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How to Build a Wall Shelf

Updated: Feb. 01, 2023

Build this homemade wall shelf before lunch—spray on the finish after dinner

FH10OCT_SATSHF_01-2Family Handyman
This versatile, cherry wall shelf goes together in a few hours, and with a quick-drying finish you can have it mounted in a day. The extra-wide top makes it perfect for vases, antiques and collectibles.

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A full day

Video: How to Build a Simple Wall Shelf

Building the shelf

Photo 1: Mark trim parts in place

The first step in building homemade wall shelves is to cut the 1-in. band and the cove moldings extra long. Fit the miter on one end, then mark the opposite end for cutting.

Photo 2: Center the top

Measure the overhang on each end and adjust the top until it’s centered.

Photo 3: Nail on the top

Glue the band and nail through it into the top.

Photo 4: Install the cove moldings

Add the 1/4-in. spacer and bottom board. Then finish up by fitting and nailing the cove molding.

Photo 5: Mount the cleat to hold your homemade wall shelves

Level the cleat and screw it to the wall. You can locate studs or use drywall anchors.

Sure, you can buy a wall or box shelf similar to this one at a discount store, but you won’t be able to choose the size or finish. We designed ours with a wider top to hold vases and other collectibles, but you can make yours bigger or smaller. Plus, you can finish it to match your room. The shelf is versatile and goes together fast—it would make a great gift. We made our shelf from cherry, but you can also make it from oak or pine for about half the cost.

Want to try a different wall shelf? Try this floating shelf with a secret drawer.

Tips for building the shelf

  • You’ll need a miter saw and a table saw for this project. A finish nailer isn’t necessary but is very helpful.
  • If you don’t have a finish nailer, drill pilot holes for the finish nails to avoid splitting the wood.
  • You can use scraps of less expensive lumber for the base (E) and cleats (C and D) since these aren’t visible.
  • Glue the parts together. Because you can use fewer nails, you’ll have fewer nail holes to fill.

We finished this cherry shelf with a coat of American Walnut stain (test the color on a scrap) and three coats of spray satin lacquer. Photo 5 shows how to mount the cleat that supports the shelf. Then you just drop the shelf over the cleat to hang it on the wall.

Find some of our favorite finishing tips here. They will help you greatly with this homemade wall shelf.

Figure A: Shelf Details

The Cutting List gives finished lengths for the top, front, sides, cleats and bottom. You can cut these to the exact width and length listed and nail them together. The lengths listed for the 3/4 in. x 1 in. bands and the 3/4 in. cove moldings are oversized. You’ll mark these pieces in place for an exact fit (Photo 1).

A complete Cutting List and a Materials List are available in pdf format in Additional Information below.

Additional Information

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Rags
  • Stud finder
  • Table saw
  • Tape measure

Additional Information