Installing Floating Shelves

By Jeff | Feb. 06, 2013

It’s easy to put up a shelf with some square brackets, but what if you want a truly “floating” shelf, with no visible hardware above or below? By hiding the mounting hardware inside the shelf itself, you can create a great looking shelf that seems to float in mid-air.

Floating Bookshelves

The first step is to decide on the mounting mechanism. The basic principle is that you have a cleat that’s screwed into the wall that you fit a hollow shelf around. In our case, we made 3 such shelves on either side of the fireplace. Because we were able to use the back and both sides as mounting locations, we could use a shallow board, but if you’re having a freestanding shelf, this should be at least an inch or two deep.

For our shelf shells, we used 2 1 x 6 boards (3/4 inch thick) with a skeleton in the middle. We used this material because we wanted to cover the front with casing that was 2 1/4″ thick. If we did this again though, we would probably making the middle thicker and using a nice plywood to save money.

We then clamped the all but the back piece and the side pieces together with glue. If you don’t need the side pieces screwed to the wall, you could glue these in too.

Shelving Glue

We made sure the whole thing stayed as square as possible with a few extra clamps. Unfortunately, the wood isn’t completely flat. I think using plywood with a thicker middle would have helped this, but we made do.

Shelving Glue

Now for the fun part, mounting it on the wall! In our original scheme, we thought we could glue the cleat together, but we found it was a lot easier to just attach everything to the wall in parts. We also found that the center piece which was originally going to be glued to the back didn’t add any help.

Here’s what the left side of our fireplace looked like with some of the cleats installed. First, we measured out where they would be and used a level to draw a line to align them to. Then we glued them in place and held them with some nails from our nail gun. That let us add some screws to keep everything in place.

Shelving Cleats

Sliding the shelves onto the cleats was harder than we originally anticipated. Unfortunately, the imperfections of the shelves made it difficult for them to slide on, and we had to use a file to thin out a few parts and then use a mallet to pound in the shelf the rest of the way. We made the mistake of not using a block of wood on the lower left shelf in between it and the mallet and it got pretty dented up. We’re hoping we can fix it with paint and a little sandpaper, but if not, we’ll have to take off that part of the casing and add some more.

Floating Shelves

We did the same for the other side and made huge progress on the fireplace. We’re more than half way done and it looks like we’re so close. This project has been going on forever though, and we can’t wait to move on to something else.

  • Tile fireplace.
  • Grout tile.
  • Seal tile.
  • Make columns.
  • Paint mantel columns.
  • Install mantel columns.
  • Make shelves.
  • Paint shelves.
  • Install shelves.
  • Add top shelf.
  • Finish top part of mantel.
  • Add crown and trim to mantel.
  • Touch up paint and seams.