How to build shelves inside a wall

Written by henri bauholz
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If adding shelves to the outside of a wall seems like it might take up too much room, then it is possible under certain circumstances to build shelves inside the wall. These shelves can even be installed in or near interior walkways, where usable space is at a premium. Depending on the type of wall covering you have and where the wall is located, cutting away part of the wall and inserting shelves that are flush with the wall surface might be just the thing for your house.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Keyhole saw
  • Plywood 3/8 0r 1/2 inch
  • Wood screws (flathead)
  • 1 X 4's ( clear fir looks nice)
  • Tracks and brackets for shelves

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    How to Build Shelves Inside a Wall

  1. 1

    Plan ahead. Choose a location for your shelves that is convenient and simple to install. Installing shelves between the framing members of the wall is only recommended for interior walls with a plasterboard (sheetrock) covering. Also, it will be helpful to determine whether your wall studs are built on 16-inch centres or 24-inch centres. Also, a good idea of how your electrical wiring is run is essential, for if you remove a section of wall board and discover electrical wires, then it will be necessary to spend your time replacing the section of wallboard rather than building the shelves as originally intended.

  2. 2

    Locate the studs. Once you have located the area for your shelves, you need to locate each stud, for you will be placing the shelves between the studs.

  3. 3

    Cut away the sheetrock between the two framing members. Take a keyhole saw and begin well within the space between the two studs. First take the cut to the edge of each upright 2 X 4. Then take the cut in a downward direction along each edge of the two 2 X 4’s. Stop at a predetermined height, maybe 2 feet, and this will be the bottom edge of your shelf space. Do the same thing in an upward direction to create the upper limit of your shelf space. Six feet might be a good spot to end the shelves.

  4. 4

    Put together the sides and backing of the shelves. This piece will be pre-assembled and then slid into place. Once assembled, it will either be nailed or screwed into place. The backing should be a sheet of 3/8 inch (or ½ inch) plywood, while the sides will simply consist of a 1 X 4 piece of lumber. Cut the plywood to the exact size of the opening. (In this case the height is 4 feet, and if your house has stud wall framing 24” on centre, then the opening should be 22½ inches, but it is best to measure with a tape measure to be certain of the actual width. Cut two pieces of 1 X 4 to width and attach the plywood to the edge of these pieces with some flathead wood screws. Cut the two vertical pieces to fit right inside the two horizontal pieces. If your piece of plywood is exactly 4 feet high, then the length of these pieces should come in at 46½ inches. First attach the plywood to the two vertical pieces and then you can place a couple of screws in each corner. When you do this, you will be attaching one 1 X 4 to another. Flathead screws are best, but you can use box nails if you wish.

  5. 5

    Slide the pre-made box into the opening and attach it to the sides of the 2 X 4 studs with nails or screws. Your box should come flush with the surface of the sheetrock. Hint: the plywood should be the same thickness as the sheetrock. If the sheetrock is ½ inch thick, use ½ inch thick plywood for your backing.

  6. 6

    Build the shelves for inside the box. The best way to go is to place two pieces of track on each vertical side and then cut your shelves to length and place them on top of the shelf brackets. The shelves should be the same width as the box. (if you use 1 X 4’s, the actual width will be 3½ inches.) Alternatively, you can skip the metal brackets and attach the wooden shelves directly to the frame of the box that you just made. This might require some support blocks underneath the actual shelf.

  7. 7

    Finish off your project with window moulding. You will want the shelf unit to look nice, so you will need moulding to cover the crack between the sheetrock and wooden frame of the shelves. Alternatively, you can refloat the sheetrock right up to the edge of the shelves.

Tips and warnings

  • Older houses might have real 2 X 4’s as framing members. Still build your shelves with today’s 1 X 4’s and adjust the unit, so that it is flush with the sheetrock.
  • Don’t build shelves into an exterior wall, for it will act as a heat sink.
  • Be very sure of where your wires run before tearing into a wall, for if you encounter live wiring, you will have to either move the wires or repair the wall.

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