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How to put up a shelf

Stylish storage options from floating to fixed shelves

Adding new shelves is a great way of saving valuable floor space and showing off accessories such as pictures, family photos or books. There’s a range of options for you choose from, and you can even create your own box shelves or rustic shelving with reclaimed wood. Here’s how to put them up.



Part of the framework for a stud wall, these are the horizontal timber lengths that are fixed between the studs.


Part of the framework for a stud wall, these are the vertical timber lengths that are fixed between the noggins.

Before drilling, hammering or putting a screw into a wall, be sure you’ve checked what’s behind it with a pipe, cable and stud detector (also known as a multi-purpose digital detector). They’re simple to use and will let you know if there are any pipes, cables or studs where you’re planning to work. Simply run it over the surface of the area and it will tell you where hazards lie.

how to put up a shelf

On masonry walls – walls made from bricks and mortar - you'll need a hammer-action drill with a masonry bit. You’ll also need at least 50 mm screws and wall plugs to go through the plaster and into the wall behind.

For stud partition walls, the screws need to go directly into the timber noggins (horizontal) or studs (vertical part of the frame). You can find them by just tapping and listening, or by using an electric stud detector.

For heavy loads we’d recommend 38 mm or 50 mm screws as these have a strong fixing and don’t need wall plugs. The screws should be the heaviest gauge that the holes in the bracket will take. This is usually a 4 mm gauge on small brackets and 5 mm or 5.5 mm on larger ones.

Top tip - Will your shelf sag?

To see whether a new shelf might sag, try resting it on stacks of bricks or books, spaced as you are planning to space the brackets. Put your items on the shelf and then place a straightedge along it. If the shelf sags, bring the stacks closer together until it’s completely straight. If the brackets can’t be fixed that close together, you’ll need to use a thicker material for the shelf.

Shelves are made from a variety of materials to suit your needs, from chipboard and MDF, to high quality hardwoods like oak and beech.

Try to choose and space your brackets according to the shelf material, its thickness and the load the shelf will be supporting. Whether they’re fixed or part of an adjustable shelf system, they’re available in light, medium or heavyweight versions. Most importantly, your shelves and brackets need to be suitable to support the weight load they will hold.

Spacing brackets


Material Thickness Space between brackets (load)
Chipboard 15mm 610mm (medium)
  18mm 510mm (heavy), 700mm (medium)
Chipboard (veneered) 32mm 915mm (heavy)
MDF 18mm 510mm (heavy), 700mm (medium)
  25mm 700mm (heavy), 915mm (medium)
Blockboard 18mm 700mm (heavy), 750mm (medium)
    800mm (light)
Plywood 18mm 700mm (heavy), 915mm (medium)
  25mm 915mm (heavy)
Softwood (e.g. pine) 16mm 400mm (heavy), 610mm (medium)
  18mm 510mm (heavy), 700mm (medium)
  25mm 700mm (heavy), 915mm (medium)
  32mm 915mm (heavy)
Hard wood (e.g. oak) 18mm 510mm (heavy), 700mm (medium)
  22mm 700mm (heavy), 915mm (medium)
  25mm 915mm (heavy)
Acrylic sheets 12mm 400mm (light-medium)
Toughened glass 6mm 400mm (light)
  12mm 600mm (medium)

Top tip - Shelves in alcoves

One of the most popular places for shelves is in an alcove. If you want shelving here, you’ll need fixings on the sidewalls. Cut 50 mm x 25 mm wooden battens the width of the shelf and screw them horizontally to the sidewalls of the alcoves. If the shelf is long, a batten can be fixed to the back wall as well. For extra strength, the shelf can be screwed to the battens by using a metal plate positioned between the batten and the shelf.

You should fit shelf brackets with the longer arm against the wall and the shorter one under the shelf. Remember, the length of the longer arm will show you how closely you can fit the shelves on top of each other.

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Tools for the job:

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Step 1

Check that the area behind the wall is free from any hidden pipes or cables before you fix your brackets (for more about this, read our Safety First section). Hold the shelf against the wall and pencil where you’d like the bottom to go. Then, mark where the first bracket should be, as well as the distance to the next bracket. To check that the marks are level, (to avoid an un-level shelf) use a spirit level.

how do i put up a shelf

Step 2

Hold the first bracket up to the mark, check it's straight and pencil the wall through the fixing holes. Do the same again for the second bracket. If there are more than two brackets, fit them between the outer brackets, equal distances apart.

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Step 3

Drill into the wall and screw the brackets into place (if you have a masonry wall, use wall plugs). Lay the shelf across and make a mark through the holes in the brackets for the fixing screws underneath it. Then, take the shelf down and drill pilot holes on the bottom for the short screws - be careful not to go right through to the other side. Replace the shelf and then carefully screw in the fixing screws.

