What are the Best Tips for Building do-It-Yourself Shelves?

Sherry Holetzky

Building do-it-yourself shelves can be a very satisfying experience. The best tips, when embarking on such a project, are to make sure that the shelves are level and that they have appropriate support. Next, be sure to use the appropriate tools, high quality materials, and follow the instructions precisely. An accurate leveling tool is a necessity, and can be anything from a simple bubble level to a laser level.

Appropriate tools must be used to build do-it-yourself shelves.
Appropriate tools must be used to build do-it-yourself shelves.

Determine the style of the do-it-yourself shelves. If the shelves are meant to be a décor element as well as being used for additional storage, there are many attractive and even fun designs. For example, a Tetris shelf is a design made up of boxes and "L" shapes that mimic pieces from the game Tetris, and are attached together. This would create a far more interesting look than basic book shelves.

A stud finder can help determine where a shelf can be safely secured on the wall.
A stud finder can help determine where a shelf can be safely secured on the wall.

Whether the do-it-yourself shelves are a simple design or something a bit more whimsical, it is not a good idea to just jump into such a project. Collecting or designing plans in advance is wise. There are books, videos, magazines, websites, and shelving kits available that include step-by-step instructions, measurements, and other helpful ideas for building do-it-yourself shelves.

An old saying applied to similar projects is “measure twice, cut once,” and it is very good advice. The best way to do this is by marking the wood at the appropriate spaces. If making grooves in the side pieces in which to slide in the shelves, be sure they are a fraction bigger than the thickness of the shelves. Always include the size of saw blade when adding up measurements as well. Then double-check all measurements before making any cuts, to avoid wasting time, effort, and materials.

Wood glue and clamps will also come in handy. Gluing and clamping pieces together before attempting to add screws or nails will make the job much less cumbersome. An extra pair of hands is also very helpful, so consider asking a friend or family to help out. It’s also good to have someone else around when using power tools in case of accident. Be sure to use appropriate safety gear as well.

If the project also includes hanging do-it-yourself shelves or bracing shelves to the wall for stability, the builder will need to locate studs in the walls, so a stud finder can be very helpful. While it may be possible to hang lightweight do-it-yourself shelves with wall anchors instead of attaching them to studs, one must be very careful. Be sure not to place anything too heavy on the shelves after they are hung.

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