How to build alcove shelves

Updated July 20, 2017

Alcove shelves are a way to add permanent storage to an unused space. Build them into areas between existing walls, such as in a mudroom or beside a fireplace. The amount of wood you will need for this project will vary depending on your alcove size and the number of shelves you choose to install.

Measure the alcove's width and depth with the tape measure.

Hold the stud finder against the side walls of the alcove to locate studs. Mark their locations on the wall with a pencil.

Measure and mark the height for each shelf on the back wall, 3/4 inch lower than the finished shelf height you desire.

Extend the height marks along all walls of the alcove with a pencil. Use a levelling tool to check that the lines are level.

Measure and mark the 1-by-2 board into sections 3/4 inch shorter than the depth of your alcove. Make two of these sections for each shelf. These will form the shelf supports.

Measure and mark the plywood to make the shelves. Each shelf will be as long as the width of your alcove. Make the shelf widths 3/4 inch shorter than the alcove depth.

Cut the wood with the table saw.

Place one shelf support against a side wall with the top edge level with the guide line and the cut edge touching the back wall of the alcove.

Screw the support into the wall using the drill. Secure each screw into a stud.

Place and attach another shelf support to the opposite wall. Attach pairs of supports for each shelf using the same procedure.

Place one shelf on each pair of supports. Check each shelf with the levelling tool. Number each shelf with a pencil.

Measure the width of the alcove in front of each shelf. Mark these measurements on the 1-by-3 board. Number these sections to match each shelf.

Cut the 1-by-3 board with the table saw to form front trim boards.

Remove the shelves from the supports.

Apply wood glue to the front edge of one shelf. Glue the corresponding trim board flush with the shelf top. Hammer in finishing nails to secure the two.

Wipe off excess glue with a damp cloth. Attach remaining trim boards to their shelves with glue and finishing nails in the same manner.

Sand all surfaces with sandpaper.

Paint or stain the supports and shelf surfaces with a paintbrush. Let dry overnight.

Place shelves back on the supports.


If you don't have a table saw, your local home improvement store will cut lumber to size for you at little or no charge. Shelves wider than 32 inches may require a support along the back wall to prevent the shelf from bowing under heavier weights. Secure the tops of the shelves to the supports with 1-inch screws for additional strength.


Use caution when operating a table saw. Wear safety glasses and follow manufacturer's instructions. When applying wood finish, make sure the room is well ventilated.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Stud finder
  • Pencil
  • Levelling tool
  • Pine board, 1 inch by 2 inches
  • Pine board, 1 inch by 3 inches
  • Plywood sheet, 3/4 inch thick
  • Table saw
  • Drill with Phillips head screwdriver bit
  • Drywall screws, 2 inch
  • Wood glue
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • Damp cloth
  • Sandpaper, 220 grit
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint or stain
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About the Author

Violet Woelfel began writing in 2007. She served as a reporter for "The East Texan" campus newspaper and has been published in "The Commerce Journal." Woeifel has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas A&M University-Commerce.