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DIY $15 Chunky Wooden Floating Shelves

September 20, 2012

Thanks to Allison at House of Hepworths and Shannon at AKA Design for featuring my shelves! A huge thank you also goes out to Kate at Centsational Girl for featuring my shelves in her 'Best of the Blogosphere' round up!

+++ UPDATE +++

Since this post, I've painted our powder room and updated the shelf styling. Here's what they look like today:

If you're looking to build a set of freestanding shelves instead, check out our second shelf tutorial to make a set of shelves with sides like the ones we built in our hallway:

Back to the tutorial :)

Wayyy back in July, I showed you the plans we had for our powder room:

Those plans involved adding some chunky floating shelves above the toilet:

Two months later, those shelves have finally been added:

But let's back up for a minute so I can show you how we made them :)

Before we started building the shelves, I rough sketched a drawing of how I wanted them to look. Since my sketches make no sense to anyone but me, I've "translated" it into something you can (hopefully) understand:

Top view:

This is what I envisioned the shelves looking like if you were a giant that was looking straight down on them. I wanted to build a hidden inner frame that the top and bottom boards could sit on/screw into.

Side view:

To make everything look as seamless as possible, I wanted the width of the top board (AKA top of the shelf), hidden side support brace boards, and bottom board (AKA the bottom of the shelf) to equal the height of the front piece (AKA the front of the shelf) so that when everything was put together, each shelf would look like one chunky piece of solid wood.

Once we had an idea of how the shelves were going to be built, we headed to Lowe's to get our supplies. We spent over an hour in the store deciding on what kind of wood to buy, what cuts needed to be made in the store (so we could get the wood in my car), and how thick to make the shelves.

When we finally figured everything out, we bought the following:

•   Front pieces: 1, 1x6x6 whitewood board
We had our board cut into 2, 31 3/4" pieces (the width of our wall) and then we had each of those pieces ripped down to 4" (the height/thickness of our shelves).

•   Top and bottom pieces: 1, 1x10x12 whitewood board
We had our board cut into 4, 31 3/4" pieces (2 for each shelf).

•   Hidden inner frame: 2, 1x3x8 furring strips (we only used 1 1/2 furring strips)
We cut the following pieces at home: 2, 31 3/4" back support pieces, 4, 8" side support pieces (2 for each shelf), and 6, 8" middle support pieces (3 for each shelf).

TIP: Don't forget to buy screws/nails and stain/poly if you don't have any at home!

Sidenote: Even though they looked OK in the store, the furring strips we bought weren't the same width so it was difficult to make the hidden inner frame pieces an equal height all around. If I were to build the shelves all over again, I would purchase a different type of wood to make the inner frame with. Just something to keep in mind if you decide to build these shelves yourself :)

After we cut the furring strips into 8" pieces, we started to build the two hidden inner frames. Each frame required one 31 3/4" back piece, 2, 8" side support pieces and 3, 8" middle support pieces.

To assemble the hidden inner frames, we used wood screws to screw each of the 8" furring strip support pieces into the back support piece from the back. We made sure that the side pieces were lined up with the edge of the back piece but we didn't worry about the spacing of the middle support pieces since no one would see them and we weren't planning on putting heavy objects on the shelves anyway.

After both of the hidden inner frames were built, it was time to attach them to the wall. To figure out the placement of the bottom shelf, I measured 4 feet up from the tile floor (no reason, just liked the height) and made a mark. Then I measured 4" (the overall height of our shelves) up from that line and made another mark.

I stood back to view the placement and liked what I saw so we measured 3/4" (the thickness of our top shelf) down from the top line and another 3/4" (the thickness of our bottom shelf) up from the bottom line to mark our placement for the hidden inner frame.

Once all of our measurements were marked on the wall, we placed the inner frame in between the two middle marks and my boyfriend started screwing it into the wall:

TIP: Make sure you leave plenty of clearance around your plumbing pipes so you don't screw into them!

After everything was secured into the walls (remember to screw in the side support pieces!), we set the top board for the shelf on the newly mounted frame to see what it would look like:

So far so good!

