If you know anything about me, you know I love some good shelves. Bathroom shelves, kitchen shelving, kids room shelves – basically if there is a blank wall, I will put some shelves on it! Of course, the fact that I work for my little brother at Cascade Iron
Creating open shelving is actually a pretty straight forward, relatively easy DIY project. I recently just completed our kitchen shelves as part of our home remodel (more of the kitchen coming soon!) and am so happy with the outcome. I wanted to share with you all of my tried and true methods on how to make open shelving here!
(ps. I’m going to link to my brother’s site, but these
1. Identify Needs of the Space
One of the most obvious, but easy to overlook steps in creating shelves is figuring out exactly what
Also, it’s so important to consider how they will be installed. Are wall studs available? If you’re in the midst of construction, can you add another post for the shelves? Figuring this out ahead of time makes choosing the shelf size and style so much easier!
2. Select Shelf Size for Open Shelving
Because brackets are dependent on the actual shelf board dimensions, you’ll want to find your shelf first. Common lumber, reclaimed wood, premade boards – there are so many shelf options it can be hard to choose when learning how to make open shelving. In general, I think it’s best to select what type and size of shelf board you’ll be using BEFORE ordering brackets.
Common and Popular 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)
3. Where to Locate Shelf Boards
For our kitchen shelves, I used White Oak from a tree we salvaged (the same tree I made my husband’s bench from!). But, I made all of my early wood shelves using common lumber from the hardware store, like Home Depot. It’s easy, relatively inexpensive and they will cut the board to whatever length you want for free (seriously! If you didn’t know about this before, it is a serious DIY game changer). BUT, one thing to know about is that common lumber’s nominal size is different than its actual size. This means a 2 x 12 is actually 1.5” x 11.25.” I have no idea why anyone thought this was a good idea but it’s true. You can see how that would mess up your whole bracket ordering experience if you didn’t know that, right?
If you want to branch out (oh dear, did I really write that?) and find more unique or finished pieces of wood, your local salvaged yard or mill is a great place to start. We have places like Furbish and PDX Salvage Works in our area. Not that adventurous? I’ve seen lots of pretty wood shelves online, like these Live Edge Wood Shelves or these White Oak Shelves (you know I love some white oak!)
One word of caution, I’ve seen lots of handmade wood shelves that just use common lumber from
If you wanted something like marble shelving or glass shelves the process is generally the same, but consider how the shelf will remain stable.
4. Choose Shelf Bracket Style
Ok, now we’re making some progress here! Once you know what size and type of wood you’ll be using you can select the best brackets for the job. In general, bracket styles all function the same by securing to a
L Brackets: these are the most general, simple bracket. Literally, the shape of an L (with no front lip). It’s also called an angle bracket and the easiest to use. Note, if you’re using wood with a raw uneven edge, you’ll probably want L brackets since you won’t need an exact size or worry about a front lip coming around the raw edge. These are also good if you have a shelf with an uncommon size. (General rule: the support arm needs to go at least ⅔ of the shelf depth). L bracket
I used L brackets for our bathroom shelves.
Z Brackets: These are a pretty common design. Actually, this is the shelf bracket I looked for back in 2015 which my brother just ended up making for me (starting his business!). These have the support under the shelf and the boards will sit flush against the wall with a front “lip” coming up around the shelf edge. These are pretty classic and made even more popular when Joanna used them on Fixer Upper.
J Brackets: Similar to Z brackets but instead these have a more ‘floating’ effect with the leg support above the shelf. (This is what I used in our kitchen!) The front lip comes around the shelf to hold it snug but you do have the metal behind the shelf. Personally, this does not concern me, but some people may want to notch their wood if you wanted the shelf to sit perfectly flush against the wall.
There are other brackets out there but overall, I definitely choose function over style. I see some made with super inexpensive, thin metal and I just know those won’t hold up over time. If you’re using a particularly heavy wood or plan on placing several hefty items, consider a heavy-duty option (I used 2” wide J Brackets in our kitchen which gives more support and weight capacity).
5. Determine How Many Brackets is Needed
At first, it seems like a shelf just needs two brackets, right? Well, not so fast. Many shelving projects need more support than what two can hold. There is more to it than just choosing a strong bracket, it’s important to also think about leverage and supporting the middle of the shelf.
Of course, all wood shelves are different and it can depend on what they are being used for, but if your shelf is over 36” long, you really need to consider more than 2 brackets. Working at Cascade, we’ve seen customers adamant they only want two brackets for looks and lo and behold they realize later their shelf board is sagging. No one wants a saggy shelf!
6. Shelf Bracket Installation
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.
Also, you don’t want to place your brackets too far in from each end of the shelf. This will make the middle of the shelf strong, but the end of the shelf will be weak and not supported. As a hard and fast rule, I’d say no more than 6” in from each end of the shelf. I think brackets placed towards the end of each shelf looks slightly more modern while farther in seems more traditional. But that’s just me.
If you’re looking to make multiple shelves, you might want to map them out with painter’s tape. This helped me determine the best placement for my kitchen shelves. Standard cabinet height above the counter is about 18″ so I went with just slightly above that with 14″ between the two shelves. 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.
And if you’re wondering, yes! – it is possible & easy to drill into ceramic tile. More on the entire kitchen remodel coming soon!