Floating Shelf Design

Bock, said my friend.  I need shelves to go on the wall.

Well, I said, you made a good start.  That’s usually where shelves go, apart from the last ones you wanted, on the ceiling.

Yeah, he agreed, that wasn’t a great plan.  But anyway, I want shelves for the wall.

No bother, I said.   I’ll make some nice wooden brackets.

But even as the words were out of my mouth, I could see there was a problem.  He was making that face and scratching his chin that way: the expression that says, Sorry, but I’m going to be awkward here.

I’d like it to look as if the shelves are just stuck to the wall, held up by invisible supports.

Right, I said. Let’s head down to the skyhook shop.  He didn’t reply.  He just stood there looking at me with that face that says You want to do this.

And he was right.   I’d been mulling the problem over for a long time.  How do you mount a shelf on a wall in such a way that it just seems to be stuck there?  I’d read about all sorts of schemes involving threaded bar and two-pack epoxy glues, but they all seemed very messy, and every one of them had the potential to go disastrously wrong if you drilled a hole slightly off-centre.  Besides, that wouldn’t work at all if you were trying to hang them on a timber-studded wall.

You want a cantilevered shelf.

I want a floating shelf. 

That’s what I said.  I’ll sleep on it, I told him.  Good day to you, Sir!

And so I did.  I slept on it and when I woke the next afternoon, the answer was there in my brain, fully formed without having to do a single tap of thinking.

I cut his shelves to length, and then I drilled three holes in the back face, about 50mm deep.  These holes would be useful later.  Then I ripped a width of about 40 mm off the length, so now I had two pieces, one wide and one narrow, but with corresponding holes in both of them.  I’ll call the narrow bit the batten because it goes on the wall first.  The other bit I’ll call the shelf.

I cut some slots in the batten, for another cunning reason which I’ll explain in a minute.  These ones are probably a bit deep.


I then screwed the batten to the wall.  In the picture, it’s fixed to a stud partition with coach screws, but you could just as easily anchor it to a concrete wall with expanding bolts.  The  short dowel sticking out is to align the shelf with the batten.   I drilled a couple of pockets in the shelf face exactly where the screw heads would be, to make sure they don’t cause any obstruction.


I then put extra-strong chemical wood glue on the joining face of the shelf and slid it into position.

Hold that there a second, I told my friend, while I slide this ratchet strap through this slot that I cunningly cut a few paragraphs back.

I tightened up the strap, and bingo, the shelf was locked into position against the batten.  Leave that there for a day or so, I told him, When we take it off, the whole thing will be one piece of timber again.

And so it was. And so it is.




14 thoughts on “Floating Shelf Design

  1. Nice concept, design and execution Bock, you were always good at sawdust-making. What’s the name of the extra-strong chemical wood glue you use that takes a day to harden, or is that a secret?

  2. n00b question – what sort of load will that shelf take? would it not be the case that the shortness of the dowels and the brittle dried glue would tend to snap the outer piece off if you put something too heavy up there? not trolling, just genuinely interested as I would love to put some of these in myself.

  3. I wouldn’t recommend this design if you wanted the shelf to be massively strong. The main vulnerability is the fact that there’s only a 40mm lever arm against the wall and therefore the lower fibres might crush if the shelf is overloaded. The dowels have no structural role: they just serve to locate the pieces accurately. The wood itself will break before the glued joint does, so that’s not an issue. I might build one of these and test it to destruction to find out how strong it is.

  4. When I was a young fella we would glue 2 pieces of board together edge to edge,leave them for 2 or 3 days and then try and break them.They never broke on the joint,but would tear the wood fibres apart= glue is stronger than wood fibre.Why expanding bolts in concrete?.

  5. I just thought a batten on the wall,a proper sized screw and plastic plug always does the trick.I have used studding in the past instead of dowels,and you can let the studding into the shelf half way or even further if you want.I would also smear the threading on the studding with glue for good measure

  6. Sheskin — Plastic plugs are only suitable for shear loads. I would never rely on them to resist a longitudinal force.

    When I refer to studding, I mean the structure of the wall but that’s clearly not what you mean. Could you elaborate?

  7. Yes studding is a threaded metal rod in various sizes which can be cut to size to make up a bolt of any length.You simply put a nut on either end,and you have a bolt of exactly the length you require.I have done what you did but used metal studding instead of dowels to locate the the 2 pieces of wood.Screws and plastic plugs are fine providing the substrate is strong.All the expansion bolts in the world wont make any difference if the wall is in poor condition.I have had to use chemical fixings on occasion when walls are in poor condition.This was a small part of what I did for a living in times past.

  8. I never heard the word studding used in that context before, but if you look at the original post, you’ll see that I referred to threaded bar. I don’t like it for this use.

    As regards walls in poor condition, that’s outside the scope of this post.

  9. Sorry Bock, this is the trouble with words,they can mean many different things to many different people.I believe studding can also mean a small sail on a square rigged vessel and many other things as well depending on where you live in the world.If I go into a builders merchant in the UK and ask for studding I certainly wouldnt be given wood,but I understand your point completely.If you put in a screw with the correct plug to the right depth in a wall,then try to pull it out,9 times out of 10 you will pull a chunk of the wall as well,exactly the same as an expanding bolt.It is as I said always down to the substrate.

  10. Bock, Ikea do a great range of floating shelves. A steel bracket fixed to the wall, and the shelf has internal holes at the back which the metal brackets slide into.

    Nice and neat. And easily fixed, even by amateurs.

    But you probably don’t want to hear that.

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