After we had the first hidden inner frame hung, we measured 12" from the top line we marked earlier and made another mark for the bottom of the upper shelf. Then we measured 4" up from that mark for the top of the upper shelf. From there we measured 3/4" (the thickness of our top shelf) down from the top line and another 3/4" (the thickness of our bottom shelf) up from the bottom line to mark our placement for the second hidden inner frame.

We repeated the same hanging steps above to mount the second hidden inner frame to the wall and once it was up, things looked like this:

If you squint, you can kind of see shelves haha

At this point, I did a test fit of each of the top and bottom shelf pieces since my pieces of whitewood were bowed and I didn't want to stain one side of the wood only to find out that it didn't fit where I had planned on putting it. Once I had all of the pieces labeled, I took them out to the garage to stain them dark walnut:

I let the stain sit for 20 minutes on each piece before wiping it off. After everything was stained, I let the boards dry overnight. The next morning I took them outside so I could spray lacquer them (try not to be jealous of my awesomely landscaped yard ;) ):

I didn't poly them because poly and I don't get along very well but if you and poly are BFF's, skip this lacquering step and use poly instead :)


An hour later the lacquer had dried which meant that it was time to attach the top and bottom shelves to the hidden inner frame. I attached the top of the lower shelf first by flipping the board over to the non-stained side and running a small band of wood glue around all of the edges EXCEPT for the front edge. Then I flipped the board over, set it in place and pressed down making sure the top made contact with the back and side supports.

After the wood glue set up and the shelf was no longer wiggly, I hammered in a few finishing nails along the back edge of the shelf. In hindsight, this step wasn't necessary since the wood glue did an excellent job of holding the top in place and hammering the nails in damaged my walls :(

To attach the bottom shelf, I used the same wood screws I used to screw the hidden inner frame into the wall. I held the board up underneath the frame (stain side out) and screwed one screw into the center middle support. Then I screwed 1 screw into the remaining 2 middle supports and 1 screw into each side support for a total of 5 screws. I made sure to set the screws back about halfway from the front so they wouldn't be visible when looking at the shelves.

After the first shelf was done, I repeated the same steps to attach front and bottom boards to the second shelf except this time around, I skipped hammering nails into the top board of the shelf:

Funny story: see that mark on the top left side support?

It says "Audited by TP HT" but every time I read it, I said "TP H(u)T" which I found hilarious since the shelves would be acting as a hut for extra TP haha

Anyway, moving on...

When the second shelf was finished, it was time to attach the front facing piece to each shelf. In order for the shelves to look as professional and seamless as possible, I knew I couldn't use nails or screws so I used wood glue for the top shelf's front piece and Liquid Nails for the bottom shelf's front piece. More on that in a minute.

I attached the top shelf's front piece first by flipping it over and running a small band of wood glue along all of the edges:

Then I lined the bottom edge of the front piece up with the bottom edge of the shelf. I wanted these edges to match perfectly since it's what people would see at eye-level. Once they were even, I pressed the front piece against the rest of the shelf and held it for what felt like forever (Note to self: buy clamps!). Some wood glue did seep out the bottom so I had my boyfriend grab me some damp paper towels that I could use to wipe the glue up with.

After about 20 minutes, the top shelf's front piece was pretty much stuck in place so I let go of it and moved on to attaching the lower shelf's front piece.

Like I said above, I used Liquid Nails to attach this piece. Why? Well I tried using the same wood glue I used on the top shelf's front piece but no matter how hard I pressed on the board or how long I held it in place, it kept slipping and eventually fell off. When it fell, I realized that the board was bowed so much that the bottom edge wasn't even touching the bottom shelf's edge so I broke out the Liquid Nails, ran a bead of it along each edge, held my breath, and pressed it in place. I made sure that the top edge of the front piece matched the top of the shelf perfectly and then pressed the board into place for another 20 minutes. When I let go this time, the front piece was stuck in place!

I waited 24 hours before I put anything on the shelves just to make sure they weren't going to come crashing down. Once I realized they weren't going anywhere, I styled them up as pretty as possible :)

How about a little before and after action?