With floating (or hidden fixture) shelves you can store items like small books and light ornaments without any visible support. These are generally a kit with the shelf already prepared and are available in various different lengths and styles.

Simply fix a metal bracket strip to the wall, from which two bars support the pre-drilled shelf which slot into position inside the shelf.

This option looks great, but it does come with some minor drawbacks. If your wall isn't completely flat, the metal bracket strip won't fit against it properly. Also, the shelf itself looks quite thick, as it has to accommodate the bars. This type of shelving isn’t that strong, so is better suited to lighter objects instead of heavy ones. Floating shelves can generally hold 15-25 kg however always check the packaging for the maximum weight load and ensure weight load is evenly distributed on the shelf.

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Tools for the job:

Step 1

Check there aren't any hidden hazards behind the wall before you start drilling (for more about this, read our Safety First section). Then, hold the metal bracket strip on the wall. Ensure it’s straight using a spirit level and mark the fixing hole positions. Mark the length of your wall plugs on the drill bit using a piece of tape. Drill the holes in the marked positions and gently tap in the wall plugs with a hammer to ensure they’re flush with the wall then screw the metal bracket in place, making any holes on the prongs facing down.

Step 2

Slide the shelf onto the bars. If your kit has pre-drilled holes in the underside of the shelf, you'll need to fit small screws through them into the holes in the bar. Cover the screw heads with caps to finish.

Adjustable, prepared shelves sit on brackets slotted into metal uprights, which are screwed into the wall. This creates a small gap behind the shelves, which is useful if you want to run electric cables behind it. If you’d like the shelves to be flush with the wall, you'll need to cut notches in them.

The metal uprights don’t just house shelving – there are a range of different accessories you can use with this set-up. Choose from wire baskets, tube racks, storage pegs and hooks.

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Tools for the job:

  • A pipe, cable and stud detector
  • A spirit level
  • A pencil
  • tape measure
  • bradawl
  • A drill - consider a hammer drill if drilling into masonry walls or a drill driver if drilling into internal stud walls
  • Drill bits - look for masonry drill bits if drilling into masonry walls or multi-purpose drill bits of using on a variety of surfaces
  • A screwdriver
  • An adjustable track and bracket shelving system
  • Screws to suit your bracket shelving system
  • Small screws for fixing the shelf to the bars
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Step 1

Check there aren't any hidden hazards behind the wall (for more about this, read our Safety First section). Then, use a spirit level to draw a vertical line down the length of the upright track on the wall. Position the next track and draw another vertical line. The manufacturer guidelines will normally specify what the distance should be between them.

Hold the left upright on the wall and mark the top fixing hole, drill the hole and screw the track loosely in place. Hold a spirit level to the side of the upright track to check it’s vertical and mark the other fixing holes.

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Step 2

Swing the track to one side, drill the holes, insert the wall plugs and then screw the track into place. Slot in a bracket near the top of the track and put another in the same position in the second track. Firmly hold the second track at the next marked vertical line and lay the shelf across the two brackets. Use a spirit level to ensure it’s exactly horizontal. Pencil the top fixing hole for the second track, remove the shelf and fix the track in place at this point.


Step 3

Position the top shelf in the middle of the brackets and use a bradawl to mark the drilling points for the small securing screws on the underside of the shelf. Next, drill pilot holes (you can take the shelf off while doing this, which should make it easier) and then screw the shelf fixings to the brackets. The longer screws go in the back of the bracket and the shorter ones in the front.

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Step 4

Remove the shelf with its brackets and refit it at the bottom of the tracks. Mark the lower fixing holes of the second track and fix it to the wall - make sure that the tracks are parallel so that the shelves are interchangeable. Once you’re happy with the position, slot the remaining brackets into the tracks and screw the shelves to them.

Customise the shelving with accessories from baskets and rails depending on your space.

If you’re looking to add a touch of rustic charm or character to a room, reclaimed wood or old timber can be upcycled to make more storage space in your home. Create shelving by using wood and wall brackets – it’s perfect for displaying books and pictures, as well as acting as a feature on a blank wall.

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Tools for the job:

Measure the space exactly where you want your shelving to go. Using a saw, cut the timber or reclaimed wood to the size you need. To remove any rough edges, lightly sand the wood down with sandpaper.

Depending on the look or style you’re aiming for, you can use a wood stain to coat the timber. We recommend choosing a stain that will enhance the natural look of the wood. Wear protective gloves and put a dustsheet down before painting in case of any drips or spatter.

To fix the shelf to the wall, follow the steps in the ‘How to put up a fixed shelf’ part of this article.