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Simple Low-Tech Wall Shelf Plans

Updated: Feb. 27, 2023

Easy for anyone to build-and fun to customize!

FH15OCT_SIMPLE_01-2Family Handyman
Lots of kitchens have a little wall space that would be perfect for a storage or display shelf. Plenty of bathrooms do too. We wanted to design a shelf that anyone with basic tools could build. This shelf is a great project for a beginning woodworker, and since it's so easy to adapt to different uses, a more advanced DIYer can have a lot of fun customizing it.

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A full day

Tools and wood

You’ll need a jigsaw, a drill and two accessories for the drill. The first is a No. 8 combination drill bit and countersink, which you can find anywhere drill bits are sold. The second accessory is a small sanding drum (Photo 3), which you can find at home centers or online. The one I used is made by Vermont American. The only other tool you might need is a nail set, for setting the heads of finish nails below the surface. Obviously, if you have a band saw and a miter saw, they will make this project a piece of cake.

You can build this shelf from just about any type of wood. Resist the urge to use the least expensive knotty pine, unless that’s the look you’re after. Knotty pine will be harder to work with and to paint well. Instead, get clear pine, poplar or any other knot-free board. If you’re planning to paint the shelf, avoid oak. I used alder from The Home Depot.

Low-tech woodworking

This is a low-tech project. A jigsaw and a cordless drill are the only power tools you need, though there are more accurate and faster options. You’ll also need some basic hand tools and two specialized accessories for the drill: a sanding drum and a combination drill/countersink bit.

Cut out the shelf and brackets

Photo 1: Cut the shelf to length

Use a fresh blade and a square to guide your cut. A miter saw is the best tool for the job, but if you don’t have access to one, you can substitute almost any other saw.

Photo 2: Cut the curved brackets

For a curve like this, a smooth continuous cut is more important than following the line exactly. Any bumps or blips will be hard to sand out.

Photo 3: Sand the curves with a sanding drum

The trick is to go against the direction of rotation of the drill, with the drill going fast. If you make a gouge, angle the drum slightly to remove it.

Begin by cutting the shelf to length with a jigsaw (Photo 1). Then cut a piece 6 in. long from which you can cut the two brackets (Photo 2). Jigsaws often make a rougher cut on the top surface, so label that ‘top.’ The roughness will be hidden by the edging, even if the top of the shelf is visible after hanging it. But use a finetooth blade and set your oscillating feature (if your saw has it) to zero.

You can trace the curve for the brackets from the full-size pattern on p. 22, or even easier, use the bottom of a coffee can or a small plate. The exact curve isn’t important. After the brackets are cut, smooth the sawn edges with a file, sanding block and the sanding drum in your drill (Photo 3) until the wood is smooth. You can stop sanding at about 150 or 180 grit.

Install edging strips on the shelf

Photo 4: Nail on the edging

The edging is a stock molding from home centers. It keeps stuff from falling off the shelf and covers the rough ends of the shelf.

Start edging the shelf by cutting the end strips to length. Instead of measuring, just hold the molding to the end of the shelf and mark it for cutting. It won’t hurt if it’s a hair too long. Mark one edge of the shelf as the front edge, then nail on the side strips (Photo 4), keeping the front edge flush. Make sure the rounded edge faces out. Put a thin bead of glue on the shelf edge before nailing, and keep the bottom edge as flush as you can. If the strips are a little long in back, you can easily easy sand or file off the excess, and if they stick out a little on the bottom edge, that can be sanded off too. Finally, nail on the edging strip in front.

Now set the nails and put a little painter’s putty on them. When the putty is dry, sand the edging so the corners are smooth and the bottom edge is flush with the shelf. The bottom of the shelf will have a seam between the shelf and the edging. It’s pretty much impossible to eliminate that seam permanently. Expansion and contraction of the wood will open it up even if you caulk or putty it, so don’t be too much of a perfectionist. However, if your cut on the 1×6 is particularly rough, some putty there will help clean things up.

Screw the brackets to the shelf

Photo 5: Screw the brackets to the shelf

Notice that we’ve traced the shape of the bracket on the top of the shelf to help position the screw holes. We used a combination countersink/drill bit for the holes.

The next step is to drill some screw holes in the shelf for attaching the brackets. The idea is simple: two screw holes on each side of the shelf so you can screw down into the brackets. Here’s what to do. First, hold a bracket where you want it to be, but on the top of the shelf. Trace around the bracket, then do the same thing for the other bracket. Mark the screw locations and drill screw holes in the shelf from the top, using your combination drill/countersink bit.