Budget breakdown:
  • Front pieces: 1, 1x6x6 whitewood board: $5.25
  • Top and bottom pieces: 1, 1x10x12 whitewood board: $20.15
  • Hidden inner frame: 2, 1x3x8 furring strips (we only used 1 1/2 furring strips): $1.78 each x 2 = $3.56
  • Dark Walnut stain: Already owned
  • Wood screws: Already owned
  • Wood glue: Already owned
  • Tools (Miter saw, drill, tape measurer, level, pen, etc.): Already owned

TOTAL: $28.96 or $14.48 each shelf! Not too bad, huh?
Note: this project may cost you more than $28.96 depending on the supplies you need to purchase and where you purchase them from.

What do you think of the shelves? Did you start a drinking game for every time I said "hidden inner frame"? I can't blame you if you did, I said it 13 times haha

Disclaimer: I can't guarantee that your shelves will turn out just like mine. Differences in materials and tools used, and your skill level, will yield different results. I cannot be held responsible for a failed project or an injury of any kind so proceed with caution and build at your own risk. Remember: always use caution when working with power tools and read any instructions before beginning any project.

I'm sharing this project on: AKA Design, Alderberry Hill, DIY By DesignDIY ShowoffFireflies and JellybeansHouse of Hepworths, House on the WayNot JUST A HousewifeShabby Nest, and The Shabby Creek Cottage.


  1. They look seriously awesome. Perfect for a bathroom over the toilet.

    Just wanted to let you know I've been reading for a while but this is my first comment. I love your style. Also, I want to come raid your trinket stash! Love.it.

  2. They're gorgeous Caitlin! Love your styling too! Brandi is definitely right about want to raid your stash!

  3. Thanks Crystal! I'm sure it doesn't look like it but the styling took foreverrr haha

  4. This looks awesome! I love floating shelves and I LOVE that you went with such thick ones!!

  5. Hi Caitlin - Quick question - I looked and haven't found a reliable source on how to get the social media buttons like you have at the top. Is it really easy and I'm just being stupid? How did you do it?

    1. I designed the icons myself and then uploaded them to Photobucket. Once they were uploaded, I copied the code and added them to an HTML widget in my sidebar. Then I changed the links to my social media sites and voila! Let me know if you need help and if so, I can send you the exact code!

  6. Thanks Caitlin! So mine don't look as cool as yours but I did it (I'll have to figure out how to my own design later)! Thanks again!

  7. youre so talented : ) and i miss you so lets say i need some chunky shelves, get you an airline ticket to nashville and call it a business trip (that well really do nothing but chill on instead) lol

  8. You're welcome Crystal!

    Thanks Amber! I miss you too and a trip to Nashville sounds amazing! We can hit up the flea market and I can build you some shelves :D

  9. Lovin your shelves! Great job and awesome tutorial! Stop by House on the Way tomorrow to see them featured! If you'd like, grab a "house featured" button!

  10. I ADORE YOUR SHELVES!!! What an innovative way to create super large shelves! Thanks for linking up to our party, btw!

  11. LOVE these! And for $14.48 per shelf?! Seriously, can you fly to Indiana and help me with some projects? I love how you styled them. Amazing job!

  12. Leslie - Thanks for featuring my shelves! I'll be sure to grab a button :)

    Shannon - Thanks! I thought they were going to be too chunky at first but I love the way they turned out :)

    Chelsea - Thanks! I'd be happy to fly out there as long as you take me to the apple orchard so we can get an apple cider slushie haha

  13. We've wanted to do this exact same thing in our master bath/toilet area for over a year now. I'm totally showing this to my husband in hopes that we get it accomplished this weekend! Great tutorial!

    I'm visiting from the HOH! :o)

    Meredith @ www.waittilyourfathergetshome.com

  14. I love this. I'm definitely adding this to our remodel list of must haves! Thanks for all the steps!!
    Laura @ lifewelive4.blogspot.com

  15. They look awesome!! Gonna have to give this a try for my downstairs half bath!

    -Fotini { http://glamorousbride.blogspot.com }

  16. They look gorgeous! The styling you did on the shelves is perfect and simple.

  17. Love the look of this! I will definately try this. My husband will be happy because he will not build anything that is not super sturdy and these seem to pass his test! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Thanks everyone! If you do build the shelves, let me know how they turn out, I'd love to see them in your spaces! :)

    Paulette - My boyfriend was practically hanging from the shelves and they didn't budge so they should pass your husband's test!

