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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. Choose Shelf Size

First, choose your shelf size. You’ll want to choose the right depth and length for the space.  My kitchen 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.

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.

white oak shelf boards

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

2. 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.

3. Choose Shelf Brackets

With your shelf size in mind, you’ll get brackets to fit that shelf. There are a lot of styles and options but you want to make sure you choose strong ones.

I always use brackets from my brother’s company, Cascade Iron Co. They are made in USA and super strong.

For my kitchen shelves, I used Heavy Duty J Brackets in Black.

hanging metal brackets for open shelving

5. Tape Out Shelf Placement

Decide where to install brackets. I use painter’s tape to plan and visualize the shelves.

I used three brackets to support the longer shelves and installed into wall studs.

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

  • Using a long level, mark the bracket placement with a pen on the tape. Make sure they are level with each other.
  • With shelf brackets in hand, mark each hole placement.
  • Pre- drill a hole using necessary drill bit.
  • Attach each bracket one by one. Double check to make sure each one is leveled as you go.
marking shelf bracket drill hole placement

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.

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

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
heavy duty shelf brackets for open shelving

8. 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