How to put up shelves


Project overview

Everything you need to know about putting up shelves in your house. It’s an easy job that a beginner can do.

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Putting up shelves and picture frames are the most basic DIY tasks that anybody should have in their arsenal. Picture frames are for another day, today we’re going to help you fit shelving and do it right.

How to put up shelves with brackets

  1. Find your position

The first thing you need to do is decide where you want to put your shelves. Before you so much as drill a hole though, you need to check what’s behind the wall. Use a multi-purpose digital detector to check if there are any pipes, wiring, or studs in the place you want to put your shelf. If there is, you need to find another spot. If the wall is safe, crack on.

At this point you should also understand the material you’re drilling into. Knowing what you’re drilling will help you get the right tools.

For brick or mortar walls, you need a hammer-action drill fitted with a masonry bit. We also recommend at least 50mm screws and wall plugs to help you drill through the plaster into the wall behind. This will give you a really secure shelf that can handle heavy loads.

For stud partition walls, the shelf needs to be secured in the horizontal timber of the vertical stud. You can easily find these using an electric stud detector or by simply tapping the wall and listening for a dull sound.

Heavy loading shelves are best secured with 38mm or 50mm screws. These are the heaviest gauges that the holes in the shelf bracket will take.

 2. Spacing shelf brackets

Your shelf will come with the wooden material itself and brackets which support the weight of the shelf.

The distance between your brackets will depend on the material your shelves are made from. The assembly instructions should include details on how to space them out, but if not, here’s our advice.

To understand how far apart to space your brackets you also need to have an idea of what you’re going to put on your shelves. The heavier the load, the closer together the brackets need to be to support the weight.

To test the shelves can bear the load without sagging, space two stacks of books the same distance apart as your planned brackets. Put the shelf on top of the books and place your items on the self. Put a spirit level on the shelf to check it’s level. If it sags, move the stacks closer together until your shelf is perfectly level. If the brackets can’t be fixed that close together, you will need to use a thicker shelving material or lighten the load.



Board thickness

Brackets spacing



610mm for medium loads 



510mm for heavy loads, 700mm for medium loads

Veneered chipboard


915mm for heavy loads



510mm for heavy loads, 700mm for medium loads



700mm for heavy loads, 915mm for medium loads



915mm for heavy loads

Softwood e.g. Pine


400mm for heavy loads, 610mm for medium loads



510mm for heavy loads, 700mm for medium loads



700mm for heavy loads, 915mm for medium loads



915mm for heavy loads

Hardwood e.g. Oak, mahogany


510mm for heavy loads, 700mm for medium loads



700mm for heavy loads, 915mm for medium loads



915mm for heavy loads



400mm for light loads



600mm for medium loads

 3. How to put up a fixed shelf

Fixed shelves have visible brackets and are easy to fit.

The brackets will have a long side and a short one. The long side should sit against the wall and the short side goes under the shelf. The length of the long arm will dictate how far apart you can space your shelves on top of each other. Remember this when you’re checking the placement. 

Hold the shelf against the wall and draw a pencil line on the wall across the bottom of the shelf. Then mark where the first bracket will go and check the distance to the second bracket. 

Use a spirit level to make sure the marks are straight.

Hold the bracket against the mark and use a spirit level to check its straight. Make a pencil mark through the holes in the bracket. Repeat with the second bracket. If you have more than two brackets, fit the remaining ones an equal distance apart inside the bracket marks.

Drill into the bracket marks you’ve made and screw the brackets in place. If you’re drilling into masonry, use masonry plugs at this point.

Lay the shelf across the brackets and pencil marks through the holes on the underside of the shelf. Take the shelf down and drill pilot holes through the marks. Don’t drill all the way through! Put the shelf back and screw it in place. Repeat with the remaining brackets.

How to put up floating shelves

Floating shelves have hidden brackets and are best suited for light loads. These kind of shelves usually come in kits with everything you need. Floating shelves only really work on completely flat walls, so use a spirit level to check it’s flat before you commit to a kit.

Check your wall for pipes, wiring or studs.

Hold the metal bracket strip against the wall and use a spirit level to check it’s straight. Make pencil marks on the wall through the holes and fix the wall plugs in place so they’re flush with the wall.

Screw the brackets in place.

Assemble the shelf and slot it in place against the bracket.

How to fit alcove shelving

Alcove shelving is a great way to make use of an awkward space. The process for fitting it isn’t that different from fitting normal shelving either.

Alcove shelving is just floating shelving which needs side battens for added support. 

Cut 50mm x 25mm wooden battens that are the same width as the shelf. Screw them horizontally into the side of the alcove. For masonry, use plugs to secure it in place. Your floating shelves will then sit on top of these battens. For added stability for long shelves, add another batten to the back.

You don’t need to screw the shelf to the battens, the weight of it will hold it down. 

How to fit a wall of shelving

Ever dreamt of floor to ceiling shelves for your book collection? We got you. 

Again, this type of shelving is more often than not floating shelving or a modular unit. You can use brackets but remember these will be visible so it all depends on the style you want.

How you fit the shelving depends on how wide your wall is. The wider the wall, the more support your shelving will need.

For narrower walls, side and back battens should be suitable enough to support the shelving.

For wider walls, you will need to reinforce the shelving at regular intervals. This is to prevent it from sagging. You can do this with small metal brackets which won’t be visible unless looking at from below.

Or if you want to test your DIY skills, you can create a wooden frame with block prongs that stick out at regular intervals. The frame will need to be screwed into the wall for the best support. You can then build your own shelf. leaving the back panel open so it can slide on the support. 

Don’t forget that bare wood needs protecting.

Paint lets you add your own colour to the wood, ideal if you want a modern look and a pop of colour.

Wood varnish adds a clear but tough coat to your shelf. So if you love the natural colour and look of the wood, this is your best option.






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