  19. These turned out beautiful. This will most certainly go on my "To Do" list! Thanks for sharing this with such a great tutorial!

  20. You're welcome! Good luck making some of your own :)

  21. Awesome job, Caitlin! They're gorgeous! Great tutorial too. Love the chunkiness, love the dark rich color!


  22. Great DIY. Easy to do and looks fabulous! Great for any location in the house. I'll have to forward this to a client whose husband is handy!

  23. I love this project especially the pretty styling - would you be able to provide details of the ornaments and things you used? Thanks.

  24. Designed to a Tea - Thanks! I hope your client likes them :)

    Mags - Absolutely! I'm going to put together a source post for everything that will go live tomorrow so be sure to check back!

  25. I am hopping over from Censational Girls BOTB and I want to say BRAVO!! I have been planning to do the same short of shelves for my bathroom, but I was just going to buy! Now I will be making then for sure! Awesome job and the styling looks amazing!

  26. Did you use any poly on the stained pieces, or just the raw stain?

  27. Thanks Tiffany! Let me know how yours turn out!

    Killswitch22 - I used spray lacquer to seal the stain/wood instead of poly. If you feel comfortable using poly, you can skip the spray lacquering step above and use poly instead!

  28. What an amazing project. I would like to add a floating shelf in my kids playroom and I am going to pin this tutorial. I would love for you to come and link up to my Fall into Fall party that opens Tuesday evenings at 8pm EST. Hope to see you there.

  29. Excellent im so impressed you could get all of this wood for free out of pallets too!! And get the stain for free at the dump where they give out free paint or www.freecycle.org

    Great Job! Elaine @ www.one21design.com

  30. What color are the walls?
    The room looks amazing. i'm not good at decorating hope i can pull something like this off

  31. Thanks Judy! I just linked up to your Fall party! Thanks for the invite :)

    Elaine: Yes, pallets would definitely work! They'd make great rustic shelves :)

    Dev-Lyn: Thanks! The walls are painted 'Birch White' by Dunn Edwards. It's the color I chose for my entire house but I just finished painting the powder room Valspar's 'Hazy Stratus' last night!

  32. Love the 2 distressed, metal looking balls. Where did you get them!?

  33. Thanks Lauren! I got them at HomeGoods the night before I posted the tutorial so they may still be at a store near you! Good luck finding some :)

  34. I found you via Centsational Girl. What an awesome tutorial! You made it really simple... So simple, in fact, that I'm searching through my house for a nook to install these! Great job, and congrats on the features!

    Erin @ The Great Indoors

  35. This is incredible. I absolutely love this project! Your site is amazing! I can't wait to keep following! If you like craft DIY ideas please check out my blog!

    - Sam

    DIY Huntress

  36. Thanks Sam! I'm off to check out your blog :)

  37. LOVE this. i'm totally going to try this. I also want to make a chunky wooden ledge for our fireplace mantle, so your instructions were very helpful.

  38. Awesome Bridget! A chunky mantel will look great :)

  39. Thanks for the inspiration! I just finished mine using your building plan with a few changes and hung them in my living room. You can see pictures here:


    Thanks again!

  40. I've been wanting to build something like this for our mbth for ages. Thank you so much for the thoughtful instructions I can't wait to tackle this project! : ) It looks awesome!

  41. This is brilliant and I'm totally doing this! We have been debating the best way to build floating shelves forever - This looks really simple and I'm in love with this.

  42. Kaytichristian - Your shelves look great! :D

    Jennifer - Thanks! When your shelves are complete, shoot me a link - I'd love to see them!

    The Remodeled Life - Thanks! Can't wait to see how your shelves turn out :)

  43. Seriously. Where did you find that adorable bull?!? I LOVE him!! Great work on the shelves, too.

  44. Thanks Shay! I got the bull at HomeGoods a few years ago! If you don't have a HomeGoods near you, you should check out Z Gallerie. They sell similar ceramic animals all the time :)

  45. I'll be stalking Home Goods from this point forward! Thanks!

  46. I love this post and one day i swear I will make a batch of these! You did an awesome job!!

  47. You're welcome Shay!

    Thanks About the Nut!

