How do simple floating shelves work?

Updated April 17, 2017

Floating shelves are designed to appear as if they are attached to the wall without the benefit of brackets or braces. They are lightweight yet strong enough to hold a variety of objects. Floating shelves give a room a clean, symmetrical look with a sleek modern vibe.

The Shelf Material

Floating shelves are made out of material similar to an interior door. Most floating shelf material is 18-inch hollow-core plywood. The longer shelves are reinforced by small wood posts set at certain intervals inside to strengthen the shelf. The shelf piece is designed to fit over and enclose the wall mount, called a cleat, so the cleat is inside the hollow shelving. The hollow shelf covers the mount like a lid snaps on a bottle.

The Mount Material

The mount for floating shelves is called a cleat, and it should fit precisely into the hollow opening of the shelving material. It is essentially a precisely measured strip of wood. The measurements of the cleat are exactly that of the hollow shelf opening. To hang floating shelves, mark on the wall where you want the shelf. Locate the studs and pre-drill 1/4-inch diameter holes at the studs. Affix the long straight cleat into the wall, screwing it into the studs.

Hang the Floating Shelves

Place the shelving over the cleat and dry fit it to make sure it is snug and tight. If there are any areas that stick, sand the cleat or the shelf as needed. When you are ready to mount it, apply plenty of wood glue to the inside bottom of the hollow shelf and the top of the wood cleat. Mount the shelf and hold it steady for a few minutes to the glue has a chance to grab. The result is a floating shelf--a shelf that looks as if it defies gravity.

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Brown is a writer with expertise in many topics, including law, health, fitness, travel and outdoor recreation. Brown earned a Bachelor of Science degree in history from Utah State University. He began working as a freelance writer in 2007, and his articles appear on several Demand Studio websites, including eHow.