Home » Blog » DIY Home Projects » How to Make DIY Wood Shelves

How to Make DIY Wood Shelves

If you know anything about me, you know I love some good wood shelves. Bathroom shelves, kitchen shelving, kids room shelves – basically if there is a blank wall, I will put some shelves on it! Over the last 9 years, I’ve learned some solid tips on how to make DIY wood shelves and am sharing those here!

open shelving with metal shelf brackets
I used these heavy duty shelf brackets

I installed these DIY wood shelves in my last home and made similar ones for my new house. If you’re wondering how to make a shelf, know that they are a pretty straight forward, relatively easy home update once you have a few tricks under your belt.

From kitchen open shelving to bookshelves and small bathroom shelves, this process will walk you through the simple steps of how to build wall shelves.

Wood Shelf Supplies & Materials

  • Wood Shelves (I used white oak, you could buy pre-made oak shelves or buy lumber from hardware store)
  • Metal Shelf Brackets in Black
  • Bolts or Screws to attach brackets (most should come with the brackets)
  • Measuring Tape
  • Painter’s Tape (optional but so helpful!)
  • Pencil/Pen for marking placement
  • Long Level
  • Cordless drill and appropriate drill bit

1. Identify Needs of the Space

One of the most important steps in creating shelves is figuring out exactly what the space needs.

I really try to identify how I’ll be using the shelf (storage or decor). What exactly will be placed on it and look out any possible conflicts (open doors, installation, eye-level hazards, etc.). 

For these wood shelves, they are replacing the upper cabinets in a very small kitchen. I need them to hold some bigger items like mixing bowls as well as every day plates and glasses.

painters tape for shelf placement

Design Tip:

I used painter’s tape to tape off shelf placement and length. This helps me visualize the end result. It also helps during installation (see below).

white oak shelf boards

2. Select Wood Shelf Size

Because brackets are dependent on the actual shelf board dimensions, you’ll want to find your shelf first.  My white oak shelves are 11.25″ deep x 1.5″ thick x 42″ long.

There are so many options, like common lumber from hardware store, reclaimed wood, or pre-made boards.

white oak slabs
white oak slabs on their way to being shelves!

I used white oak lumber that I was able to reclaim from a fallen tree. Some lumber yards have white oak depending on the location in the US. I’ve also seen lots of pretty wood shelves online, like these finished White Oak Shelves.

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* (these would need heavy duty supports)

Pro- Tip:

Common lumber from the hardware store, like Home Depot, is easy and relatively inexpensive. They will even cut the board to whatever length you want for free (seriously)!

However, common lumber’s nominal size is different than its actual size. This means a 2 x 12 is actually 1.5” x 11.25.”  You’ll want to look for the actual size.

beeswax to protect natural wood shelves

3. Prepare Your Shelves

Once you’ve determined the shelf length and found your boards, you’ll want to treat the wood before installing. Instead of stain, I use a beeswax to protect the wood and keep a natural look.

Of course, if your shelves are already finished, skip this step. Or, if you want bare wood that works too, just know they may get marked up over time.

4. Choose Shelf Brackets

Ok, now we’re making some progress here! Once you know what size and type of wood you’ll be using you can select the best brackets for the job. 

In general, bracket styles all function the same by securing to a wall and supporting the shelf. A lot of times they are referred to by their shape. I used these Heavy Duty J Brackets in Black for the kitchen shelving.

Determine How Many Brackets Are Needed

At first, it seems like a shelf just needs two brackets, right? Well, not so fast. Many shelving projects need more support than what two can hold. I had to use three for these longer, heavy shelves!

hanging metal brackets for open shelving

5. Shelf Spacing – Use This Guide

Also, you don’t want to place your brackets too far in from each end of the shelf. This will make the middle of the shelf strong, but the end of the shelf will be weak and not supported.

As a hard and fast rule, I’d say no more than 6” in from each end of the shelf. I think brackets placed towards the end of each shelf looks slightly more modern while farther in seems more traditional. But that’s just me. 

open shelving spacing guide for the kitchen

How to Space Kitchen Shelf Brackets?

Standard cabinet height above the counter is about 18.” Because there are no upper cabinets nearby, I placed my bottom shelf 17″ up from the countertop. There is 13″ between my bottom and top shelf.

I also wanted to make sure the higher shelves weren’t too high so as to be inaccessible but then also not too low creating a lot of negative space. 

I outlined more of my Kitchen Shelving Details with lots more specifics on the shelves.

installing wood shelves in the kitchen

6. Shelf Bracket Installation

With some prep and the basic tools, installation is pretty easy. This is probably the most daunting step of learning how to make open shelving though!

Use a Long Level Tool To Line Up Brackets

Using a level tool, we made sure each bracket placement was lined up and level. While I do love the level app on my phone, a longer level is really helpful here to get precise placements and measurements.

TIP: Avoid using the ceiling as a level guide. Ceilings are often not truly level. Instead use a level surface such as the countertop.

Should Brackets Go Into Wall Studs or Drywall?

Installing shelf brackets into wall studs is preferable and should be the first choice. However, this can really affect shelf and bracket placement. If this is not possible, use a wall anchor like these.

marking shelf bracket drill hole placement

The painter’s tape used to layout the shelving comes in hand to mark the level lines and drill holes.

Pre-Drill Holes

You’ll want to refer to the installation guide of whatever brackets you’re using, but in general pre-drilled holes are a good idea. This means you are making small holes before using the bolt or screw.

Then using a power drill and correct size bit, pre-drill the holes where marked.

drilling into backsplash tile to hang shelves

Can You Install Shelves into Tile?

And if you’re wondering, yes! – it is possible & easy to drill into ceramic tile. You just need a special diamond drill bit.

We used an extra piece of leftover tile to practice first. This gave us an idea of how much pressure and whether the bit was working well.

installing brackets on kitchen backsplash

Attach Brackets to Wall

After the pre-drilled holes have been marked and drilled, attach the brackets using an socket wrench (or screwdriver depending on hardware using). A hand tool usually prevents any issues with breaking a bolt or damaging the bracket.

heavy duty shelf brackets for open shelving

7. Setting the Shelves

Once all of the shelf brackets are installed, you can now safely place your shelves on them. These brackets do not attach to the board (which I love!) but if you use ones that do, you would screw them in at this step.

installing wood shelves in kitchen
That’s my brother! So grateful for his help!

Sometimes, there is a little tightening or adjusting at this step. It usually depends on the boards and the walls.

I also spend some time deciding which side of the board I want to face out. I love the markings on this oak and wanted to highlight it!

DIY wood shelves in the kitchen

Here are the finished DIY wood shelves! I’m really happy with how these turned out. They add a lot of function and design to our little kitchen. I hope this post on how to make shelves is useful for you!

I enjoy styling shelves and am sharing my tips on How to Decorate Shelves in 6 Easy Steps with all of my styling strategies that work on all kinds of shelving!

a guide on how to make open shelving