Now hold a bracket in position on the bottom of the shelf, make sure the back edge is flush with the back edge of the shelf and that the screw holes are centered on the bracket. You can do it by eye, but if that’s hard, put the two screws in their holes and use the points of the screws to guide you. Drive the screws by hand into the bracket (Photo 5), then repeat with the other bracket. Now is a good time to step back and admire your work, because you’re almost done. But if for some reason you messed this part up, just drill new holes and fill the old ones with putty. You can shift the position of the brackets if you want.

Paint your shelf

Photo 6: Spray-paint the shelf parts

You’ll get better results by unscrewing the brackets and painting everything separately. A screw in the top of the bracket is a handy handle.

Begin this part of the project by unscrewing the brackets. It’s always easier to paint a project well if you can do the parts separately. Sand the pieces thoroughly to about 150 to 180 grit, removing sharp edges and corners, but not rounding them over too much. Wipe the sanding dust off with a rag and vacuum the parts thoroughly. Now set up your painting area. I highly recommend using spray paint for this project because it’ll get you the smoothest finish.

Cover your work surface with paper or plastic, and set your shelf on strips or blocks to get it up off the surface. The shelf is pretty easy to paint, but go light on the edges to avoid drips. After the first coat of paint is thoroughly dry, sand it lightly with fine sandpaper, just enough to take off any roughness. Wipe and vacuum, then apply two final coats.

There’s a trick to painting the brackets: Drive a long screw in one of the holes and use it as a little handle. That way you can spray the whole piece evenly in one shot (Photo 6). Then carefully set it down on a couple strips of wood to dry. When the paint is dry on all the parts, reassemble your shelf.

Hang your shelf

Photo 7: Hang your shelf with small angle brackets

For a light-duty shelf like this, you don’t need to screw it to the studs. Just make sure the shelf is level and use drywall anchors in the wall.

We recommend using small angle brackets to hang your shelf (Photo 7). Normally the top of a shelf is above eye level and the brackets are hidden, especially with items on the shelf. If your brackets are more exposed, give them a little spray paint to match the shelf, and paint the part that goes on your wall to match your wall. They’ll be barely noticeable. Generally, though, this step isn’t necessary.

To hang the shelf, use drywall anchors. Don’t worry about hitting studs; there shouldn’t be enough weight on this shelf to require it. Just put the shelf where you want it to go, make sure it’s level, mark through the brackets where the anchors will go, and install the anchors. If it seems like you need a third hand to manage everything, you could draw a level line on the wall where the shelf will go. With the anchors in place, use the screws that came with the anchors to attach the shelf. Your shelf is complete!

Customize Your Shelf

Pothooks and lids

This shelf has hooks screwed underneath to hold frying pans. We gave the hooks a dark finish by heating them with a torch. On our shelf, we cut off some of the threaded part of each hook with a bolt cutter because they were too long. The pot lids are held in place with two rows of 5/16-in. dowels. For heavier lids, use 3/8-in. dowels.

Blacken screw hooks with oil

Working outside, burn off the plating with a torch. Dip the hook into cooking oil and heat it until the oil burns off. You may need to repeat a couple times. This makes a hard, baked-on coating that resists wear. It’s like seasoning a cast iron pan.

Plates and spoons

This shelf has a strip of molding (any kind will work) nailed on the top a couple inches from the back edge. This will keep plates from sliding off. The rod is 5/16-in.-diameter steel available at hardware stores. Cut it with a hacksaw and file the ends smooth. The trick is to drill the brackets before assembly, both at the same time, so the rod is perfectly aligned. The hooks are simple S-hooks, also a hardware item, opened up with a pair of pliers.

A wood strip makes it a plate rack

Tack a piece of molding to the top of the shelf to keep plates from sliding. Experiment with your plates to find the best location for the molding.

Go ahead-play with this project! It’s easy to make your shelf as long as you want it to be. Just put more brackets underneath it, maybe one every 2 ft. or so. You could also scale it up by using 1×8 lumber, or even wider stock, as long as you also scale up the brackets. However, I have one strong recommendation: If you’re doing anything more than changing the size or color, first make a prototype out of inexpensive pine. Your plates, pot lids, cooking tools or whatever will be different from ours, so make sure they fit.

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