means of support. Take one of the split pieces and nail it just inside the box with the flat edge facing the top and flush with the back. The pointed side of the angle should also be flush with the back, and the angle’s edge will be facing inside the box.
Now, prime the entire shelf and allow it to dry. Caulk any gaps around the perimeter of the crown molding, and putty all nail holes. When you’re ready to hang the shelf, place the other half of the split 1 x 3 on the wall with the flat edge facing down and the angled side facing the wall. The two pieces of 1 x 3 will interlock holding the shelf firmly to the wall.