  48. looove it!

    but even if you did have clamps... how would it help to hold that front part in place while the adhesive dried?

  49. MamideRay - That's a good question haha I didn't really think about that! If you don't want to hold it in place, you could always use a nail gun or a hammer and nails to drive some nails into the front of it. Just fill the holes with wood filler, touch up the stain and poly and you should be good to go!

  50. I just came across these shelves on pinterest. Love them so much I blogged about them this morning, hopefully I get around to attempting them myself at some point!


  51. I love these shelves! That is such a great way to do an easy display. If you are looking for a statement piece for this room or your kitchen, Sarabella Tuscan Jars has great pieces of art!

  52. Caitlin- I loved your shelves so much I had to make them! I had to tweak a few things but overall I think they turned out great! Thank you for the tutorial!!! Now if I could find some adorable accessories like yours... :)


  53. Wow, these are amazing! I love them. And your tutorial must be awesome too, because I checked out Stacey's (above commenter) and hers were gorgeous as well!


  54. I love these shelves! I have a space at the end of my hallway that these are perfect for..and my father inlaw is a contractor so I can the wood for free woot woot!! Lol..

  55. I love these shelves! I have a space at the end of my hallway that these are perfect for..and my father inlaw is a contractor so I can the wood for free woot woot!! Lol..

  56. This has been a while since posted. I love your shelves but am struggling to find any just like yours that are floating. These have to be in a cornered wall. I need a shelf like this that can float on its own without being drilled on the side. Any suggestions?

    P.s. I'm in love with these.

  57. Caitlin, These are awesome. Just what I've been looking for. Do you think that they would support weight (just towels and decorative items) free hanging on a wall (in other words not sandwiched between two walls) I want to build some just like this over a toilet that that doesn't have walls close to it. Thanks Lesley

    1. Hi Lesley! We actually built a second set of shelves that aren't sandwiched between two walls like these ones. The tutorial can be found here: http://www.desertdomicile.com/2013/04/diy-chunky-wooden-floating-shelves.html

  58. You are a brilliant. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!

  59. These are great! I was wanting to put shelves in the bathroom over our toilet (same configuration where it's set back into a "niche"), but wasn't loving some of the options I'd seen. I think we're going to tackle this this weekend!

  60. I had a recent shelving fail.. (recent being less than 18 months haha) I used IKEA lack shelves, however the area was larger than shelves. So yours truly in a moment of pure brilliance (that is sarcasm btw) decided to use to shelves butted next to each other. One word: FAIL. I am digging on these Ms. Caitlin, I think these would work fantastico in my kitchen area. Gracias mucho Amiga, Jileen

  61. I think these look beautiful and I love the way you have styled them! My hubby and I started on these today hopefully ours will look as good as yours. Thankyou for the step by step illustrations.

  62. Just discovered your blog and this tutorial on making chunky wood shelves. Love them...and your home!

  63. {LOVE}

    What stain color did you use & what are the final dimensions (height & depth)?


  64. I saw the warning about avoiding the plumbing lines.....any tips on doing that? My husband is pretty chill with my crazy projects but that might change if I hit a plumbing line ;)

    1. I don't have any tips, unfortunately. We built our home so I looked at photos of the plumbing when the walls were open and made sure to avoid the areas around any pipes. If you have a plumber friend, I would ask them! Or maybe someone at Home Depot/Lowe's would know!

  65. Can you tell me where you got the bull, I like it and want it in my bathroom.

    1. I got it from HomeGoods several years ago. Their inventory is always changing so I'm not sure if you'll be able to find one there. Try searching eBay or Etsy for one!

  66. This is fantastic. The spacing is just right!

  67. These articles and blogs are truly enough for me for a day. essaywritingsecret.com

  68. Is it bad that I want these all over our home? Thanks for the tutorial!

  69. Bundles of thanks chum!! Very helpful post! It’s impressive too…. umrah package


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