I’m not what you would call a classic handyman by any stretch. As a self-professed geek, I decided to neglect the more practical education my father could have given me in the various arts around the house. As such, I do not typically approach home improvement projects with joy, and such was the case when Chelsey wanted to put up some shelves in our apartment.
We’d had an adventure with shelves previously, in our bathroom. I got those up without much trouble, using relatively small screws and some brackets and a plank of wood. I got that job done with a hand drill, a hammer, and a level. They had some play to them, but they were meant to hold towels and toilet paper. No big deal. I’m confident I won’t get any major neck-breaking surprises while engaged in my constitutionals.
But when she said she wanted floating BOOKSHELVES, I said, “Ugh.” This was a different beast, at least in my mind. (Note from Chelsey: He was less happy when I showed him what I meant.)
Now the shelves would need to support 40+ pounds worth of books? I was not excited about this particular project. A classic handyman would have been a better fit, I’m sure.
Thankfully, my fears were misguided, since getting some shelves up is more about careful labor and consideration than any real skill. Mine had some flaws, but they’re never ever falling down, unless I want them to. Here’s how I did it!
What I used:
- 10″x36” wood planks for the shelves; no official measurement on the thickness, but they’re about 3/4“
- Wood screws, bought a box of them. They were around 3-4 inches; I can’t remember exactly. They were the thick, black, nasty looking kind that would go into studs and support an elephant if need be
- #6-1/2” wood screws, to mount the braces and brackets to the planks. The thread wasn’t so important to me, but the half inch length was. When we ran out, we stepped up to 5/8” without any problems. That’s why it helps to know the thickness of your wood planks.
- Drywall anchors, for the sake of the brackets on parts of the shelves I thought didn’t have studs. I used the plastic ones that broke into wings when you put a screw in them. They proved to be a pain in the butt, but they got the job done. I think I would use the metal ones in the future.
- Brackets, two per shelf. These were found at Lowes right next to the wood planks. These are generally meant to go underneath the shelf and support it, but we placed it above to act as bookends and to give some more support to the front of the shelf.
- Corner braces were essential to me. Chelsey had found a blog post about a floating shelf with minimal hardware exposure, using half-inch corner braces, I believe. This looked really nice, but I wasn’t confident it would provide support to the books. The corner braces I bought were intended more for supporting a house, and as such they were quite long, maybe 6 inches. These were used to attach the shelf to the studs.
- Carpenter nails (for me to place guiding holes for the screws because I suck with a drill)
- Cordless drill
- Carpenter’s level
- Tape measure
- Stud finder
STEP ONE: Measure
The first step you need to perform is finding studs, if your area has them. These will be the wood beams that perform much of the load bearing. The instructions that come with the stud finder are quite clear, so I won’t explain that process in detail. Mark the boundaries of the studs on your wall.
The second step was to measure out where exactly the shelves would go on the wall. For this, Chelsey and I eyeballed how high they should end up, and then I placed the carpenter’s level on the board and pushed it against the wall. Once you have it adjusted to a level point at the desired height, mark underneath the board with a pencil. This will guide you later as you put in the screws. You also want to mark where the studs were on the board, as this will tell you where to put the braces later.
STEP TWO: Install the hardware
Next, you need to install the braces and brackets. I did not have a proper work bench, so I had to use a black foldout chair to set the boards on while I installed the hardware. This meant that installing the brackets was much easier to do first, then use the chair to install the braces. Because the brackets were ornamented, they proved somewhat difficult to get into place. You want to put two screws in to secure it to the board, but getting a power drill to fit is difficult for one of them. So I placed the bracket where I wanted and drew a small dot where the screw would go, removed the bracket, and drilled a screw in place. Then I reversed the motor and removed the screw, leaving the empty hole, and replaced the bracket. From there, you can use a hand screwdriver to fit into place and tighten the screw. This is not optimal, but it was the best I could do with my relatively-cheap tools.
Thankfully, the other screw hole was easily accessible by the power drill, so a screw went right in! Do the same thing for the other side to install the brackets.
The braces were much easier to place, once you had the process down. Chelsey used some spray paint to make the braces blend more (Valspar, flat white). We didn’t do any scratching and priming, so the paint is likely to peel off with too much agitation. You can go the whole nine yards if you please, but drying took around 24 hours for us, letting us get to work more quickly. Align the brackets with the marks you made for the studs from earlier, and insert at least two 6-1/2“ screws to secure them. Note thjhat you want the vertical part of the brace to be as flush to the wall as possible, so take it slow and place the brace carefully!
STEP THREE: Align on wall and hang
This is where you’ll need to use your drywall anchors. It is highly unlikely you will have the appropriate studs at all 4 spots along the wall. In our case, we planned for the brackets above to be placed into the drywall and for the braces to go into the studs. Install the drywall anchor according to the instructions. For these plastic anchors, that entailed using a hand screwdriver to drill the plastic piece in until it was flush with the wall, then drilling an included screw into the plastic to break the seal and unleash the Ultra Wings of Holding Lots of Weight Up. That was in theory. In practice, I hated these things. The plastic piece stripped out more often before I could finish, forcing me to unscrew and replace the plastic piece, and then I had a hard time getting the metal screw to go in straight. I got them eventually, but they were a chore. I think I would go with the metal drywall anchors in the future.
In order to make the job a little easier for those of us without three arms, I installed the plastic pieces first and then put screws into the bottom-most pieces to suspend the shelf. This is possible because the brackets have that larger circle meant for hanging on a screw without being tightened (it looks a little like a light bulb-shaped hole). Once you secure the shelf onto this screw, you can work without manually holding the shelf up. Score! Unless it falls on you. That gets frustrating. Secure the top-most holes into the drywall anchors, finishing the mounting of the brackets.
Here is where your big three-inch screws come into play. You will need to power drill the braces into the studs. Again, I recommend using two different places to provide the most load bearing. Also, make sure you have a good-enough drill. When we bought our hand drill many months ago, we only cared about price and didn’t consider power. This matters A LOT when you try and do anything real with the drill. I got about halfway through getting the screw into the stud before it would not move any more. The drill simply would not turn it at all, so we had to go to Lowe’s and upgrade. In the $60 to $70 range we found a 21V drill of the same brand, a significant upgrade from the 7V drill we had before. This did the job with some effort. Make sure you have the best drill you can get!
Once the big screws are in, you will have a shelf that is secured in 8 different places to the wall. You have load bearing from above with the metal brackets and from below with the big corner braces. If you did it right, there will be no play, and no amount of books will bring the shelf down. Now you can feel free to get to the decorating and making use of your new shelf.
My advice if you are more of a novice than I am with this stuff is to make sure you plan and think things through. Make your measurements on the wall very carefully or else you will have so much trouble installing the hardware. This project does require being able to generate some force, especially if you have the same kind of apparently-indestructible studs that we have in our apartment. Seriously, those screws were tough even with the new, powerful, and shiny drill. At the end of the day, it was worth it, even if the product didn’t come out perfectly. It’s nice to have a place off the ground to put the books!