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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.